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Raiders need motivation, not platitudes

Published: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 5:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 5:12 p.m.

Be patient with the Raiders. That has been the message of this column, and it continues to be, although now there are wrinkles. Wrinkles emerge.

Before addressing the wrinkles, let’s go over the patience part. Rookie general manager Reggie McKenzie and rookie head coach Dennis Allen inherited a disastrous roster, thanks to Al Davis. You know all about that. Last season’s head coach Hue Jackson, mostly a blowhard, did better with this bad roster, and that should be troubling — and is troubling — to owner Mark Davis, although Davis will give McKenzie and Allen time to improve things. They deserve time.

When this season mercifully ends, McKenzie and Allen can start the hard work of improving the roster. They already have begun. They rid the team, for two games, maybe more, of a bad player, bad guy Rolando McClain. And if they have common sense and football sense, they will say goodbye to Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. And they will look critically at quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Darren McFadden.

Yes, Darren McFadden.

They have to wonder about McFadden, the alleged cornerstone of the offense. McFadden gets hurt. He misses games. He is a great athlete. Unfortunately, he is delicate, dainty and flimsy, major handicaps in the NFL.

How badly does he want to return to the field? That is unclear. How badly does he want to play right now on a bad team, with a new offensive scheme he doesn’t believe in? This lack of belief, this failure to excel is on McFadden, but it also is on Allen.

Now, the plot thickens. Now, we get wrinkles.

Allen can’t get McFadden to buy into the Raiders’ offensive philosophy. A head coach is supposed to sell the philosophy. Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp got Marcel Reece to buy in. You watch Reece run and you think he’s Jim Brown. But he isn’t Jim Brown. He isn’t even Darren McFadden.

Allen’s failure to reach McFadden makes you wonder about his skills as a communicator, as a leader of men. Let me rephrase that. I don’t believe Allen has these skills, but I believe he can develop them. He must or he will be history in Oakland.

Every player on the Raiders knows this season is over. The players know it’s late and they are thinking about self-preservation and the next contract. Many have set the turn-off dates for their electricity, and they’ve contacted Bekins about moving their stuff.

Allen must fight the turn-off mentality. He has to fight it now. How he conducts this fight will define him as a coach. How he hangs onto these players and motivates them to play the rest of this bad season will say everything about him.

He needs to become a good talker — I’ll get back to his unfortunate mode of talking in a moment. He must give Reece and Palmer and the rest more than what he currently gives them — he gives them a game plan and sends them off to die.

A good coach would convince the Raiders to play with integrity no matter what the record is. He would ask a simple question: “Why should you go out and play hard?” Allen should know the answer — to perform as a professional, to show pride, to maintain self-respect. He’s got to be able to reach the inner Raider.

I know this sounds hokey, but it is how good coaches work. Good coaches challenge players — “Can you tell me two things you did today on the practice field to make you a better player?”

Now we get to Allen’s manner of speaking. After every loss, he stands at the podium robot-like and intones variations of: “We’ll continue working hard,” or, “We’ll work harder,” or, “These guys work their butts off,” or “I believe hard work will get us there.”

Listening to him, you want to die of boredom. The work-harder refrain is so unimaginative. If I’m a player, I’m hearing the work-harder line and I’m thinking, “What baloney.”

It’s worse than that. I’m thinking, “My coach does not have a single answer to make us better.”

Work harder?

It’s a bad message and it’s old.

McKenzie must fine Allen a grand every time he reverts to “work harder.” The pitiful line, so overused, does not project intelligence, deep thought or direction. And it simply does not project leadership.

What do we know about Allen from our brief acquaintance with him? He is a grinder. He doesn’t come across as a head coach. He’s more like a video guy, a techie. In another life, he’d be wearing a pocket protector stuffed with Sharpies.

He does not show he cares about his guys. He seems to have no person-to-person communication skills. He appears aloof. He must learn it’s not all X’s and O’s, that a coach needs a personal element to reach players to get them to perform better.

He can start by changing his message about hard work. It is a loser message. Right now, the Raiders are working very hard. Unfortunately they’re working hard at being bad and getting worse.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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