Literally every time the Raiders struggle, even in the middle of a game, the calls for coaches and coordinators to be fired rings out from fans across the ‘Nation’. Most often the coordinators are the target of fans’ frustrations, but the head coach and even position coaches are not immune. Even on a 12-4 club making the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
It’s those coordinators right now which present the Raiders with a couple of important decisions to make. Del Rio expressed uncertainty this week about who will be back next year.
“Well, we’ll see how it goes, you know?” said Del Rio. “Opportunities come up for guys. We were able to get that done last year and we’ll just see how that breaks for us this year. We’ve got a good group of guys. They work hard, they care. We’ll see where that goes.”
First of all, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s contract is up along with assistant head coach and offensive line coach Mike Tice. Based on the performance of the offense this season, there is every reason to believe the Raiders would try to hold onto both coaches.
Mike Tice in particular has been a mastermind for the Raiders offensive line. As a former head coach himself, he is well respected, which is why he is also the assistant head coach. His expertise has aided the team in knowing the right pieces to add both in free agency and the draft, and then guiding them to have three Pro Bowlers (Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, and Rodney Hudson) and a Pro Bowl alternate (Gabe Jackson).
All indications are his contract will be renewed.
Musgrave’s usual style of being a bit too strict about the game plan was loosened up with Derek Carr entering his second year in his system and the result was miraculous. The Raiders offense was among the best in the league and Carr was an MVP candidate much of the way. Del Rio defended his OC Sunday.
“People always want to get into play calling,” Del Rio said of criticisms. “That’s the first area that everybody that plays Madden thinks they have it figured out, you know? (laughter) I can’t worry too much about those types of things.”
Carr’s success not only speaks positively about Musgrave’s job security, but it could also potentially lead to job offers for quarterbacks coach Todd Downing, who is rumored to be on the radar of teams looking for an offensive coordinator.
Del Rio spoke of opportunities coming up for guys. Downing has been the QB coach the past two season in Oakland. Prior to that he was the QB coach in Buffalo for one season and in Detroit for three seasons prior to that.
His resume as a quarterbacks coach is impressive. He got the best out of EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton in Buffalo and Matt Stafford had his three best seasons, averaging over 5000 yards the first two seasons and throwing for 4650 in the third with Downing coaching him.
Those are the positive decisions.
Then there’s the matter of defensive coordinator. Ken Norton Jr has coached this underperforming unit the past two seasons. Del Rio is a former defensive coordinator himself and therefore a defensive minded head coach, so giving Norton his first DC job made sense.
But after two seasons, they appear to have regressed despite several key offseason additions such as Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, and Karl Joseph.
The big name hitting the market this offseason is Wade Phillips. He is the son of Bum Phillips and long time defensive guru who took over for Del Rio in Denver and coached the league’s top defense to a Lombardi Trophy.
Phillips is well liked and well respected in NFL circles. The Raiders are an up and coming team with already intriguing talent on the defense that, with the right guidance, have the potential to be much better than they showed this season.
You don’t often hear coaches from rivals speak glowingly about a player on one of their rival teams unprompted, but Phillips had offered up some complimentary words for Derek Carr.
It is unfortunate that Derek Carr is unable to play. He had a tremendous year and is a great young man as well.— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) January 7, 2017
Having a big armed field general is what Philips had in Denver with Peyton Manning. But that championship team was led by Phillips’ defense. Which is led by Von Miller.
In Oakland the defense is led by Khalil Mack, who has rivaled Miller for the best outside linebacker in the league the past couple seasons. To go from coaching one to the coaching the other would be pretty nice for Phillips. And it could be pretty nice for the Raiders too.
Two key offensive coaches’ contracts expiring, a coach who could be in demand, and another coach whose unit is underachieving has Jack Del Rio with a few decisions to make in the coming days and weeks.