Raiders fans finally had something to celebrate Thursday night, with rookie quarterback Derek Carr leading the team to its first victory in more than a calendar year.
Yet the good cheer spread by the 24-20 win over the visiting Chiefs at O.co Coliseum might have been dampened by team owner Mark Davis’ statements that general manager Reggie McKenzie isn’t going anywhere.
On the same day it was reported that some Raiders fans had bought an ad in a Bay Area newspaper pleading with the organization to bring back head coach Hue Jackson – let go by McKenzie after an 8-8 season in 2011 – Davis gave a strong vote of confidence to McKenzie, whom many fans want fired after seasons of 4-12, 4-12 and (so far) 1-10.
Under McKenzie’s watch the Raiders are 9-34.
On Thursday, before the Raiders took on the Chiefs, Davis told Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network that he’s satisfied with the way McKenzie has dug the team out of salary-cap hell and brought in new talent, such as Carr, linebacker Khalil Mack and guard Gabe Jackson in the 2014 draft class, which has been judged by some analysts to be the best draft class in the NFL this season.
“We are in really good shape, based on the way Reggie put all the contracts together and everything else,” Davis told Rapoport. “We’re not settled with a lot of upside-down situations anymore. The situation he walked into originally was pretty tough. The deconstruction phase of that went very, very well. I think we’re a pretty desirable place for someone that wants to come in and build.”
That’s a reference, of course, to the hunt to bring in a new head coach after the firing of Dennis Allen after four games and the elevation of Tony Sparano to interim head coach.
For once this offseason, the Raiders won’t have to spend energy or a high draft pick searching for a franchise quarterback. They believe they have one now in Carr, who picked up the first pro victory of his career Thursday night.
The Raiders will be well-positioned in the 2015 draft again, with perhaps the top pick, and should be able to stock the roster with more impact players for next season to build around Carr on offense and Mack on defense.
But if McKenzie sticks around, he’ll need to do a better job in free agency. The GM signed nine veterans this past offseason for about $70 million, yet most have done very little. Receiver James Jones has been solid, and caught the winning TD pass Thursday night. Left tackle Donald Penn, defensive lineman Antonio Smith and corner Tarell Brown also have contributed. But Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Carlos Rogers and Maurice-Jones Drew haven't had much of a positive impact.
Yet Davis believes McKenzie has provided the franchise with a foundation. Though the Raiders are 1-10, Davis wants stability and the team to build from the ground up, through the draft and wise pursuit of unsigned college free agents. Though the call for McKenzie’s head has gotten louder, Davis has his earplugs in.
He says McKenzie is not “an interim GM.”
As much as Raiders fans are happy with Thursday night’s victory, some likely are just as unhappy with Davis' thinking on the morning after. Yet on Twitter, many fans seem to be siding with Davis. Wrote one: "Reggie McKenzie is changing the culture in Oakland. I'd be furious if they fired him." Wrote another: "Reggie McKenzie needs to nail this next HC and have him work with him and make the Raiders! With a great coaching staff, things will change."