My Head Coach is Crazy…and I’m OK With That

A lot of pundits would have you believe that coaching in the NFL is a lot like playing chess. And on the merits of trading at least a first and second round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for a“retired” quarterback, a lot of pundits would have you believe that while other NFL coaches play chess Raiders head man Hue Jackson is playing checkers. As a Raider fan, I can tell you he’s not. Hue Jackson is chess boxing. And once the league counter-moves its rook to queen-4, he’s aiming to punch them square in the face.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a rah-rah supporter of the deal. Jackson thinks it’s “the greatest trade in the history of football,” I think it’s incredibly stupid. The team mortgaged their long term future on Carson Palmer an aging, surgically-repaired quarterback who has spent the beginning of the season throwing to high schoolers (or worse: TJ Houshmanzadeh)–and he’s supposed to be the guy to lead us to the promise land? If you had a first round pick and threw Palmer in with every draft eligible collegian, would you even waste a second debating between Palmer and Andrew Luck? Of course not, you’d take Luck. You’re not crazy. Hue Jackson, on the other hand, is nuts. He’s completely off-the-wall, bat-shit insane.

And, you know what? That’s just what I love about him.

As a 25-year-old, I really couldn’t have picked a worse franchise to root for over the course of my lifetime than the Raiders. Their last Super Bowl title occurred the year before I was born, and aside from a 3-year playoff run while I was in high school (culminating in a spectacular Super Bowl defeat at the hands of THIS GUY Jon Gruden) the team has been mediocre or worse my whole life. In college, during a 4-year run when I actually had NFL Sunday Ticket at my disposal, the team was a combined 13-51 (including a robust 2-14 the year I had Ticket in my room). The late Al Davis liked to say that the greatness of the Raiders was in its future, but one can only watch grizzled veteran Kerry Collins overthrow career malcontent Randy Moss in an offense designed by a coach who’d been running a bed and breakfast the year before so many times before seeking refuge in the past. That was always easy because of the operatic glory of Steve Sabol’s highlight films of the Mad Bomber, the Stork or the Assasin over the musical backdrop of the iconic “Autumn Wind”. Still, having the best NFL Films theme song can only get a fan base so far.

So the fact that Hue is treating this season like he’s playing Madden (and not even in franchise mode), is fine with me. The Raiders overpaid for Richard Seymour as well, and look what that got them: a Pro Bowl defensive lineman who has almost single handedly instilled a winning culture into the locker room. The Raiders went 5-11 in Seymour’s first year in silver and black, but that didn’t stop him from guaranteeing they’d make the playoffs after an early season, ugly win over the Eagles brought them to 2-4. And while everyone around football laughed, Big Rich gave the Raiders reason to be serious about winning for the first time in half a decade.

Now the Raiders are 4-2, and none of their victories have come against a team that currently has a winning record. It’s comically early for Hue Jackson to go all-in like this. But you know what? Go for it. The Raiders could legitimately have won every game they’ve played. They should have beaten Buffalo, and if not for an end zone interception against New England when the Raiders were driving at the end of the first half–who knows? For the team to see their playoff hopes snap with Jason Campbell’s clavicle the year they were finally putting momentum together; the year that Al Davis passed on–that would be demoralizing. Demoralizing to a franchise and fan base that has been demoralized for years, hoping for something–anything–to keep them interested in football past Thanksgiving.

Jackson on the other hand, has galvanized the team with his next man up philosophy. Matt Shaughnessy, the best defensive end in football nobody’s talking about, goes to IR? No problem. Hue gets Denver-castoff Jarvis Moss and Harvard-grad Desmond Bryant to step up in his void. The Raiders linebackers can’t stop the run and seem generally allergic to tackling? Hue snags former 4th overall pick Aaron Curry and puts him in a defensive scheme where Curry gets to, in his words, “run and hit people” rather than be mired in the complex coverages that sabotaged his career in Seattle.

So when Campbell went down and the only backups were Mr. Miss California 2009 and NCAA refugee Terrelle Pryor, Jackson made a bold move to show his players that he was committed to winning. Now.

You can get out the telestrator or the abacus and tell me why this move doesn’t make sense from an economic, salary cap or personnel perspective and within the context of the chess game that is the modern NFL you’d be absolutely, 100% right. But in its own crazy way Hue’s move makes sense on a visceral level. And for a fan base that’s simply overjoyed to be listening to “The Autumn Wind” played over highlights of Darren McFadden instead of Marcus Allen, that’s all that matters. It certainly doesn’t anoint the Raiders Super Bowl contenders, but Hue just gave them a punchers chance.

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