CARSON – Quarterback Derek Carr sat by his locker, still absorbing Sunday’s 30-10 loss to the L.A. Chargers when a teammate showed him his phone.
The screen delivered unwelcome news. Head coach Jack Del Rio had been fired.
Owner Mark Davis informed Del Rio of the decision right after the regular-season finale, a swift action to blow out the coaching staff after a disastrous 6-10 campaign.
Del Rio broke the news himself in a postgame press conference he didn’t have to attend, at which point word spread fast across the internet. Far quicker, it seems than in the Raiders locker room.
Several players didn’t know about Davis’ decision until media entered the locker room, leaving many surprised by the move. Few wanted to address it right away.
Captain Khalil Mack left without addressing the press. Derek Carr did his best in a postgame press conference.
“We weren’t good enough for him,” Carr said. “We have to take ownership of that as players. We’re angry that we let it get to that. We understand the business part of it. Our job is to come back better and hungry. We’ve been through some hard times together, and this is right up with the tough moments. There’s nothing you can do about it now, though the wound is still fresh, but it’ll scar over. It hurts, but you have to move on.”
Players who spoke were surprised that a person they generally cared for was dismissed, and shared some responsibility for his firing.
“We didn’t see this coming,” Carr said. “We were already talking about things we needed to fix to get this thing right. We were getting ready for what’s next. For it to just be done, that’s just crazy.”
Del Rio addressed the team before being formally let go, but not after. Then he met wit Davis, announced his own firing and eventually met with Carr and Mack after news broke.
“This is our team. There’s no secret about that,” Carr said. “It’s Khalil’s and my team, and went in and hugged him, told him we loved him. He’s a man’s man. When it was hard, he stood in there and talked to us. We’re a family that needs to be better together.”
This family has some bonding to do after cracks formed inside the Raiders complex. While players publicly supported Del Rio on Sunday and throughout the year, it's naive to think everyone in the locker room loved him. Some seemed shellshocked by the news. Quite a few, however, didn't seem to care.
Falling below expectation comes with a price, and fingers started pointing at the coaching staff when the wheels came. Firing defensive coordinator Ken Norton during the season was met with furrowed brows, and upset several team leaders, but there were problems well before that. Bringing Todd Downing on and allowing Bill Musgrave to walk also irked some after it became obvious the move had backfired. Del Rio had his supporters, but not everyone will be sad to see him leave.
The Raiders will now look to get back on track following an off year, now working under a new coaching staff.
Carr wouldn’t speculate about the prospect of having Jon Gruden as his new head coach – it seems likely the former Raiders coach will again don silver and black – but promised the next staff will inherit a talented and motivated roster.
“We have a bunch of dogs,” Carr said. “I think anyone would tell you that. The guy who comes in next will have a bunch of angry dudes who just want to fight and compete their tail off. That’s where we go from here.”