Spoiler Alert: There's an idea at the end for using stopwatches on each position that's not yet being done.
After watching the debacle that was Matt Flynn and realizing that we have only won 5 games in our last 20 I started to think how did we get here from back to back 8 win campaigns and how can we get out of it.
Clearly the Great Al Davis has a tremendous amount of responsibility for the cap situation and the volume of over-paid, under performing players, but there's much more to this than even is final years of futile mismanagement of his beloved Silver & Black.
After Mr Davis' passing we needed someone to come in and provide vision and stability while the salary cap and organizational infrastructure was tended to. We needed help and a lot of it.
It was refreshing to read that Reggie McKenzie spent his first several weeks assessing the state of the organization, the poor conditions of the training field, the utter lack of an organized scouting department and draft room, and the overall misery that we would later learn were high priced contracts devoid of any routine 'offset' language. The organization was more than a fixer-upper it was a complete tear down and rebuild job and Reggie looked well groomed and respected for the task.
He hired a head coach with no head coaching experience at any level and only one season as a defensive coordinator under Coach Fox, who is the de facto defensive coordinator for all of his teams.
Why You Don't Hire A Coach With So Little Coordinating Experience for a Rebuild
This got me thinking...Madden, Flores, Tomlin...all very successful coaches with not a lot of coordinating experience why did their tenures work? In the case of Madden and Flores, the team was stacked full of future Hall of Famers that just needed someone to let them play. It was a different era of football where QBs still called plays so talent reigned over organization and offseason preparations.
In that era Mr Davis and Ron Wolf were so much better at scouting talent than every other team except Pittsburgh that it made all the difference. In today's NFL, organization matters. Preparation matters. Scouting a kid for his family and friends is just as important as what he can do on the field. Everything matters and deficiencies an any of these areas can be the difference between the playoffs or the cellar. Teams are so evenly matched in talent that all the little things Mr Davis could care less about like player accountability can change a 11 win team into a 5 win team in a blink.
With Tomlin, his cupboard was full as well, with a stellar defense, offensive line and QB. These guys didn't inherit rebuild jobs they inherited powerhouses that they expertly guided to the promised land multiple times.
So the question became how? What single trait do these and all great coaches have?
Right or Wrong they are Decisive!
For great head coaches at any level, in any sport there common thread is that the world is always black and white. They don't see the world for the gray areas. They often don't care about how they are perceived in the public like Saban or Belicheck. They are Yoda in a manner of speaking, 'Do or Do Not, There Is No Try.'
And certainly they do not live their lives and make decisions based upon the great maker of mediocrity...Political Correctness.
There is 1 goal for great head coaches at all times and surprisingly it's not winning.
It's getting the maximum performance out of each player and blending that into the maximal performance of the team. Winning is often the result of this focus and for many of these coaches like a Phil Jackson or Vince Lombardi why they don't focus on winning...they focus on maximum individual performance and team execution.
Every decision they make surrounds maximum individual performance and team execution. Every action around maximum individual performance and team execution. Every strategic decision on the field and in the media, to maximize the talent they have watched over and over and over and ensure precise team execution. A great HC knows exactly what each of his players can and can't do because he's taken them to the physical and mental limits of their ability before any fan ever sees the result.
A great HC has time for only this 1 thing. So they tend to be openly intolerant of things that form distractions. They tend to be openly intolerant of players that underperform. They tend to be visibly intolerant of individual mistakes that hurt team execution. The team needs to see this visible intolerance so that a message is sent to anyone else not honoring the dedication of each of his teammates, his coaches, and the organization.
A great HC knows what he wants at all times and often is so far ahead of the competition that he's already figured out how to attack his own weaknesses. A great HC is always battling himself so that when the opposing coach arrives every possible variation has already been accounted for and adjustment are already pre-planned.
This level of vision, preparation, and intolerance for anything that detract from maximum individual performance and team execution creates a decisive aura around the HC. To a player's mind, the HC always seems to have an answer to whatever the other team tries. To a player's mind, this HC always has me prepared to perform and become a greater earner. And having that decisive answer is what instills tremendous confidence in the player eliminating all questions...questions that delay reaction time and cause a player to break from the scheme and freelance because he doesn't trust the scheme of what the coach is doing.
Right or Wrong, being decisive is more than a coach simply believing in himself and his approach...it's all the time and mental forethought that goes into how he will develop his players to maximize their mental and physical gifts based upon what will be required of them on the competitive field. It is him being a visionary, intolerant of self-inflicted wounds, and focusing on the perfect execution of the team.
But make no mistake being decisive is the key ingredient to leading men.
Things DA Can Do To Improve His Decisiveness
Originally, I wanted to compose a piece that called for DA's firing, because today he has proven to be anything but decisive and the results have been obvious, but I changed my mind and thought, 'what if he could learn to be a great coach?'
