Make no mistake, Allen new face of Raiders franchise


Make no mistake, Allen new face of Raiders franchise

Dennis Allen looked and acted on Monday like a guy who knows his boss has his back. Thats confidence in a way that merely saying the word confidence cannot.

He also looked like a man who wants command, who has thought about command, and sees that being the new coach of the Oakland Raiders is, for the first time in nearly half a century, a true chance to command.

And he also looked, at least facially, like Washingtons Kyle Shanahan, which should not unnerve you too much. Most young football coaches tend to look like Kyle Shanahan.

Mostly, Allen gave off the vibe of someone who is not going into this Raider thing blind. He knows he has been brought to Le Trou Noir to be definitive rather than deferential. His bearing and accent say Texas A&M, and his complete surety shouts, Go on, test me. I dare you.

This, then, is the new face of the Oakland Raiders -- a man like McKenzie, only without the rounded edges. They were brought here under separate cover to change what the Raiders have come to be known for -- underachievement, indiscipline, failure in moments of stress and overall playoff avoidance.

Oh, he used all the buzzwords -- up-tempo and aggressive and disciplined, most notably, as though most coaches come out in favor of slow, passive sloth.

But it was the specificity of his answers on certain topics that leaped out as coming from a guy who has already seized the job.

He knows what kind of coach he would be -- a game manager, not a hands-on-too-tight play-by-play detail hog. He knows his view of talented but undisciplined players -- they wouldnt play. He knows one area he needs to dramatically improve off the bat -- the secondary, which was shredded for nearly 4,300 yards and 31 scores last year.

And he paid as much attention to acknowledging the Raiders past as he needed to, and not beyond. He regards it, pure and simple, as far less important than establishing a strong and sensible future.

That came in response to a question from a fan, an odd idea that we suspect will be imitated by other teams in the years to come. Allen handled it with the same shark-eyed, jut-jawed glare that he handled all the others.

He is, in short, the first coach since Al Davis in 1963 to speak so frankly of command, and if in fact he backs up his image and words with deeds come OTAs and training camp, and the players realize how dramatic the change is from the weird old days, he will in fact be that commander.

Of course, the proof is in the two-a-days, and it helps that he got to see the Raiders in person at their best (when they sat on the Broncos in Week One by not allowing them to run the ball) and worst (when they went in the tank in Week 9, blowing two 10-point leads and giving up 100-yard games to Willis McGahee and The Tebow).

In doing so, he saw why the Raiders can impress, and why they are held in such disdain when they dont. And even if he wasnt making notes on the Raiders after those two games, he surely has since.

None of this, of course, gets him Win 1, but as the living embodiment of the new power washer being taken to the Raiders, hell do fine. It is instructive that owner Mark Davis read a brief introduction and then left the stage to McKenzie and Allen. Not only did Al never do that, most owners dont. They want you to know that they own the team and that their word is law. Davis wanted to leave the absolute opposite impression, so he left.

The result of this, we suspect, is that a lot of players will find Allens style of leadership off-putting, and will miss the old laissez-faire days when the players held the hammer because they had better access to Al than the coach did. Some may even resist, or rebel.

But as we said, Allen is McKenzies guy, and McKenzie has the keys. Whether this lasts four years, the length of Allens contract, remains to be seen, but he wont be able to say, as so many have before him, that he wasnt given the chance to be his own man.

And that is very un-Raider-like indeed.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.