Oakland Raiders Head Coach Search: The Good and Bad of Dennis Allen


John Doublin – Jan 24, 2012

As the Oakland Raiders' general manager Reggie McKenzie closes in on "his guy" to be the next head coach of the Raiders, many sources close to the team and the league are reporting that former Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will be that man.

This comes as a shock to many. There were reports early on that suggested assistant head coach of the Green Bay Packers Winston Moss would be the guy. Others thought that Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhingweg would get the nod. Whatever the case, if current reports are accurate, it seems that McKenzie and the Raiders have settled on Allen.

McKenzie tried to dispel any further speculation when he was interviewed by CSN Bay Area's Paul Gutierrez:
"McKenzie also told CSNCalifornia.com that no job has been offered to Allen, nor are they in any "negotiations," as reported elsewhere."

This is typical of not only the Raiders, but the entire league. Decisions like this are kept extremely guarded until the moment of unveiling in an official press conference.

Hiring Allen could be sort of a double-edged sword. Allen is a defensive minded coach-something the Raiders haven't had since John Madden in the 1970's. However, most of Raider Nation is lamenting that "He's a Bronco!"

Yes, he was most recently a Bronco, but his coaching experience goes far beyond that.

Allen was a stand-out, four-year letterman safety at Texas A&M University from 1992 to 1995, where he also began his coaching career as secondary coach. He then went on to coach the defensive backs at Tulsa University.

From there, the NFL came calling. Allen was hired to coach the secondary for the Atlanta Falcons under the tutelage of defensive guru, Wade Phillips. In that time, Allen improved the Falcons' ranking in interceptions from 30th to 16th in just one season.

In 2005 Allen moved on to coach for Sean Payton in New Orleans. While coaching the defensive line for the Saints, Will Smith was sent to the Pro Bowl while being coached by Allen and the Saints led the league in pressures, (including a brilliant performance against Bret Favre and the Vikings in the NFC championship game) and turnovers in their Super Bowl championship run of 2009 under Allen.

This past season, Allen was hired by John Fox to run the terrible Denver Broncos' defense that ranked last in nearly every category.

In just one season, Allen managed to improve the Bronco defense from an overall ranking of 32nd, (dead last) to 20th. However, this includes improving the run defense from being ranked 31st to being ranked 22nd.

Although the Raider faithful were holding their breath, and speaking out in favor of re-hiring former Raider coach Jon Gruden, the hiring of Allen, (if confirmed) would be a solid decision for several reasons. With that said, there may be some pitfalls as well.

The Good:

Allen has a history of coaching for some excellent coaches. John Fox has taken the Carolina Panthers to a Super Bowl, Wade Phillips is one of, if not the most respected defensive coaches in football and Sean Payton has won a Super Bowl while Allen was on his staff.

Learning from great coaches, makes great coaches. Going all the way back to Paul Brown assistants like Bill Walsh, Walsh assistants too numerous to list, (Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid and the aforementioned Jon Gruden to name a few) and the whole Parcells-tree that is still in the game and winning today...(Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin are BOTH in the Super Bowl this year).

Any time you have the opportunity to watch things done the right way, you get closer to being capable of doing things the right way...it's that simple. Allen has watched some of the best in the game coach and teach successful programs. No doubt this experience will help him be prepared for this job.

Another factor that makes Allen a solid choice is that he has coached in both a 4-3 and a 3-4 defensive scheme. Under Phillips in Atlanta, Allen was the secondary coach for a 3-4 defense, under Payton he was the defensive line coach for Greg Williams' championship 4-3 scheme and most recently, Allen was in control of the entire defense under 4-3 specialist John Fox.

This diversity and understanding of a variety of schemes and philosophies means that Allen has the ability to mix and match what worked from each coach and each philosophy to create something that is unique and effective.

Allen has seen the 3-4 be successful under Phillips, the 4-3 be successful under both Payton and Fox. He was also in charge for converting the Broncos from a 3-4 defense under Josh McDaniels back to a 4-3 to satisfy Fox. This means that, not only does Allen understand how to evaluate the talent for both schemes, but he knows what's involved in a transition from one to the other.

This would suggest that Allen won't simply come in and have a pre-determined philosophy he wants to employ, but rather, he'll take a look at what Oakland currently has from a talent perspective and institute the philosophy he feels best suits the team.

The last, and perhaps most important quality that makes Allen a good choice, is the fact that he's young and hungry-just like John Madden and Jon Gruden were when they were hired with no previous head coaching experience.

Allen is getting a golden opportunity that most just dream of, (including this writer). Chances are, he'll work tirelessly to make it successful-whatever it takes. In my estimation, this is better for the team than some re-tread of a coach that has head coaching experience, but failed at it. There's a reason Dom Capers and Marty Mornhingweg aren't head coaches anymore...they weren't good enough.

Now, For The Bad:

As previously stated, Allen has no head coaching experience. This means there are bound to be plenty of rookie mistakes. Just like with Hue Jackson last season, and Tom Cable before him, new coaches make errors. Overcoming those errors,(or failing to do so) can make or break the team.

The truth is, we don't know exactly what we're getting with Allen. This means the players don't know either. All Allen can be judged on is his past performances. The improvement in Denver, the success in New Orleans are great, but how do we know if he can bring that to Oakland?

We don't.

The fact that Allen played safety in college and as a practice squad player in the NFL, it's reasonable to assume the Raiders' secondary will benefit the most from his hiring. But, what about the rest of the team? We don't know where his offensive philosophies lie or how he can improve an under-achieving linebacking corps.

Although current offensive coordinator Al Saunders is still working for the team and scouting next Saturday's Senior Bowl, we don't actually have any idea of what Allen would expect from the offense or if he'll even retain Saunders.

This type of question leads to trepidation and unsureness within the locker room. Only time will tell what fans can expect from the offense on game days of the future.

Finally, with the entire coaching roster having been removed from the team's website, and the fact that McKenzie has said he'll allow the new coach to hire his own staff, Raider fans could find out that Allen's choices for his staff aren't good ones. They could be great...but, they could be bad, we simply don't know.

Again, this creates tension and worry throughout the ranks of the team and the fans. How Allen deals with all the uncertainty his hiring would bring could be the difference between a "new era" and "more of the same" in Oakland.

To Close:

All the speculation and guess work is meaningless at this point, because...this is the Raiders we're talking about. Nothing is official until the press conference is called and Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie speak the words from their own mouths.

However, all signs are pointing to Dennis Allen as the next head coach of the Raiders. He brings with him a limited, but impressive resume of winning and defensive improvement. These two things, (winning and solid defensive play) are things the Raider Nation has be clamoring for, but whether they actually get it or not remains to be seen.

Allen has his upside and his downside, but every coach has flaws, and all coaches, at some point or another, had to be a "First-time" head coach. Being dead-set against giving a guy his first chance is just as unproductive as hiring a lesser man because he has experience.

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