Hue Jackson is scheduled to interview with the 49ers Sunday, four seasons removed from being fired by the Raiders despite finishing 8-8 and one game short of the playoffs.
Jackson was many things in his two years with the Raiders, the first as offensive coordinator and second as head coach. Jackson was brash and confident, two traits he passed on to offenses which underwent a remarkable upgrade almost immediately upon his arrival.
Owner Al Davis hired Jackson to run the offense for head coach Tom Cable, an arranged marriage which saw the Raiders go from 17 touchdowns to 37 in a single season and go from an anemic 197 points to 410 in 2010.
A force of nature during practice, Jackson livened things up with a running stream of trash talk as well as offensive creativity and common sense. One of the first things he did as coordinator was go to running back Darren McFadden, ask him his favorite plays, then immediately add them to the play list.
McFadden flourished and in 2010 and the first six games of 2011 as one of the NFL’s top running backs until sidelined by a Lisfranc injury. His second season, Jackson coaxed 64 receptions and 975 yards out of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Davis’ size-speed project taken with the No. 7 pick of the 2009 draft.
Since Davis, as we later learned, was building a grievance file on Cable which he would detail in his last press conference with the local media, Jackson was the natural choice to become the next head coach.
Jackson, aware of the crash-and-burn endings of predecessors Lane Kiffin and Cable, made sure he kept the lines of communications open with Davis, calling him “coach” and praising him at every opportunity.
When Davis passed away on Oct. 8, Jackson stepped into a leadership vacuum and looked like the man to lead the Raiders into a new era.
But things are never simple with the Raiders. The season ended with a thud, a 38-26 home loss to the San Diego Chargers which could have given the Raiders the AFC West.
Within a month, Mark Davis, intent on bringing in a general manger to remake the front office, hired Reggie McKenzie on the advice of confidants such as Ron Wolf and John Madden without conducting any other interviews.
One of McKenzie’s first acts was to fire Jackson and eventually bring in Dennis Allen, precipitating a three-year run of 11-37 until the Raiders improved to 7-9 this season under Jack Del Rio.
Jackson’s undoing was partially his fault, given a candid post-game outburst after the loss to the Chargers. Usually one to shower and change before meeting the media, Jackson eschewed the cooling off period and spoke his mind.
He excoriated his team and its effort in a lengthy and emotional diatribe. At its conclusion, Jackson promised change even though he had zero authority to do so.
“I’m going to take a stronger hand in this whole team, this whole organization,” Jackson said. “There ain’t no way I’m going to feel like I feel today a year from now, I promise you that. There’s no question. Defensively, offensively and special teams. I ain’t feeling like this no more. This is a joke. I’m going to take a hand in everything that goes on here.”
You could look at it as a coach who cares passionately about seeing his team improve. Mark Davis and upper management didn’t see it that way. It prompted some inside “Al Haig” jokes, invoking the former Secretary of State who believed he was “in control” following an assassination attempt on President Reagan.
One part of upper management _ CEO Amy Trask _ was very much in Jackson’s corner. The problem? Trask began to recede into the background following Al Davis’ death and soon it was clear her time with the organization was growing short.
It was an unfortunate turn for Jackson, and clearly not merited based on the job he did coaching the Raiders. But Jackson was also a very strong-minded leader with ideas of his own, and it’s hard to see him toeing the company line when McKenzie began dismantling the roster.
As good a coach as Jackson was, the Raiders weren’t going anywhere with McKenzie putting forth a roster dominated with dead money that went to players who were either elsewhere or out of football. That included Carson Palmer, the quarterback whom Jackson lobbied to bring aboard via trade in 2011.
McKenzie needed a coach who would be so happy to have the job he would be on board with a plan that would surely lead to double-digit losses for at least a year and probably more.
It happens all the time in business _ capable supervisors are cast aside at the whim of new management.
Go ahead and assume Jackson will make sure he and Trent Baalke and any other general manager he speaks to in the coming weeks are on same page with the goal of writing a happy ending this time around.