LOS ANGELES, September 30, 2014 — The Dennis Allen reign of error is officially over. The embattled Oakland Raiders head coach was fired by owner Mark Davis after losing 28 of 36 games. Allen’s firing was long overdue and absolutely necessary. He was replaced by assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who previously led the Miami Dolphins to one winning season followed by three years of losing. Sparano has the interim tag, meaning he could just be a placeholder while the Raiders search for somebody better. What matters is that Dennis Allen had to go.
By all accounts, Allen is a decent guy, which matters to somebody, somewhere. In politics one can occasionally paper over repeated failures with a winning smile. The National Football League is a meritocracy. Everything comes down to results. Vince Lombardi, George Halas, Bill Parcells and Bill Bellichick will never win a contest of warm fuzzies. They achieved iconic status by being winners in the game of football. By failing to even reach slightly below average, Allen doomed himself.
To understand the Allen saga requires going back to the late Raiders owner Al Davis. Al Davis was like George W. Bush. A certain segment of the population blamed Al Davis for everything that ever went wrong while denying him credit for what went right. After multiple losing seasons, Davis hired Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator in 2010 and promoted Jackson to head coach in 2011. Jackson turned the team around. The 2011 Raiders were 7-4 until a rash of injuries led the team to falter and end up 8-8. Al Davis died during the 2011 season, and his son Mark wanted a more traditional business structure. Mark Davis hired General Manager Reggie McKenzie, who fired Jackson and brought in Allen.
Allen had never been a head coach before. He had one year of experience as a defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, a team coached by defensive mind John Fox and quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Allen went to a team that had salary cap trouble but fought hard.
The first mistake Allen made was installing the West Coast Offense. Rather than run a modified version of it, he ran the pure version of it. Every single first down and ten became a two-yard pass. Every third down and four became a two-yard pass followed by a punt. The “Dink and Dunk with Dennis Allen” West Coast Offense was boring, predictable and utterly ineffective. Rather than adjust the system to complement his players, he forced square pegs into his round hole. Throwing past the first down marker was rarely ever allowed.
Allen was supposed to be a guy who understood defense, but the Raiders had a major problem on defense. They did not have one. Opponents ran and threw the ball at will against the Raiders. In his final game, Allen watched as the Raiders had one cornerback trying to cover three receivers.
Hue Jackson took chances. He called fake punts, fake field goals, and other gadget plays. The trick plays did not always work, but they inspired the players and the fans. Now Jackson is the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are currently unbeaten and playing great offense.
Allen did not have a superstar at quarterback for his first two seasons, but having a great quarterback matters little when the signal-caller is forced to throw the ball two yards at a clip. This year the Raiders drafted David Carr. While Matt Schaub was brought in to be the starter, everybody except Allen saw that Carr was playing far better than his experience and Schaub was playing worse. Allen stubbornly stuck with Schaub until a preseason injury forced Allen to play Carr.
Allen received a very lucky break. Carr is a thoroughbred, a young man loaded with talent, ability and poise. Carr throws a gorgeous deep ball and can hit receivers in stride. Allen refused to open the playbook. He even publicly stated that he was deliberately keeping the playbook simple so as not to overwhelm Carr. This meant Carr was forced to dink and dunk until the game was out of hand.
Some teams kept their newly drafted quarterbacks on the sideline. Johnny Clipboard is still backing up Bryan Hoyer on the Cleveland Browns. Unlike Manziel, other teams were forced to start their rookies. Blake Bortles started for the Jacksonville Jaguars to spark a dreadful team. Teddy Bridgewater took over for the Minnesota Vikings due to an injury to Matt Cassel.
Those quarterbacks are coached respectively by Gus Bradley and Mike Zimmer, who like Allen come from the defensive side of the ball. Both Bradley and Zimmer opened their playbooks and let their quarterbacks loose. Bortles looked promising in a road loss to a far better team. Bridgewater, despite being without his suspended star running back, led the Vikings to a victory. Meanwhile, Allen kept Carr shackled. Dink, dunk, death. Even an injured Carr would not be an excuse since third string quarterback Matt McGloin is a raw talent who throws a gorgeous deep ball.
The Raiders have one of the best field goal kickers of all time, and Sebastian Janikowski could have inspired the team by breaking the NFL record for longest field goal. Instead, Allen would punt far too often, denying Seabass his chance.
Allen did do one thing right, and he deserves credit for it. It rarely gets mentioned, but the Raiders saw a drastic reduction in penalties against them. Jackson had the most penalized team in the league. It was vexing for fans to see the Raiders under Allen commit far fewer penalties yet lose far more games. Allen gets the blame for his failures so he should be praised for the drastic reduction in penalties. However, in the end it comes down to wins. Allen’s Raiders were losers, perhaps the worst team in football.
With other innovative coaches such as Chip Kelly and Bill O’Brien revitalizing their teams and installing creativity, Dennis Allen lacked the ability to innovate, inspire and create anything that worked. He dinked. He dunked. Opponents stopped the Raiders and then shrugged.
Al Davis was criticized for being impatient. Mark Davis may have been too patient. McKenzie has made some mistakes, but he also drafted some good players including Carr and defensive phenom Khalil Mack. Allen was not asked to work miracles, but slow steady improvement never came. The Raiders regressed on his watch. Nothing was working.
The interim coach of the Silver and Black is irrelevant. 2014 is all but lost. The future is what matters. This team needs somebody who knows how to motivate players. They need a disciplinarian. Jon Gruden worked wonders with the Raiders during his initial coaching stint that began in 1998, turning a 4-12 team into a perennial AFC West champion. Had he stayed, the Raiders may have won another Super Bowl.
Before the 2002 season, Gruden was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who he did guide to a win in the big game over the Raiders. This time Gruden should be traded for Dennis Allen. Allen is a bright guy who would make a decent-enough ESPN analyst. He may even one day be a good coach, but he is not ready yet. As for Gruden, being an NFL coach is what he was born to do. Mark Davis should give Gruden whatever he wants and watch the results.
Results are what the Raider Nation is starving for. Firing Dennis Allen was the right first start, but now Davis and McKenzie have to bring in somebody for 2015 who can shake the team up. This requires opening up the offense, letting Carr when he gets healthy improvise, and getting the players on defense to know that the offense will not give games away.
Jim Harbaugh turned around the San Francisco 49ers. It can be done, even though Dennis Allen did not do it. Now the Raiders need to find somebody able to get the job done.