Over the past 11 seasons the Oakland Raiders have had eight different coaches—not a single one of them able to post a winning record.
Next up? Former Jacksonville head coach—and more recently Broncos defensive coordinator—Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio played in The League for 12 years before jumping on the coaching carousel with stops as an assistant in New Orleans, Baltimore, and Carolina as well as Jacksonville. He spent nine years as the Jaguars’ head coach, making two appearances in the postseason—a place the Raiders haven’t been since 2002.
Del Rio’s NFL tenure as a linebacker and defensive assistant puts him in the larger group of coaching hires this season, as among the seven head coaches hired in the NFL only Denver’s Gary Kubiak comes from the offensive side of the ball. In fact, Del Rio follows the same Broncos’ DC to Raiders’ HC path his predecessor, Dennis Allen, traversed.
Over the past three season’s Denver’s defense has performed well under Del Rio, ranking third in yards allowed per game and 10th in points allowed per game. He’ll obviously handle things on that side of the ball while turning his offense—which finished last in total offense and next-to-last in scoring last season—over to a man he once fired: former Jaguars offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Musgrave has bounced around the NFL with far more success as a quarterbacks coach than an offensive coordinator. His stops as QBC include directing the likes of Jeff George (1997 Raiders), Steve Beurlein (2000 Panthers), Byron Leftwich (2004 Jaguars), and Mark Brunell (2005 Redskins) to career bests, often times across the board. He also helped develop Matt Ryan into a Pro Bowl quarterback through the first three seasons of his career and helped Chip Kelly resurrect Mark Sanchez last year in Philly.
Put Musgrave in the big chair, however, and things take a turn for the worse. In seven seasons as an NFL play-caller Musgrave has never had an offense finish in the top 10 in either points or yards; in fact, he’s only finished in the top half of the league in either category twice—and never in the same year.
A look at the quarterbacks Musgrave has been saddled with, however, remove at least some of the blame from his shoulders. From Bobby Hoying and Koy Detmer in Philadelphia to Beurlein in Carolina to Leftwich in Jacksonville to Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel in Minnesota, Musgrave has been fighting an uphill battle at every stop.
It’s no wonder why Musgrave’s offenses have been run-heavy; given those quarterbacks, you’d shy away from calling pass plays as well. And when given talented running backs—Fred Taylor in Jacksonville, Adrian Peterson in Minnesota—Musgrave has kept things simple and put the ball in his stud RB’s hands.
Musgrave’s first job as an NFL coach came in Oakland as Joe Bugel’s quarterbacks coach, so he certainly knows a good ground game when he sees it. Comments from his introductory press conference suggest that will again be his focus in Oakland, with Latavius Murray the beneficiary.
“Very positive impressions,” Musgrave said of Murray in that introductory presser. “Tremendous size and speed. Had a super career, of course, in Orlando. Looking forward to getting out on the field with him and finding out what he’s all about. Finding out where his strengths are so we can tailor our run game to be right up his alley.”
Doesn’t sound like Musgrave is considering a committee approach, or finding an alternative to Murray this offseason, does it? Mix in the addition of Mike Tice as offensive line coach and you can expect plenty of Murray runs this season—assuming he’s able to stay healthy.
And while Musgrave’s overall numbers as an offensive coordinator have failed to impress, his track record of wringing production out of his quarterbacks bodes well for Derek Carr. Hey, anyone who can make Sanchez look good must be doing something right.
As for what system Musgrave will run in Oakland, his track record suggests more West Coast than perhaps the Raiders are accustomed to and a healthy dose of the ground game. But Musgrave has said he won’t force square pegs into round holes.
“I’m definitely not going to come in with a system and force anybody to do something that’s not natural,” Musgrave said in the team-orchestrated conference call to announce his hiring. “We’re definitely going to try to customize and tailor the Raiders’ system to fit the Raider players. Philosophically I do believe in running the football. I definitely want to be a physical outfit that runs the ball and imposes their will on the defense. At the same time, it’s difficult to defend through the passing game and through being diverse.”
Musgrave added, “I’ve got a hunch that a lot of the things we did here in Philadelphia will match up real nice and be effective [in Oakland].”
A dose of Chip Kelly in Oakland, with young and developing studs like Carr and Murray? Sounds like Musgrave finally has something to work with—maybe even enough to keep Del Rio from giving him the axe once again.