Reggie McKenzie: former Vol is the right stuff for the Raiders
Good things tend to happen to good people, until proven otherwise. If ESPN’s Adam Schefter is correct, a good thing is about to happen to one of the good guys of the NFL. Reggie McKenzie — Knoxville native (Austin-East H.S.) and former Tennessee Vol (1981-84) — will be named the new General Manager of the Oakland Raiders. This can’t be rendered as official news until Green Bay exits the NFL playoffs. And, that might be a while. [UPDATE: the Associated Press indicated just after this was posted that the Raiders have announced an agreement with the Packers for McKenzie, and a press conference has been announced for next Tuesday.]
McKenzie has been with the Packers’ front office for the last 18 years. Serving in an administrative role, Reggie as Green Bay’s Director of Football Operations served under and learned from Ron Wolf, former GM of the Packers. Wolf, formerly a Raiders’ front-office right-hand man of the late Al Davis during two separate stints (1963-75 and 1978-90), was Green Bay’s GM for a decade (1991-2001) during which the Pack re-emergee as a premier NFL franchise. Wolf’s first order of business arriving in northern Wisconsin was to fire the head coach, hire Mike Holmgren as the replacement, and engineer a trade for then-Atlanta Falcon Brett Farve. Two years later, Wolf signed free-agent Reggie White. Things worked out pretty well after that.
It was Wolf that reportedly recommended McKenzie to Raiders owner Mark Davis.
So, McKenzie goes back to some of his roots — he played four seasons with the L.A. Raiders (1985-88) right out of college at Tennessee. More importantly, Reggie comes into a position of unparalleled prominence – McKenzie will become, for all practical purposes, only the second General Manager in the 50-plus years of Raiders history following the death of Al Davis. Needless to say, the spotlight will be hot and heavy on Reggie. But he comes with some high praise, sort of a ‘pro’s pro’. Said his mentor, Ron Wolf, to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Reggie’s a tremendous evaluator. He can tell you who can play and who can’t play. That’s what it’s all about. Some can write reports but can’t tell you who can play. Whatever that is, he has that. He has a feel.
McKenzie is walking into a position that won’t necessarily produce instant draft-picked fruit – Oakland are without their next two first-round draft picks as a result of the recent trade for quarterback Carson Palmer. And, as Rich Langford of the blog Silver and Black Pride writes, “This certainly isn’t an ideal position for a new GM. He is going to be over the gap.” But Reggie will have perhaps an unintended advantage – he won’t have to operate within the shadow of Al Davis. McKenzie has a chance to be his own man.
As all new GMs likely have in front of them, McKenzie has some tough choices to make. Several key injuries can be rightfully blamed for Oakland’s late-season crash-and-burn from what could have been a great season. To keep or fire current head coach Hue Jackson — only the Raiders’ ninth head coach in the last 17 seasons — may be early business. But, after some possibly early moves, look for the return to stability to a franchise that continually polarizes football fans, including their own.
For a franchise that has been living its past for many years now, Reggie has the opportunity to create a new future, both for the Raiders and for himself. But it will likely be done in a much more gentile way. Says Bill Williamson at ESPN:
He (McKenzie) is a friendly, quiet and laid back guy. Don’t expect him to be a swash buckler. He is a football man who will put in his work. He will not a be a headlines maker and he won’t make moves just to make moves. He will bring stability to the franchise and will do what it takes to improve the team.
All Vol fans are now, by definition, Oakland Raider fans, with the hope that the image of the Vol family can be enhanced by a high-profile appointment of one of its own. This is some news about Tennessee Vols football of which we all can be proud.