Ray Ratto

Make no mistake, Allen new face of Raiders franchise


Make no mistake, Allen new face of Raiders franchise

Dennis Allen looked and acted on Monday like a guy who knows his boss has his back. Thats confidence in a way that merely saying the word confidence cannot.

He also looked like a man who wants command, who has thought about command, and sees that being the new coach of the Oakland Raiders is, for the first time in nearly half a century, a true chance to command.

And he also looked, at least facially, like Washingtons Kyle Shanahan, which should not unnerve you too much. Most young football coaches tend to look like Kyle Shanahan.

Mostly, Allen gave off the vibe of someone who is not going into this Raider thing blind. He knows he has been brought to Le Trou Noir to be definitive rather than deferential. His bearing and accent say Texas A&M, and his complete surety shouts, Go on, test me. I dare you.

This, then, is the new face of the Oakland Raiders -- a man like McKenzie, only without the rounded edges. They were brought here under separate cover to change what the Raiders have come to be known for -- underachievement, indiscipline, failure in moments of stress and overall playoff avoidance.

Oh, he used all the buzzwords -- up-tempo and aggressive and disciplined, most notably, as though most coaches come out in favor of slow, passive sloth.

But it was the specificity of his answers on certain topics that leaped out as coming from a guy who has already seized the job.

He knows what kind of coach he would be -- a game manager, not a hands-on-too-tight play-by-play detail hog. He knows his view of talented but undisciplined players -- they wouldnt play. He knows one area he needs to dramatically improve off the bat -- the secondary, which was shredded for nearly 4,300 yards and 31 scores last year.

And he paid as much attention to acknowledging the Raiders past as he needed to, and not beyond. He regards it, pure and simple, as far less important than establishing a strong and sensible future.

That came in response to a question from a fan, an odd idea that we suspect will be imitated by other teams in the years to come. Allen handled it with the same shark-eyed, jut-jawed glare that he handled all the others.

He is, in short, the first coach since Al Davis in 1963 to speak so frankly of command, and if in fact he backs up his image and words with deeds come OTAs and training camp, and the players realize how dramatic the change is from the weird old days, he will in fact be that commander.

Of course, the proof is in the two-a-days, and it helps that he got to see the Raiders in person at their best (when they sat on the Broncos in Week One by not allowing them to run the ball) and worst (when they went in the tank in Week 9, blowing two 10-point leads and giving up 100-yard games to Willis McGahee and The Tebow).

In doing so, he saw why the Raiders can impress, and why they are held in such disdain when they dont. And even if he wasnt making notes on the Raiders after those two games, he surely has since.

None of this, of course, gets him Win 1, but as the living embodiment of the new power washer being taken to the Raiders, hell do fine. It is instructive that owner Mark Davis read a brief introduction and then left the stage to McKenzie and Allen. Not only did Al never do that, most owners dont. They want you to know that they own the team and that their word is law. Davis wanted to leave the absolute opposite impression, so he left.

The result of this, we suspect, is that a lot of players will find Allens style of leadership off-putting, and will miss the old laissez-faire days when the players held the hammer because they had better access to Al than the coach did. Some may even resist, or rebel.

But as we said, Allen is McKenzies guy, and McKenzie has the keys. Whether this lasts four years, the length of Allens contract, remains to be seen, but he wont be able to say, as so many have before him, that he wasnt given the chance to be his own man.

And that is very un-Raider-like indeed.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.