Is Jack Del Rio firmly out of moves? In 2016, he earned the reputation as a gambler, taking chances that most would not. Last year, that tact paid off. After a signing a contract extension, the aggressive nature gave way to a more measured approach. Some would call that stubborn. With Del Rio firing Ken Norton, Jr yesterday, one thing remains clear: For better or worse, the pressure sits firmly on Del Rio’s shoulders.
Granted, Norton appeared to bring nothing technique related to the defense. Most saw him as a motivator that his players loved. Be that as it may, Norton’s scheme or Del Rio’s plan with Norton’s name on it failed to stop most teams. As a result, opposing tight ends ran free down the seam without a hint of a defender. Also, Malcolm Smith calls Santa Clara home, so the flawed scheme looks more like coach error rather than player. Few coordinators received the anger that Norton suffered. Yet, Jack Del Rio sat back, and let Norton absorb such punishment. Now that Norton is not on staff, who do you think will draw the ire of the fans? Norton provided needed cover, and like a loyal coach, took the heat.
In an interview with 95.7’s Damon Bruce, Del Rio failed to answer a single question and was left searching for words after being pressed about the state of the Oakland Raiders. Bruce hit Del Rio from every conceivable angle with clear, respectful questions. Unfortunately, Del Rio could not withstand the strong questions and tried to retreat into coachspeak. Yes, the head coach of the Oakland Raiders could not form coherent answers, choosing to backpedal and sidestep. Capable leaders accept responsibility for their failures. Jack Del Rio wilted under the intense heat. Bruce, in truly professional style, did not pull punches.
As the old saying goes, “heavy is the head that wears the crown”. Del Rio may suffer migraines very soon, if the Raiders do not turn things around. Before the start of the season, Oakland parted ways with Bill Musgrave, who served as the offensive coordinator. Now, Ken Norton, Jr is now a memory. In the span of less than a year, both coordinators are no longer with the team. Granted, fans will not miss Norton, but his departure says more about Del Rio’s inability to select coaches than it does about any Norton deficiency. In that case, the Norton dismissal smacks off a sacrifice made to Reggie McKenzie. Del Rio is not losing his job, but had to do something to “show leadership” If he were honest and not apparently stubborn, Norton would’ve been let go before the season.
If the season continues to spiral downward, Todd Downing will not serve as adequate cover for Jack Del Rio. Many expected the Raiders to challenge for a playoff spot. Now, they are teetering on elimination. All eyes point toward Del Rio. Now, there is no safe haven, catchy phrases or laughs to be had. The Oakland Raiders are a mess. This failure falls squarely on the head coach.
Given these points, the firing of Ken Norton serves as a defining moment for Jack Del Rio. While he should’ve never retained him in the offseason, Del Rio stands alone, in front of this team. Time will tell, if he can survive and restore the Oakland Raiders to their 2016 form.