ALAMEDA, Calif. — Reggie McKenzie started researching Dennis Allen as a potential coaching candidate this past season when he first heard the Oakland Raiders might hire him as a general manager.
He talked to some of Allen's former players and coaching colleagues and only got rave reviews. When McKenzie sat down with Allen two weeks ago in Denver for his first interview, he knew he had found his man,
"The bottom line, he was what the doctor ordered," McKenzie said Monday at a news conference to introduce Allen. "He understood the big picture as far as putting a plan together, how to do this, this and this. We went over everything. How you treat people, how you treat players, getting a staff together. It was all right in line (with) the way I was thinking."
With speculation pointing to McKenzie hiring one of his former colleagues in Green Bay to be his first head coach, he instead turned to the 39-year-old Allen, who had just one year of experience as a defensive coordinator in Denver and had never been a head coach at any level.
He starts his first head coaching job in Oakland with the task of turning around a franchise that has gone nine straight seasons without a winning record or a playoff berth while going through a revolving door of head coaches. Allen is the seventh head coach for the Raiders since 2003, but he is the first to be hired since longtime owner Al Davis died in October.
Davis' son, Mark, took over as managing general partner and hired McKenzie earlier this month to remake the football side of the organization. McKenzie immediately fired Hue Jackson, who went 8-8 in his only season as head coach, and then began the search that ended with Allen's hiring.
Allen got more stability than his predecessors with a four-year contract as opposed to the two guaranteed years they were given under Al Davis and will have more say in putting together his staff and roster than head coaches previously had in Oakland.
"At the end of the day, what I was really concerned with was, who are the people that are leading the organization now? The people who are leading the organization now are Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie, and when I looked across the table at Reggie McKenzie, I knew that was a man that I believed in and that I trusted in," Allen said. "That was the only thing that was a concern to me, and that was what really drew me to this job."
Allen has plenty of work to do to turn the Raiders around after a nearly decade-long stretch of losing and poor play. Oakland has been plagued by sloppy play and porous run defense during that stretch and both issues were major problems last season.
Oakland also set an NFL record last season with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards so it came as little surprise that Allen used a version of the word discipline more than a half-dozen times in his news conference.
"The only way that you create habits is through consistency, doing the same things over and over and over," Allen said. "Well, if you're committing penalties, that becomes a habit. We've got to change those habits, all right? We've got to develop the proper habits so that we're not creating those penalties on a daily basis."
The Raiders are also coming off one of their worst defensive seasons ever. Oakland had franchise worsts in touchdown passes allowed (31), yards per carry (5.1), yards passing (4,262) and total yards (6,201), while giving up the third-most points (433) in team history.
The struggles came despite a unit that had high-priced and high-profile players throughout, from linemen Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly to linebackers Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley and defensive backs Stanford Routt and Michael Huff.
"I don't think radical changes are what need to be made," Allen said. "Obviously, just with all aspects of the game, you're always going to try to upgrade your team in whatever way that you can but I do still feel like there's a talented defense. I feel like we got enough players, both on offense and defense, that we can win a championship with."
Allen and McKenzie will make those tweaks together as McKenzie envisions a general manager-coach relationship similar to the successful ones he witnessed as an executive in Green Bay.
"This is a team effort," McKenzie said. "When we go about getting players, work on getting a staff in here, how we're going to do things on the football side, we're going to do these things together. It's not, 'I got this, you have this.' We're not doing it like that. The right hand will know what the left hand is doing. We're in this thing together."
Allen said he will not call defensive plays as head coach, preferring to be a "game manager" who is deeply involved in all facets of the team on game days. That will put a greater importance on the staff he puts together.
The Raiders have only one assistant currently under contract, offensive coordinator Al Saunders, and there is no assurance that he will return. McKenzie said Allen could keep a few of the other assistants but most of the staff will be new.
Allen wants a defense that attacks the quarterback and is stout against the run. Allen also said he wants to run an up-tempo, aggressive offense and believes he has many of the playmakers needed to make it work. Carson Palmer will be back for his first full season with the Raiders and has already talked to Allen and McKenzie about the new direction for the franchise.
"Carson Palmer is extremely excited about what we have going here," Allen said. "He's looking forward to the future and he's excited about the opportunities here."