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Autumn wind of change swirls over Oakland Raiders

Owner Mark Davis takes over after death of his father, Al Davis, with new Coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie. Meaningful overhaul includes mandate of accountability and respect for the past.

July 30, 2012|By Sam Farmer
  • Raiders Coach Dennis Allen meets with reporters before training camp on Monday.
Raiders Coach Dennis Allen meets with reporters before training camp on… (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press )

NAPA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders know their past, are surrounded by reminders of their past, and pay homage to their past.

But they're no longer stuck in their past.

That's the early indication, anyway, as the Raiders begin their next chapter with new owner Mark Davis — son of the late Al Davis — first-year Coach Dennis Allen, and top football executive Reggie McKenzie, the club's first general manager since the elder Davis began running the entire operation in 1963. Al Davis died in October, and control of the franchise was passed to his son.

Even the team's 2012 media guide, finally printed in color, reflects the change, bearing the slogan "A New Era of Excellence" on the cover.

Suddenly, the Raiders feel a little less like a maverick organization and a little more like the other 31 teams in the NFL.

That might not necessarily be embraced by the entire fan base, but a club that has missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons was due for a meaningful overhaul.

"You acknowledge the rich history with some of these great players that still come around," Allen, Denver's former defensive coordinator, said Monday, the team's first day of training camp. "I know at some point we'll have some Hall of Fame players who will slide through here and come watch practice. But at the same time, that was done the way that was done, and we're going to do it the way that we're going to do it."

That's true in the macro sense, with Mark Davis empowering McKenzie and Allen to make personnel decisions — whereas his father exercised final say on every signing — and at the micro level. For instance, there's a feeling among Raiders players that there's no longer an owner playing favorites, and there's more personal accountability among everyone on the roster, meaning it's no longer OK to stroll into a meeting two or three minutes after the designated start time.

"It doesn't matter if you're Richard Seymour, Michael Huff or a rookie, we're all treated the same," said Huff, a safety who has been with the Raiders since 2006.

Said McKenzie, a former Raiders linebacker who was with Green Bay for the last 18 years, most recently as director of football operations: "When you hold players and coaches accountable for what they do, that's part of the winning process. That's part of the changing of the minds and the way of thinking. It's not about being late to meetings. That's not showing you want to be accountable and want to win.

"The little things matter."

Rich Gannon, the Raiders quarterback-turned-broadcaster whose candid criticism of the organization at times angered Al Davis, was invited back by the new regime to talk to the team before training camp.

"You get a sense of the change when you talk to more than just players," Gannon said. "I went over to the locker room and talked to equipment guys and trainers, video guys. You just get the sense these guys are excited. You get the sense that change has come. There's new leadership.

"I don't mean any disrespect to Mr. Davis; he did an incredible job. I just think that any time you bring new people in there's going to be change. People sense there's a new era, and that the leadership with Reggie and Dennis is going to make a difference."

There is opportunity in the tightly knotted AFC West, in which Denver, San Diego and Oakland finished 8-8 last season, and Kansas City was 7-9.

Still, no team entered the off-season in worse salary-cap shape than the Raiders, and Oakland didn't make its first pick in the draft until the third round. They unloaded a slew of high-profile and/or high-paid players — among them linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, cornerback Stanford Routt, running back Michael Bush, receivers Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy, and quarterback Jason Campbell — and have a defense that's largely untested behind the solid front four.

The Raiders have the potential to score a lot of points, however. Much of their offensive success rests on the health and effectiveness of quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Darren McFadden.

With Hue Jackson as coach last season, the Raiders started 7-4 before fizzling down the stretch, losing four of their final five, including a 38-26 home loss to San Diego with a trip to the playoffs hanging in the balance.

By McKenzie's thinking, change doesn't mean much if it's not reflected in wins and losses.

"We've still got to win football games," he said. "Ain't no bones about it. To be a great organization, you've got to win."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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