Had a chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with Raiders owner Mark Davis Monday at an East Bay restaurant discuss training camp and his expectations for the coming season after an active off-season. A transcript follows:
Q: Commissioner Roger Goodell floated the idea of the Raiders playing in Santa Clara as a possible solution while you’re working towards a stadium. What is your reaction?
Mark Davis: If you want to know what I think about the stadium issue, all you have to do is go back and read what I said. I’ve been consistent. I feel the same way still.
Q: When you hired general manager Reggie McKenzie and met the press for the first time, you said, “I know what I don’t know.’’ You’re in your third year as managing general partner and presumably have learned a few things. Has your level of involvement changed over time?
Mark Davis: No. I think when I said, `I know what I don’t now is a very truthful statement. When I said that, I said I’d hire people that know more than I know. A lot of people might have taken that to think I don’t know anything about this. But I’ve been in this 50 years, and the Raiders have been my life for 50 years. I know a lot about football. But I hired somebody that knows football personnel and I put him in a position to give the Raiders a chance to grow. I think letting him do his job is a real important thing. Do I know more than I knew then? I can’t say that I do. I suppose over the last few years I’ve learned a lot but at the same time I’ve been letting Reggie do the job.
Q: You went to combine this year, sat in interviews with players and participated in the process, that would suggest more of a hands-on approach, wouldn’t it?
Mark Davis: Again, I don’t know if you’re aware, but I was scouting for the Raiders back in the 80s. I was doing the Japan Bowl every year. I’d go to Japan every year with the college all-stars. One year it was Bo Jackson’s group. I’ve been in scouting and all that stuff before. I’ve never been that interested in the combine. I don’t get enough out of it. I like watching people play football. I think guys that are scouts, that are true scouts, they know what they’re looking for in players. I prefer to see football more so than running track and the 40. The interviews were interesting, but it was so fast, and these kids are so schooled in what they’re going to say, you don’t really get to know them. It’s the follow-up interviews and things of that nature that mean a lot. But it is good to see the kids, how they interact with others, but they’re so schooled now. And the agents are all there. It’s part of the process. The scouts get something out of it, the general managers, they get what they want out of it.
Q: In terms of free agency, did you at any point this year talk to any prospective free agents, or did Reggie take care of all that?
Mark Davis: No. Reggie took care of all that.
Q: Never a point where the owner steps in and talks to a free agent . . .
Mark Davis: It’s all the G.M.
Q: The one blip in free agency is when the Rodger Saffold situation came down, and you were clear in that you advised against signing him because of a shoulder injury. Did Reggie make the call on that or did you make the call? Or was it your advice that swayed Reggie?
Mark Davis: My advice to Reggie _ Reggie had the final say on it _ but I was pretty strong in the fact that if it was me, I wouldn’t do it. Reggie had the final say on it, but I would think I might have had a lot to do with his thought process. I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. I got a call in the morning from the trainer, and Rod Martin says I’ve got some bad news. And he said Rodger Saffold failed his physical. I said what do you mean he failed? He said in a report from St. Louis, he had a torn labrum. I had no ideal what a labrum was. He said it’s a shoulder muscle. They took him and did some pictures of him. I asked what does that mean? He said he could play with it, have pain, and play with it, but at some point it’s going to tear. We either let him play with it or we do the surgery now, fix it now, and he should be ready by training camp. I said what do you mean, should be ready? After last year, with DJ (Hayden) and the injuries and things like that and how things kept coming up, I got scared. There’s a lot of money on the line for this season with him. So I talked with Reggie, and said, he failed his physical and you’ve got to make that decision, but I wouldn’t go ahead and do it. And he decided not to do it. It’s one of those things you’ve got to make a decision on.
Q: But the decision was his?
Mark Davis; The decision was his. Every decision is his, because that’s his job. But at some point in time, I’ve got to have something to say, or at least be a sounding board for him. I would think more so than utilizing the power to say, `sign this guy, sign that guy,’ I would think that if anything I have the ability to veto something versus make him go ahead and do something. I haven’t utilized that.
Q: The Saffold situation aside, how did you feel about the offseason?
Mark Davis: I thought he did a phenomenal job. I’m real excited about the way the team looks. I think we had a good offseason. I really do. I think at the first rookie three-day camp, on the third day, No. 52 (Khalil Mack) made a play that made me go, `wow.’ So I saw a little bit of what Reggie saw in this guy. Now whether that’s going to translate into pads and into the game, I don’t know, but he showed he could be something special. When they had the mandatory camp with everyone in town, I saw a guy wearing no. 91, Justin Tuck. Certain football players, to me, I can see if they look like a pro. You know, a pro’s pro? And I can see that in him. So I was really excited about that.
Q: Tim Brown is of the opinion that bringing in all the veterans reminds him of 1998 through 2002, when veterans were brought in _ William Thomas, Jerry Rice, John Parella, Bill Romanwoski, etc. _and this is getting back to a Raider way of doing things. Do you agree with that assessment?
Mark Davis: Yes, but there was a good base here to put those guys on top of. We had that home grown base that those guys came in and did a pretty damn good job. And Jon (Gruden) also did a great job.
Q: This current team is more of a complete rebuild . . .
Mark Davis: There isn’t as much of a veteran base to put these guys on top of. You bring in Jerry Rice, but Tim Brown was already here. All those guys. Charlie Garner. Fantastic. They were guys that filled holes. This could more like the ’80 team maybe, that filled a lot of holes. Burgess Owens, Dwayne O’Steen, guys like that. This year we’re still bringing in a quarterback.
