PHOENIX—His was the least-crowded table at Tuesday morning’s AFC coaches breakfast. Bill Belichick’s table was surrounded by TV cameras, and one TV reporter was doing a live standup, even though Belichick had yet to arrive. In contrast, Jack Del Rio enjoyed breakfast and an intimate football conversation with four reporters.
In time, Del Rio could become the best story in the league. On this day, he was barely a story, which describes perfectly the decline of the once famous and infamous Oakland Raiders.
“The biggest thing is I grew up there when that was a great organization. We want to bring the franchise back to greatness. We want to be one of the premier franchises in the league. I was at dinner last night with Howie Long. We want guys like that to be proud of what we’re doing,” Del Rio said.
It’s been a long time since the Raiders were proud. Once upon a time, they played historical games. In recent years, they’ve mostly played forgettable games. Del Rio was hired to change that and, if he does, he’ll be more than a winning coach, he’ll be a hometown hero, provided the Raiders remain in Oakland.
Everything about this once proud franchise is unsettled these days. Can they win again? Will they even stay in Oakland? It’s almost as though the guy on the helmet needs two eye patches.
“I’m an East Bay guy. When I’ve asked Mark Davis, his statement has been consistent. We want to stay in Oakland. I just refuse to waste time speculating on what might happen. I’m not blind to it, but we’re in Oakland,” Del Rio said.
Del Rio was speaking candidly at Tuesday’s AFC coaches breakfast, while all around him the conversations were less revealing. The Raiders need somebody who’ll speak candidly. The Raiders need to recover their swagger. Del Rio’s Jacksonville teams didn’t win titles, but they had swagger, and it began on the defensive side of the ball. Expect the same to occur in Oakland.
“Hard, tough and physical,” Del Rio said of what he envisions for the Raiders. “The one thing we both appreciate are big guys,” he added of his relationship with General Manager Reggie McKenzie, formerly of the Packers’ personnel department. “We believe in having a physical football team and it starts with the offensive and defensive lines.”
The Raiders will have the fourth pick of the draft. USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams might be available. He’s a player around whom Del Rio could build, just as he built the Jaguars around massive defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
Del Rio has a promising young quarterback, Derek Carr. His growth in year two of his career will likely define the Raiders’ season in 2015, though Del Rio said he’d prefer it didn’t turn out that way.
“It was all about Derek last year. We want to run the ball. As we do those things around him, he has a chance to flourish,” Del Rio said.
We’re talking about an old-fashioned run-the-ball, stop-the-run coach whose former owner introduced him as head coach by saying, “No more three yards and a cloud of dust.” Actually, it was more like four yards.
Del Rio’s Raiders teams are going to win with defense and the running game, or they won’t win. What if they win? What if the hometown guy guides the team of his youth back to greatness?
Oh, what a story it would be.
“I have a job to do,” he said.
He has a story to write.