The Raiders have employed a static, linear power structure since Mark Davis took control. The owner sits on top, with general manager Reggie McKenzie below that in charge of all personnel decisions. The head coach rests below that.
Dennis Allen had say, but no influence in roster creation. Jack Del Rio was more of a lesser among equals, with a louder voice and certainly greater say in personnel. He could obviously decide who started, who played and how much.
Acquiring talent, however, was still McKenzie’s call. And the Raiders power rankings never changed: 1. Owner, 2. General Manager, 3. Head Coach.
Jon Gruden should rearrange that order.
He’s expected to be the Raiders next head coach, with a formal announcement likely coming next week.
The popular and respected personality walks loud and carries a big stick.
History suggests Gruden will have personnel control, a power he held over seven seasons in Tampa Bay. Al Davis ran the show during his first stint with the Raiders (1998-2001), though Gruden had significant say on how things went. He wanted greater personnel control, a point of contention as between him and the famous owner/GM.
Mark Davis has great respect, maybe even reverence for Gruden. He’ll pay the once-and-likely-future head coach a king’s ransom. Great power should come with that.
We won’t know how much until we hear from Davis and Gruden after a formal pact. That must be noted here, and recalled throughout this piece.
We can say with certainty that McKenzie’s influence will be dulled. That will be a blow. McKenzie signed a four-year contract extension in July 2016 that lasts through the 2021 NFL draft.
That doesn’t mean that he’ll want to be here. Or that Gruden will want him to stay long term.
McKenzie’s a respected pro and college scout and would be useful in any regime, but will he want to contribute if Gruden’s truly running the show? Will some of his loyal staff be let go in favor of Gruden’s trusted personnel people, with Reggie powerless to stop it?
Those questions are yet to be answered. While the transition from Del Rio to Gruden should be seamless, uncertainty reigns over the Raiders scouting department as currently constructed. The NFL draft is less than four months away and some continuity would help during that event, making it likely McKenzie sticks around a while at least.
McKenzie seemed poised to remain in his exact role even during a disappointing 6-10 season where the coaching staff was under fire and his recent draft picks underperformed. He was, after all, Davis’ right hand man and a trusted resource. Will he want to carry on with Gruden in that spot?
McKenzie did lots of dirty work getting the Raiders right with the salary cap, ridding the roster of bloated contracts and bad apples. He deserves credit for a franchise-altering 2014 draft class that reaped Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson. He signed some quality free agents, and built offensive line strength that brought the Raiders back to relevance.
McKenzie also swung a missed on the 2016 draft class, and the Raiders got zero return from this year’s crop in its first season.
Getting Gruden, however, is worth more to Davis than all that. He moved mountains to get his guy -- Davis has done all the hiring and firing of coaches recently -- and is on the cusp of doing exactly that. Gruden being here suggests there's a new sherriff in town.