ALAMEDA — It doesn’t take long to figure out that Jack Del Rio spent a lot of his life at the Coliseum, or thinking about it.
In fact, the new Raiders head coach sounds as if he would prefer the relic, first built originally for the American Football league, over a shiny new structure like Levi’s Stadium:
“There were a lot of great moments. … I remember there being a game where we needed a touchdown. George Blanda, who was largely retired as a quarterback and mostly a place kicker at that time, got off the bench and put his helmet on. He leads the team down the field for a touchdown to win. I just remember how fired up we were leaving the stadium. That was just one of those moments.”
Del Rio, who grew up in Hayward, said that he never stopped thinking about the Raiders even long into his NFL career, which started when the New Orleans Saints selected Del Rio in the third round in 1985.
The new head man in Oakland grew up just a few miles away and could take a long jog, if he wanted, from his doorstep to the Coliseum, which was still a marvel when he was in grade school.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Del Rio reminisced on another time he watched from the stands:
“I remember Mark van Eagen running behind (Gene) Upshaw, and Shell, and Casper, on the left. I remember great defense. John Madden with the short sleeve button down with the tie flying in the wind. I remember those. I was fortunate enough to go as a kid.”
Del Rio’s biggest win before college came at the Coliseum, a high school championship, of which he speaks glowingly.
It was enough, his words echoing through the Raiders’ auditorium in the East Bay, to get a nod of approval from former defensive back Willie Brown, the auditorium’s namesake.
Madden was involved in his hiring, and owner Mark Davis wanted his approval before hiring anyone. And Davis said that the decision was also based on what the players wanted:
“It was definitely important to talk to some of the players, where they thought the organization was, where the team was. I definitely used their input in the thought process.”
Hiring Del Rio may be one of the biggest decisions of Davis’ tenure as Raiders owner. The team has a distant history of finding great coaches, with John Madden and Tom Flores being the cornerstone behind Al Davis, who coached the team from 1963 to 1965.
If Del Rio does well, the Raiders could be on an upswing that could last several years. Maybe even to the level of the 1970s and 1990s. If Del Rio fails, Davis could be marked as someone who shouldn’t make decisions for the team, and McKenzie would almost certainly be fired.
Madden, one of the most enigmatic coaches in NFL history, gave the unofficial nod for Del Rio. Madden told Davis Del Rio was solid, and led him to believe he could right the ship. And the man who will take the helm felt pretty good about that:
“It was an honor to have John Madden being a part of that process. You’re talking about a tremendous coach, a tremendous human being, who is heavily interested in the Raiders being great. Mark talked to John about being a part of that process. It was a treat you’re because talking about an all time great raiders and a guy who saw and led some of the all time great teams. For him to be a part of that process and share insights and tell stories, it was an honor. It was awesome.”
Madden’s record with Oakland was 103-32, a .759 winning percentage that came with seven division championships and a Lombardi trophy. Del Rio watched those wins as a youngster, even before the Raiders were playing at the Coliseum.
Now Del Rio gets a crack at it. And he couldn’t be happier:
“It’s an awesome place. It’s a treat to be back, it’s an honor to be back.”
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.