Allen: 'We've got to develop a swagger with players on this team'
The Raiders went 4-12 in Dennis Allen's first year as head coach. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
NAPA –- Dennis Allen has a long-term plan for Raiders football. He wants to guide this franchise into an era of sustained success, one that recalls the good ol’ days when the Silver and Black was both feared and relevant.
Allen doesn’t believe a project of this magnitude can be accomplished in a year. Or two, for that matter.
General manager Reggie McKenzie agrees. Owner Mark Davis does, too.
That’s why Allen doesn’t consider this a make-or-break year for this franchise. Or his head coaching tenure.
Allen certainly doesn’t believe, as many outsiders do, that he’s fighting for his job or that there’s a win total to save it.
“I can’t worry about that,” Allen said. “Reggie, Mark and I are trying to set up the Oakland Raiders for sustained success, not to win necessarily right now. We all understand that (winning right away) is what we’re trying to do. That’s the only reason why you play the game. If wins didn’t matter, they wouldn’t keep score.
“We want to sustain success, and it’s a process to reach that point. We feel like we’ve made some progress in that direction this year, and we plan on continuing to work the plan.”
Allen is in a tricky spot. The Raiders are a franchise in transition, fully committed to a long-term rebuilding project. Head coaches, however, are hired to win that next football game.
It’s a difficult predicament, one that a simple vote of confidence might ease. Allen hasn’t gotten one that acknowledges head coach, GM and owner are all in this together. The second-year coach says he doesn’t need it.
“I’m not worried about public affirmation or anything like that,” Allen said. “We understand what we’re trying to do. When we all signed up for this, we had a plan. That plan is still in action.”
McKenzie’s first order of business was to find his head coach. Check. The next was to work the Raiders out of salary-cap hell and bring in a different class of football player. That project’s incomplete. It won’t be finished until 2014 at the earliest, when Raiders will have salary-cap space to make bold moves.
That’s still a full season away, a difficult selling point for a fan base that hasn’t experienced a winning season in 10 years.
But the Raiders should be better after the roster was gutted this offseason. McKenzie willingly took on dead money to get rid of bad contracts and rebellious veterans who didn’t support Allen or the new Raider way.
Allen believes his team is better for it. In that vein, Allen’s 4-12 mark of a year ago is unacceptable. He must do better with this group than he did with the last.
“The NFL is all about pressure, and I believe good people perform under pressure,” McKenzie said. “Dennis is a good person and a good football coach. I really like what Dennis is doing.”
McKenzie doesn’t equate a specific win total with success. Allen’s team must pass the eyeball test.
"I’m not going to put numbers on things. I just want to see improvement,” McKenzie said. “I know a good football team when I see it.”
The Raiders were not a good football team last season. Personnel was a significant problem, but mistakes were made. Allen admits that some of them were his.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” Allen said. "I made mistakes when I was a first-time position coach. I made mistakes the first time I was a coordinator. I made mistakes as a first-time head coach. The good ones are able to learn from that and move forward. In some instances I learned what to do. In others, I learned what not to do.”
The first-time head coach faced unforeseen challenges during a rocky season. He dealt with dissent within the locker room. The defensive-minded coach worked with an offensive scheme that didn’t fit his personnel and struggled to teach a losing group how to win.
Those mistakes raised eyebrows among detractors who questioned McKenzie for hiring a thirty-something, first-time head coach with just one year as a coordinator to lead a massive rebuilding project.
Allen ignored the chatter, learned from negative experiences and made changes accordingly. They're being implemented during a demanding training camp based on discipline, physicality and competition. His goal: to teach this young, impressionable group how to win.
“I’m trying to do a better job of creating the vision for what I want this football team to be,” Allen said. “I’m making sure the coaching staff understands it and the players understand it. Then I’m going to hold everyone accountable.”
Allen wants his Raiders to be tough, physical and intensely loyal to the cause. He wants them to buy all in and stay committed heading into an uncertain, possibly rocky season ahead.
“We have a plan and we have a direction we want to go,” Allen said. “We can’t deviate from that every time somebody might say, ‘that was a bad decision.’ If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. As Raiders, we stand for something. We’re going to put our head down, keep our blinders on and continue to move in that direction.”