So here's his guide:
1. Being Decisive Begins with Spending Time to Properly Assess Talent
It is safe to say that DA didn't review the ample video and statistical data that the Raiders had on Gregg Knapp and his ZBS for many of the players still on the roster when he was hired. Most causal fans knew that Gregg Knapp was relieved of his play calling duties by a 1st time HC who had never called plays before in his coaching career...not a good sign.
That alone should have scared DA away from Gregg Knapp because he would be reuniting this coach with some players that had already formed an opinion about him and his system. But sadly it didn't.
Additionally, with proper film study and statistical research that was available, DA should have understood that the existing players he was inheriting on offense were comfortable in Hue Jackson/Al Saunder's system of power blocking, pre snap shifts, and down field passing attacks. Trying to convince them that they were better off for the ZBS and Gregg Knapp is just a unnecessary headache a 1st year coach with a defense that is about to be gutted doesn't need. He created the very thing a great HC is intolerant of.
Had DA simply watched any film from the ZBS and Gregg Knapp it should have given him great pause to hire the OC he did. So either he watched ample film on the matter and incorrectly evaluated his talent, in which case he will never be a good HC, or he didn't watch the film and made a decision from his gut and not from data, which is correctable.
The problem with his move to hire Knapp and bring in the ZBS is that it forced Reggie to sign Briesel and draft Berstrom while letting a solid center in Samson Satele and upcoming tackle in Joseph Barksdale walk. Which ultimately moved Wiz from a guard to center, a position he will never dominate without a probowl guard on either side. For a team needing to add talented players, DA effectively deducted 5 OL from his team's strength.
Additionally, by failing to watch film on the ZBS and Knapp with the Raiders, a fact I am hoping I am correct on, he killed any chance for retaining the strength of his inherited team...the offense. This could have been the 3rd and 4th years for many of our players in the same offensive system and exactly why a great HC doesn't fix what isn't broke. There's simply too many other things that need a great HC's attention on a team that needs work.
For all of Hue Jackson's short comings as a GM and his inexplicable ability to make productive in game adjustments, he was decisive, his offense was potent, and he could properly game plan during the week. All traits we have yet to see from DA. Hue gave Reggie no choice but to fire him, but DA retained Al Saunders in his first year and could have retained the basic principles of the offensive system as well.
Had DA come in and retained Al Saunders to develop the offense and hire a OC to work with him on what was already working I believe that during his first season he would have won 2 to 4 additional games with Palmer as his QB because the design roll outs of the ZBS were also not a strength of Palmer as the blocking was not a strength of Darren McFadden...things even moderate film study of their careers would have revealed.
My hope is that DA is guilty of failure to study the film and statistics available, because if he studied film before interviewing Knapp, then he has no ability to assess talent and will never be even a good HC.
In my opinion, the ZBS lost any ability to be an effective base for an offense when Chop Blocks were outlawed. In fact, no ZBS has won a SB since.
2. Being Decisive Means Always Anticipating Adversity
A great HC always seems to have every answer because they are always prepared to loses players most people feel they would be doomed without. Which means they are constantly developing their back-up talent in practice and during actual games.
A fact of player development, players who get an opportunity to play in games typically practice harder.
Here I have no defense for DA as seeing a player of Terrell Pryor's work ethic, enthusiasm, and athletic gifts should have been enough to get him on the field in packages last season. You can't ignore that type of speed to help change the game for your team a series or two each week, especially after losses began to mount.
His handling of Tyler Wilson was equally as bad this training camp as there is no excuse to keep a rookie QB out of PS games as a punishment. All you are doing is punishing your ability to evaluate them in a game situation to see where they need to improve in practice.
And not having Matt McGloin ready to take over for Flynn if Flynn would have been injured or ineffective is a sign that DA has developed a very bad habit of focusing too much on his starters and not developing his backups to become routine contributors regardless of the health of the starter. Injuries, as Raider fans know all too well, are inevitable.
Coaches must have a plan better than 'next man up.' Preparing the next man to be up by playing them and giving them at least 25% of practice reps or working with then after practice is what great coaches have always done and is something I hope DA starts doing more of, especially if the team loses any of their next 2 games before the bye.
3. Being Decisive Means Knowing What You Will Do Before The Situation Arises
We've all seen DA mismanage game situations and there can be some debate as to what is the right thing to do, but I'd like to illustrate 3 rookie mistakes that he must acknowledge from this season alone. A HCs job is to be so prepared for every possible situation that the answer is ready before the question is asked if he wants to instill confidence in his program amongst his players.
Situation 1 - 1st & Goal at the 8 down 4 with 1:16 remaining and 1 TO with a QB in his 2nd NFL start.