Q: Did it bother you when two organizational developed players _ Jared Veldheer and lamarr Houston – left in free agency _ you sat back and let Reggie do his job and it just happened that way?
Mark Davis: Absolutely.
Q: Was that disappointing?
Mark Davis: It’s part of the game. I was close with Veldheer’s family. His mom, his dad, his sister, his brother. I got along great with them. I guess it became a business _ which it is _ and they had to make a business decision. And that’s what they did. They made a business decision in Jared’s interests as far as they were concerned.
Q: You’ve been clear about the chain of command _ you hired Reggie, Reggie hired Dennis Allen as his coach. What’s your assessment of your head coacha through two years?
Mark Davis: I’ll let Reggie answer that, as I always have. I hired Reggie, and gave him the ability to build the football side of the organization, and results speak. That’s where it’s at.
Q: There was some optimism early on last year, but it ended with a six-game losing streak and there were debacles against Philadelphia and Kansas City. There was speculation as there always is that there would be some organizational changes. Yet you stayed the course. How come?
Mark Davis: Talking it over with Reggie and the game plan we had when I hired him, I believed we still had to give it time. Obviously nobody’s happy with the way that season ended. We’ll se what happens this year. This year is the year, there are no more excuses. We’ve done a great job of getting the cap in order, getting the financial thing in order, getting the whole roster in order so to speak. There are no upside-down contracts. And they got the coaching staff Dennis wanted this year. He got all the coaches he wanted to hire.
Q: Would you describe yourself as patient?
Mark Davis: (laughs). With my hands tied to the chair . . . I try to look ahead to the longterm. I truthfully didn’t feel we were going to win the Super Bowl last year before the season started, and that is the goal. But progress is a thing I would like to see. I haven’t seen it yet. And this year is the time to see it. It really is.
Q: Do you think the fortunes of the Raiders in terms of a stadium is at all tied to the won-loss record? Can a good season jump-start that process?
Mark Davis: No. Two separate issues.
Q: The coaching staff thinks Matt Schaub is a top 10 NFL quarterback, how did you feel about that acquisition?
Mark Davis: I don’t know. I don’t know. He’s been a very effective quarterback. The key thing, is do we trade for him, give up the sixth round pick? If they believe in him as much as they did, then it was a smart move to trade for him and get him in here early instead of going through free agency and losing that time. I think that was an effective move. I’m all for it. If it works, it’s great. You’ve got to have a quarterback. That’s why I went after Carson Palmer. I still think you need a quarterback.
Q: You mentioned Khalil Mack, everyone comes out of a draft optimistic, but do you have a sense that this year’s draft could be immediate contributors.
Mark Davis: I do.
Q: Based on feedback or what you’ve seen?
Mark Davis: On what I’ve seen. I use my own judgment. Like with Matt, I’ve got great hopes for him, but I want to see it. The draft choices, I saw something in that three-day minicamp. I think Derek (Carr) has got a chance to be a player in this league. Gabe Jackson looks like a monster. The corners (Keith McGill and TJ Carrie), big size guys. Jelly (Justin Ellis). I think we’ve got some football players. At that last mandatory camp, it looked like we had a team.
Q: You’ve always had a close tie to players, some of your best friends are former Raiders. Your dad once said he didn’t know if you could run a team because you were too close to the players and you couldn’t cut people. Although that’s Reggie’s job, you’re still in charge . . . have you changed your interaction with players?
Mark Davis: No, I haven’t. But I don’t know if I’m as close to the players as I was back then because I’m in a different era. It’s not the same as when I was a kid coming through the ranks. But I’m always going to be close to the players, that’s what it’s all about. My dad was probably right (laughs).
Q: The schedule is extremely difficult _ five games against last year’s final four teams _ opener on the road against the Jets, Week 4 in London after going to New England _ taking that into account, plus all the turnover again, is it realistic to think the Raiders could get to double-digit wins and be a playoff team?
Mark Davis: Right now, we’re undefeated. We’ll see. Have to take them one at a time. We always play the Broncos twice a year, we always play the Chargers twice a year, we always play the Chiefs twice a year. That’s nothing new. Playing the NFC West, they’re all strong right now. I think all four are strong to be honest. We’ve got the AFC East. New England and the Jets, two East Coast games. It’s going to be tough.
Q: The Super bowl is the goal . .
Mark Davis: Every year. But it’s been 30 years since we won one.
Q: But considering where the franchise has been the last 11 years, since the last Super Bowl appearance . .
Mark Davis: I don’t count that Super Bowl because we didn’t win it.
Q: But was a division champ and a conference champ . .
Mark Davis: OK . . . (Losing) the Super bowl is worse than what happened last year. It sticks in your craw. We got our ass kicked.
Q: But there was success . . ..
Mark Davis: Yeah, but you’ve got to finish. That’s what it’s all about.
Q: So you want to see progress. What would constitute progress in your mind with this team?
Mark Davis: You can feel progress. You can see it in games. Are we finishing games? Are we starting off games well and not finishing them? There were games last year where we didn’t show up. The Kansas City game. One play four times? The same guy (Jamal Charles) scoring four touchdowns? Philadelphia, seven touchdown passes? It wasn’t there. That can’t happen anymore.
Q: Fans are constantly coming up to you with encouragement, support, suggestions, do you sense an increased level of optimism based on fans that you’ve talked to because of the offseason?
Mark Davis: I don’t see anything different this year in fans. I think Raider fans are realistic. Pretty smart bunch of people, really.