Jack Del Rio really wanted to become the Raiders head coach. He’s an East Bay guy, and saw an opportunity to turn around a franchise he grew up following. That prompted him to sign a below-market contract, one that put his salary near the bottom of his profession.
He was the NFL’s lowest paid coach after the 2016 season, until owner Mark Davis tore up his contract last month and gave him a better deal.
“That’s a credit to MD,” Del Rio said in a Thursday press conference at the NFL scouting combine. “One of those things was, I bet on me on my contract. It wasn’t a very good contract to start with, but it was an opportunity. And I bet on our ability to get this thing turned around, and I feel like we have. Again, he was a man of his word and he stepped up and tore up that deal and gave me a new one.”
That happened halfway through the deal, following a 12-4 campaign and the team’s first playoff berth since 2002. The Raiders are on the right path, with a competitive window that should be open a while.
Del Rio needed some tools turning the Raiders around, which meant Davis had to write a few checks. The new head coach mandated the Raiders upgrade their practice facility, and Davis approved significant renovations despite the fact he was focused on relocating away from the Bay Area.
He added a state-of-the-art performance center behind the original property. He installed new practice fields, including an improved drainage system that prevents the soggy conditions that plagued the previous surface. The facility itself got a facelift, with adding new technology and a steam room to the building.
“When we talked about the vision I had for the franchise, and the possibility of me joining him as his head coach, there were several things I laid out that I thought was imperative,” Del Rio said. “Facility upgrade, and things like this. And he’s been very, very generous and supportive for Reggie and I to be as unified as we are and out and acquire the players we need and provide them with the kind of performance center and work environment for a first-class organization.”
Del Rio’s first contract was about getting his foot in the door and returning to the head coaching ranks. He had that title nine years in Jacksonville, and was Denver’s defensive coordinator three years after that. Del Rio wanted to be a head coach again and saw opportunity to turn the Raiders into a competitive bunch.
“I knew I was signing a deal that was less than maybe what a guy with nine years of head-coaching experience would deserve,” Del Rio said. “But there’s one thing about…throughout life, many moments where you find the ability to humble yourself and just keep your head down and keep working hard, that side of it usually takes care of itself.
“To me, it’s about being involved in something you have passion for and putting forth the energy and the effort and not being about the money. In the end, the money comes, but the reason I coach is I love to impact young men. I love to teach and inspire and motivate and help them be their best as players and even off the field. So I love what I do. It made it a no-brainer for me.”
Del Rio’s new deal didn’t come because the Raiders won a certain amount. It was an acknowledgement that Del Rio had established a winning culture. He helped the Raiders return to relevance, and Davis rewarded him with a new deal as promised.
“It was more like when you do the things I know you’re going to do, we’ll take care of the contract,” Del Rio said. “So when it came to signing free agents over the last couple of years, when it came to doing the facility upgrades, he’s been a man of word throughout the whole process.”