Jim Plunkett reflects on Al Davis


Jim Plunkett reflects on Al Davis

Is there a way to put into words not only what Al Davis meant to the NFL but to you on a personal level?
"We've been friends for a long time, he's meant a lot to me and my family -- he's been very good to us in a lot of different ways -- both on the field for me and off the field for me and my family. I can't say enough about that. People don't look at that side of Mr. Davis. He's the guy who gave me another opportunity when I was almost out of football -- well, actually I was, when I signed with the Raiders, put me in a position to help him win two Super Bowls, have some exciting, winning seasons Mr. Davis and his family has meant a lot to us. "

From the personal perspective, was there ever anybody like him, in terms of pro football and as a person in general?

"Not that I've met personally. I sit with him each and every week, either at home, at the Coliseum or on the road. And I learn something every time I sit down with him, either about personnel or about tactics, about philosophy, about who can do what out there on the football field. When either team started to line up on the line of scrimmage, before the offense was set he could almost tell you the next play because he studies it so vigorously and he knows what was coming from each and every formation. It was a lot of fun. The past few games, you missed him sorely, not being in the box, being able to talk to him and gleaning that kind of information from the man who literally knew it all. People disagreed with him on many occasions but that's to be expected. He liked to do things his way and he usually did."
From a player's perspective, in terms of the opportunities he gave to women and minorities in the NFL, is that even measurable, the effect he had on the social side of the game?
"That's another impact that he had on the National Football League, bringing in minorities and women into a men-only football environment. That's not to be overlooked by any means. Even me, when I came back to the Raiders, he encouraged me, he said I liked you ever since you were at Stanford, and we're glad you're with us. If you have any questions, day or night, don't hesitate to give me a call. And believe me, he would call me late at night at home to see what I was thinking about for a particular game. He was 24-7 football and nobody, I don't think, can appreciate that as much if you didn't know a person like that. He loved football."

You're always going to be linked with him, you won two Super Bowls with him.
"He gave me the opportunity and once you get the opportunity you have to take advantage with it. Fortunately, I did. I'm just sorry in '82 and '85 when I got hurt not (to be able) to possibly try for another Super Bowl. I didn't play as well as I think I could have. In certain situations I felt I let him down a little bit. But to help him win two more Super Bowls, it was good for him and the Raiders and it was certainly good for me."

Your lasting impression of him?
"He's a man who will be sorely missed, not only by his former players and coaches, but by the entire league and by football fans as well."

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was twice asked about making in-season changes at his Monday press conference.

He wouldn’t rule it out. Del Rio said he would do anything necessary to help the team “win now,” and later said "we're not getting into staff questions this week."

Then he fired Ken Norton Jr. the next day, hoping the dismissal will provide a spark.

It might. More likely, it might not do enough.

It is a shot across the bow at its base, a signal that subpar play won't be tolerated. 

“We played under our talent level,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said, “Those things come with consequences.”

New play caller John Pagano has a unique style and knows how to bring creative pressure, disguise a simple play as complex and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system this season. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s scheme and, more importantly, he’s still playing chess with existing, often inferior pieces. The Raiders understand that, and likely won't judge him on this final stretch alone. 

Why? The defense doesn’t have enough talent in the secondary, the interior defensive line or the inside linebacker corps. That’s not on Norton or Pagano.

Pagano can’t do a thing about an offense struggling mightily to catch passes, block consistently and let plays develop downfield.

The Raiders have some major talent problems, with rush and coverage rarely working together as desired. That, and some uninspired schematics, have produced awful statistics.

The Raiders don’t have an interception, and are the first team to go 10 games without a pick. They’re on track to have the second-worst opposing completion percentage (72.3) and passer rating (113.3) in NFL history, per the Associated Press.

They’re also last in sacks for the second straight year, with just 14 this season despite having reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack.

They're thin because last year's second and third round picks, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun aren't contributing. This year's draft class had to make an immediate impact, but Gareon Conley played two games, Obi Melifonwu spent eight games on IR and Eddie Vanderdoes as underwhelmed after a promising start.

Highly paid free agents haven't performed well enough, and many could be shown the door.

It’s possible roughly half of the starting lineup doesn’t return next season, with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman likely out the door as free agents or roster cuts.

In sum, this isn’t all Norton’s fault.

He was, however, the easiest cut. You can’t fire players en masse during the year, and Pagano was an easy replacement without disrupting the position coaches. Pagano has extensive experience calling plays. He was the then-San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2012-16.

Norton wasn’t an innovative play caller. He was passed over for coordinator jobs while serving as Seattle’s linebackers coach, after Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn were hired as head coaches. Del Rio, who played with Norton in Dallas back from 1989-91, hired Norton shortly after being hired by the Raiders.

The Raiders' defense has never been good under Norton/Del Rio, and Norton was on a hot seat most of last season. It was surprising when Pagano was hired that Norton was retained and allowed to continue despite underwhelming performance.

Norton was immensely popular in the locker room, especially with members of the front seven. Mack and Irvin in particular were Norton guys. Norton and Irvin go way back to Irvin’s Seattle days, where the coach helped the player get and stay on the right path.

That’s why this firing was deeply felt on Tuesday. The players were told in an afternoon meeting, following a walk-through focused on corrections from Sunday’s New England loss.

"The axe came down on everybody," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. Players, we love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing. We are.”

The Raiders are 4-6, and can’t afford to lose many more games. They might need to be perfect down the stretch to avoid a messy tiebreaker situation. That’s a tough ask for a team that’s been woefully inconsistent on both sides. This team was always expected to shoot for the middle defensively and have a potentially great offense score points by the bushel.

The offense has been most disappointing, performing far below its pay grade and talent level. There was no movement on that side of the ball. The Raiders hope, with fingers firmly crossed, this defensive change provide the spark necessary to create turnovers and quarterback pressure than has been lacking in a disastrous season to this point.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Ken Norton Jr.'s time with the Raiders is up.

With the team underperforming, Oakland has fired Norton as the defensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. John Pagano will handle the play calling duties when the Raiders take on the Broncos this Sunday.

Head coach Jack Del Rio issued the following statement regarding the news:

“After careful thought, I have made a difficult decision to part ways with Ken Norton, Jr. as defensive coordinator. I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach, but I feel that moving John Pagano into the play-calling role will best utilize his wealth of experience. I appreciate Ken’s passion and commitment to the Raiders since coming aboard and wish him the best going forward.”

The Raiders defense under Norton this season ranks 26th in the NFL in yards allow per game (367.0), is allowing 24.7 points per game and has yet to record an interception through 10 games.

"We played under our talent level. Those things come with consequences," defensive lineman Justin Ellis told reporters shortly after the news broke.

"The axe fell on all of us. We love Coach Norton. We didn’t want to see this happen," safety Reggie Nelson said.

Norton joined Del Rio's staff prior to the 2015 season.