McKenzie, with owner Mark Davis by his side, opened the media session stressing the need for wholesale change, saying, “The Raider organization, with respect and deference for all of its tradition and history, is about to embark on a new era,” and in the very next breath announced his first change — the firing of Coach Hue Jackson after one season on the job.
“I felt there was a need for change at the head coaching position from the top,” McKenzie said in explaining his motivation for dismissing the former Glendale Community College quarterback. “We’re moving into a new era. No disrespect to Coach Jackson, but it’s something I wanted to start anew.
“Everything is based on performance, No. 1, but I go with my gut a lot, so when it’s time to make to make the final call, my gut’s going to tell me one thing. ...Recently I let [Davis] know I would like to move on from Coach Jackson and begin my search for a new coach and he was alright with that.”
A reportedly shocked Jackson was informed of the decision Tuesday morning, shortly before the press conference, by McKenzie, who was hired on Friday. For one, Jackson was unconvinced that the impetus for the firing came from McKenzie, with whom Jackson shares agent Kennard McGuire, instead maintaining that it was Davis who wanted to change directions.
“I’m not going to shed one tear, because I busted my ass for this organization, and I cherished the opportunity to do it,” Jackson said Tuesday in a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports’ Michael Silver shortly after he received the news. “I have nothing but good things to say about the Raiders and their fans, and I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish in two years, as an offensive coordinator and coach.
“But it’s Mark Davis’ football team, and Mark’s going to do what he thinks is best. In the end I think he said, ‘I want to put my own stamp on it,’ and he wanted his own coach.”
Although Jackson’s first year as a head coach after being promoted from his previous position as Raiders offensive coordinator in 2011 ended in a disappointing 8-8 finish and failure to make the playoffs, both McKenzie and Davis were deliberately vague on the particulars of why Jackson was not retained, instead reiterating the mantra of starting over for 2012 under McKenzie’s discretion.
“We were 7-4 and we lost four of our last five games, but that had nothing to do with the hiring or firing,” Davis said. “It’s more so to move in a new direction and let Reggie put his stamp on this organization.”
Jackson’s first season wasn’t without adversity, beginning with the death on Oct. 8 of longtime owner and general manager Al Davis, the man who hired Jackson as coach. Over the next two weeks, Oakland would lose it’s starting quarterback and running back for the season to injuries, yet the team still found itself leading the AFC West Division at 7-4.
But the season quickly went sour, as Oakland went 1-4 down the stretch, including a home loss to the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18 in which it blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter and a 38-26 home loss to the San Diego Chargers in the regular-season finale on Christmas Day, where a win would have clinched the division.
Following the loss to San Diego, Jackson blasted his team to the media in a postgame press conference in which he suggested he should have an even bigger role in shaping the franchise going forward.
“You can call any players you want,” Jackson told Silver. “I never lost the team. The defense didn’t finish, and I said something. But lost the locker room? [Expletive deleted] no.”
Over the course of the season, Jackson also took heat for his role in orchestrating a midseason move to sign quarterback Carson Palmer at the expense of at least one and possibly as many as two future first-round draft picks and for failing to instill discipline in a team that set league records for penalties (163) and penalty yards (1,358).
“I’m not going to go into details point by point of what he did and didn’t do,” said McKenzie, a former Raiders linebacker, who had been director of football operations for the Green Bay Packers. “This decision centered around my wanting to bring my own guy in, that’s the main point. Now, if Hue would have finished 7-0 down the stretch and they made the playoffs, of course that would have played a role, but when you look at every dynamic — the way the team was failing at the end — you don’t look at one different point. It had nothing to do with the press conference, that didn’t matter to me.
“I have a lot of respect for Hue Jackson and I wished him well as he moves forward into his future, but as we embark on this era of change, one thing will remain constant, that is our commitment to excellence. There will be a common unified goal from everybody in this organization.”
Jackson was the 10th Raiders head coach since the franchise returned to Oakland in 1995 and the seventh since 2002 to fail to deliver a playoff berth.
“I feel horrible. I’m pissed off, and everybody’s surprised,” Jackson told Silver. “But I get it. At the end of the day, I have to swallow it. You have to win. We didn’t.”