It's been just one year, but Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has already shown he is the fiery leader that the Raiders needed to help guide them back on track to their winning ways.
The Raiders haven't had a winning season since they reached the Super Bowl in 2002 but Del Rio knows that those are teams of the past, and this is his team now. He and general manager Reggie McKenzie have worked to change the culture in the locker room and it has shown, now full of young players with their eye on the prize.
It helps that Del Rio has been in the players' shoes before, playing in 160 games over his 11-year career. The players admit that it makes him more personable, and easier to related to.
"It means the world to a bunch of guys, if you have a coach that hasn't been in your shoes, that hasn't experienced what you have experienced, it’s a lot different coming from a guy who has, so we respect that and love playing for a guy like that,” running back Latavius Murray said about his coach.
Free agent safety Reggie Nelson signed a two-year deal with the Raiders this offseason, reuniting him with Del Rio who was in Jacksonville with the Jaguars when they drafted Nelson 21st-overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Nelson played three years under Del Rio and is excited to be working with him again, knowing what kind of a coach he is.
“Coach Jack is his own man," Nelson said on Thursday. "He’s always been like that and I see he hasn’t changed that. You watch Coach Del Rio work, he was a player and he knows how it feels to be out there. Coach Jack is his own man. I can’t compare him to any other coaches and that’s what I love about him.”
Del Rio grew up a Raiders fan during his time in Hayward, Calif. and grew up watching the Raiders of old during their primetime when they played much like he did, quick and hard-hitting. The California-native aspires to lead the Silver & Black back to that point, and it's catching on with his young players, and now they want to bring the same style of play to the field in 2016.
"A lot of us continue to watch the old Raiders and how physical they were and how tenacious they played and fearless, the energy that they brought to the crowd, the fans, the expectation that they always fulfilled within the fans," TJ Carrie said. "Going into the season, that’s going to be the main goal, making sure that we’re playing sound football and smart football as well because you can have all of those things, but not be playing as smart as you need to play to be successful for the game.”