In this situation a HC has to tell his OC to run the ball to insure a minimal loss of yardage at most so he can then call TO and they can set up the final 3 plays of the game with more than 1 minute to use. That didn't happen and the QB was sacked, which now becomes the perfect time to call a TO and settle everyone down, make sure the QB and OC are on the same page. Which didn't happen and ultimately resulted in a game losing INT in the endzone, while 1 TO remained on the board. Inexcusable game management error for DA.
Situation 2 - Short Week of Preparation, starting QB not cleared for 1st practice, NFLPA snooping around.
It's understandable given that Matt Flynn is horrible that the HC would want to give his starter every opportunity to start, but with a short work week a HC must go into every game with 2 QBs ready to play. If your starter, and possible future franchise QB isn't ready on Wednesday to begin learning the game plan and practicing with the team you are forced to move on.
What DA did was instead develop 2 distinctly different game plans for 2 distinctly different QBs and give McGloin little to no preparation time in case Flynn had to start and Pryor was inactive, as what happened. Had Flynn been injured, a distinct possibility given his history, or been ineffectual as happened there would no be no alternative at QB. This simply can't happen at any offensive or defensive position, but especially QB. Given all the circumstances, if your future franchise is banged up and can't go by Thursday you decisively shut him down and get the next men up prepared to play. The NFL is hard enough, you give your team 1 game plan to focus on. Not naming a starter until game time is not a way to instill confidence in your team.
Situation 3 - 4th Down, Down 10, 3 minutes remaining, 3 TO, haven't scored in 45 minutes.
If you go for it and fail the game is over right then and there. If you kick the FG and it's successful, you have more than 3 minutes and at least 4 opportunities to stop the clock and extend the game. Whenever trailing in the 4th quarter by more than 1 score the HC's job is to extend the game. If the 4th down attempt had been successful, it would have still chewed up at least 20+ seconds of game time and would not have guaranteed that 3 plays later you're back in the same situation but now with much less time. So many things can happen in a football game in 3 minutes...extending the game is more important than proving your team can convert a 4th and inches...that they failed to prove. As one insightful poster pointed out, a PA shot at the end zone in that circumstance on either 3rd or 4th down would have been a better call than either of the 3rd or 4th down calls.
DA's failure to be decisive in each of these instances contributed to 2 of the 3 losses so far on the season, but thankfully are correctable.
4. Being Decisive Includes Being Innovative
During the broadcast of the Bears/Lions game it was learned that Marc Treastman, a 1st year HC with HC'ing experience in the CFL and 2 championships, evaluated his QB's QBR in the offseason in time of release intervals. Cutler's QBR when he released the ball faster than 2.6 was 114.2 and only 86.4 after. So this innovative HC spent all offseason with a stop watch around his neck drilling his QB into a time of release less than 2.6 and the results have been good thus far.
Which got me thinking? Flynn held the ball so long on Sunday I wondered if our coaching staff uses similar stopwatch drills in TC and practice? We've seen Pryor hold the ball as well a McGloin. WRs aren't getting separation. And a major complaint of DA teams is that they don't seem to have a sense of urgency. Which would lead an outsider to believe DA's not creating a sense of urgency in practice.
Why not develop that sense of urgency in daily practice drills based upon time as much as technique
QB - Read Keys & Throw 2.6sec
WR - Create Separation 1.4sec to 2sec Hell have every play not only include the blocking, route assignments why not have a timing on each play? This is a 1.8 sec pass play, etc. So players have time in their heads as much as route and assignments. You have to do this in X amount of seconds for the team to be successful.
RB - Get to the Correct Hole 1.0 sec
OL, RB, WR - Hold Blocks for 3.4 sec
DL, LB, DB - Shed Blocks in 1.4 sec
DB, LB - Cover 4 sec
Entire Team except QB and MLB - Identify Assignments within 1.5 seconds pre-snap
QB, MLB - Identify Assignments for Everyone within 4 seconds pre-snap
Every aspect of practice can be a sense of urgency so that a great HC ingrains time, time, time in each of his players. Now you put every person on your team on the clock, all the time.
And forget huddling ever again on either side of the ball. I LOVE what Denver is doing with Peyton. Everyone lines up and looks to the sideline for the play then identifies their assignments. Formation shifts and Peyton gets to see if he's looking at zone or man reads and for which WRs. Peyton knows exactly what will be open so his 3.1 seconds before the rush arrives looks like 7 to 10 seconds.
Applying this strategy to us, now our team plays faster than the opposition and can take advantage of teams using huddles to make up for the gaps in talent on both sides of the ball.
Now your entire team is decisive because their always thinking about how long they have to accomplish their task in addition to the task. Action become reflexive rather than hesitant.
Additionally you now have a way to evaluate talent during the offseason by bringing guys in to see if they can handle the speed of your practices. You have a system that integrates perfectly with your scouting team.
This is something DA can still install with Olsen this year and put out team in a position to be the aggressors.
Seeing something like this would definitely give DA another season, that right now is in jeopardy.