McKenzie's Bold Move Leads To Blame Game

There are a lot of things unbecoming, some of them unforgiveable, in the league. At or near the top of the to-don't list: The refusal to accept accountability. And a close second is trying to usurp too much power. Hue Jackson was guilty of both.

If the Oakland Raiders had demonstrated in a few key contests this season the same kind of ardor and intensity that their deposed head coach manifested in The Blame Game, there's at least a chance that Hue Jackson might still be employed today.

But in the wake of the team's season-ending loss to San Diego on New Year's Day, when a victory would have propelled the Raiders to their first winning campaign since 2002 and first playoff berth since that Super Bowl year, Jackson blamed ... his players for the 38-26 defeat.

In the ensuing days, Jackson lashed out at just about everyone on the roster, and privately faulted his defensive staff for the club's failures. And then on Tuesday, after the announcement that he will not be back for a second year as head coach, Jackson initially fingered newly installed general manager Reggie McKenzie for his dismissal, then decided it was freshman owner Mark Davis who decided he wouldn't be back.

Some people live in a House of Mirrors. Jackson apparently resided in a place bereft of reflective devices.

There are a lot of things unbecoming, some of them unforgiveable, in the league. At or near the top of the to-don't list: The refusal to accept accountability.

And a close second is trying to usurp too much power.

One might have felt that, after 10 years as an NFL assistant, Jackson should have learned these lessons. But the canned Raiders' coach, perhaps emboldened by a false sense of hubris, was guilty of both transgressions.

Players around the league, certainly, know at least privately that they, and not their coaches, generally lose games. But they don't appreciate being called out, as Jackson did following the San Diego loss, in a forum as conspicuous as a postmortem. Some of the most respected coaches don't necessarily have the most glittering win-loss marks, but score big points in the locker room for protecting the guys who pull on the pads.

Jackson simply didn't have his guys' backs.

As for the public power grab, insisting to anyone who would listen that he would seek significant input on who Oakland might tab to essentially run the organization in the wake of Al Davis' death, well, Jackson overreached. For a guy who had never before been a head coach, but had three times been an offensive coordinator -- but never for more than one season at a time -- Jackson for whatever reason neither perceived nor accepted his place in the Oakland power structure.

Last week, we cited in a column the old Jim Finks reminder that in the NFL, "players play, owners own, and coaches coach." Roughly a month ago, in a Tip Sheet column, we suggested that some Raiders people felt Jackson was expending way too much energy trying to expand his gravitas in the organization, and should instead worry just about coaching the team. There were a few other Hansel and Gretel-type bread-trail droppings -- sometimes, to protect sources, you've got to be purposely obtuse -- to suggest that Jackson was wearing a bit thin with management. So were we as surprised, as some observers purported to be, by Tuesday's canning?

No, not a bit.

We won't be as callous as some -- who have contended that the lone reason Al Davis had chosen Jackson for his head coach was to have in place a guy beholden to the owner and amenable to his nettlesome bent -- in suggesting there was little about Jackson's credentials that screamed "head coach candidate." Heck, the history of the NFL is rife, this year likely included, with men who ascended to head coach ranks with dubious resumes.

But let's say this: The appointment of Jackson as a head coach was even more a head-scratcher than his dismissal. The firing was more suicidal that homicidal.

The 19th Century historian and moralist Lord Acton noted that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. We'll add this: Sometimes, in a power grab, a person's reach exceeds his grasp. In the case of Jackson, well, he never grasped that his reach was way too ambitious. He wasn't corrupted, just deluded.

Since the departure of Jon Gruden following the 2001 season, basically a king's ransom trade to Tampa Bay, the Raiders haven't had a coach who lasted for more than two full seasons. The former front office executives who counseled Mark Davis in the months since his father's death, some of them on-site in the team offices, had reservations about Jackson, and that might have played a role in his removal. The younger Davis isn't his father, but he has inherited some of the DNA, and there is some doubt that Al Davis would have retained Jackson, given the coach's power grab. Then again, had Al Davis still been around, maybe Jackson might not have even dared had the temerity to seek out further clout.

In the seismic transition into which the Raiders are about to venture, with a new rudder for the first time in decade, and perhaps a new direction, McKenzie deserved the right to hire his own guy. In the end, Jackson kind of got what he deserved, too.

When it comes time to assign culpability for his failure, Jackson might want to steal a glance into the mirror, provided he can locate one. As far as determining who, in his own mind, shoved the knife into his back, Jackson might want to dust the dagger for fingerprints. Chances are, he'll find his own.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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