This has been in the making for a year.
Ever since the Oakland Raiders tabbed Hue Jackson as their offensive coordinator last January, it was widely assumed in NFL circles that he’d eventually replace Tom Cable as the Raiders’ head coach. The smart money was on Jackson replacing Cable during the 2010 season.
But Cable made it through the entire season, leading the Raiders to an 8-8 record. It was Oakland’s first non-losing season since 2002. Cable didn’t deserve to be fired, but he fell out of favor with owner Al Davis to the point that he was fined $120,000 this season. Cable has filed a grievance against Oakland to recoup his money.
Improving three games in a season usually isn’t grounds for a firing, but it has been obvious that Jackson is the man Davis wanted to run this organization. I wrote the night the Raiders announced they wouldn’t extend Cable’s contract that promoting Jackson was the team’s only choice.
I still feel that way. This was the only decision that Oakland could make and I don’t think anyone else was seriously considered. Jackson was never in jeopardy of not getting this job.
Now, it is up to Jackson to be the man who makes it work in Oakland. His challenge is steep. He must make one of the most demanding people in sports happy and keep him happy. The Raiders’ head-coaching office is the busiest turnstile in sports. The odds are against Jackson being in Oakland for the long term. He is the Raiders’ sixth coach since 2002.
Still, this job is worth Jackson’s time. There is a lot of talent on the roster and if Jackson leads Oakland -- which was 6-0 in the AFC West and 2-8 outside the division -- back to the playoffs, he will be a hero and probably will be considered one of the NFL’s best coaches. If it doesn’t work for him in Oakland, it probably won’t be a considered a ding on his résumé.
There are indications that Jackson could be a very successful head coach. He was well respected before he took the Oakland offensive coordinator job last season and he put in very nice work in 2010. The vocal and enthusiastic Jackson gave vibrancy to an anemic offense. The Raiders finished sixth in the NFL in scoring with 410 points. They more than doubled their 2009 scoring output.
The Raiders are clearly headed in the right direction. Keeping Jackson’s offense in place should make this transition smooth.
Jackson will continue to push Oakland’s run attack, which was second in the NFL in 2010. He has to work to make quarterback Jason Campbell more consistent in 2011. Campbell had his moments in his first season in Oakland, but he had long stretches of poor play. Jackson also has to continue to work with a young receiving corps, which should be centered on the exciting Jacoby Ford, who has the ability to be a DeSean Jackson-type receiver.
Jackson, who has been said to be targeting Baltimore assistants Al Saunders and Chuck Pagano for offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, must make sure his team heads in the right direction on defense. There is a lot of talent on that side of the ball, but Oakland gave up way too many big plays. It allowed at least 31 points six times.
If the Raiders can continue to get better and if they have another strong draft (Oakland’s 2010 rookie class was one of the NFL’s best), Jackson’s team has a chance to get back to the playoffs in 2011 for the first time since 2002.
The first step of that process came Monday when Davis made the right call and promoted Jackson.