Jack Del Rio banks on Oakland Raiders' continuing improvement

By The Sports Xchange  |  March 4, 2017 at 1:19 AM
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March 4 (UPI) -- INDIANAPOLIS -- Everything is going Jack Del Rio's way.

Del Rio came home to coach the team of his youth, put the Oakland Raiders back in the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and now he's got a new four-year contract.

Owner Mark Davis tore up Del Rio's original deal with a contract that matches the extension general manager Reggie McKenzie received in August, keeping the two central figures of the Raiders on-field operation in place for the foreseeable future.

As Del Rio explained it to reporters covering the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, his strategy in joining the Raiders was to be more demanding in terms of facility upgrades than he was about personal wealth.

If the Raiders got significantly better, so would the cash flow into Del Rio's bank account.

"When we talked about the vision I had for the franchise and the possibility of me joining him as head coach, there were several things that I laid out that I thought were imperative -- facility upgrades and things like that -- and he's been very, very generous and supportive for Reggie and I," Del Rio said.

Davis put a new performance center and weight room at the team facility, even in the face of potential franchise relocation. He spent big in free agency for players.

The Raiders, 3-13 under Dennis Allen and interim coach Tony Sparano in 2014, went to 7-9 in Del Rio's first season and to 12-4 last season.

"It wasn't a very good contract to start with, but it was an opportunity and I bet on our ability to get this thing turned around and I feel like we have," Del Rio said.

"M.D. was a man of his word and he stepped up and tore up that deal and gave me a new one."

Del Rio's reasoning for signing the initial contract?

"I knew I was signing a deal that was less than maybe what a guy with nine years experience would deserve," Del Rio said. "But there are many moments in life where you find the ability to humble yourself and just keep your head down and keep working hard, and that side takes care of itself.

"I think in the end, the money comes. ... I love what I do so it made it a no-brainer for me."

Del Rio is adamant that last year's wild card berth was a step in the right direction but far short of the finish line.

"I thought in Year 1, we learned how to compete," Del Rio said. "Year 2, we learned how to finish games and win. And for us in Year 3, it's about building on that foundation that we've established and understanding that we're just getting started. We've got a long way to go, a lot of work to do."

The Raiders, of course, lost quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg in Week 16 and then lost in the playoffs without him.

The moral of the story?

"Don't lose your quarterback," Del Rio said.

Del Rio said Carr is ahead of schedule in terms of rehab but wouldn't commit to full participation in the entire off-season program.

--When it was announced the Vikings would not pick up the option on Adrian Peterson's contract, reports surfaced that one of the teams that would interest him would be the Raiders.

Given the Raiders' strength on the offensive line and with an established quarterback in Derek Carr, it makes sense.

Lead running back Latavius Murray is an unrestricted free agent in what coach Jack Del Rio called a "fluid" situation.

"I think the message I get is that players and coaches and people recognize that this is a good place to be," Del Rio said. "When I first arrived here three years ago, the thought was, 'Nobody wants to come here.' And we battled through that and became a place where people wanted to come."

--The addition of former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano as a senior defensive assistant gives the Raiders a third coach with experience as a coordinator.

Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. remains, and coach Jack Del Rio has held that position with Carolina and Denver.

Del Rio said Norton's job as the defensive play-caller is unaffected.

"Kenny's our defensive coordinator," Del Rio said. "John is like that senior, the buffer, that guy that has experience. And then I always jump in on both sides of the ball."

Del Rio said he hoped Pagano would improve the Raiders' communication on the back end of the defense.

--Coach Jack Del Rio put the best face possible on losing a home game against New England to a second straight year in Mexico City.

"We loved the experience of playing in that environment and look forward to doing it again," Del Rio said. "I would love it if somehow, the commissioner could make sure every other year we have it as a road game and not always a home game for us.

"We don't really look forward to playing nine road games and seven home games."

--The Raiders are hoping to rekindle a preseason series with the San Francisco 49ers to lessen the burden of travel. The series was halted in 2011 following violent incidents in the parking lot of Candlestick Park, the 49ers former home.

"I'm hopeful; we should be able to get that together," Del Rio said. "It makes too much sense. We're flying all the way to Green Bay instead of driving down the road, especially with the amount of travel we both have to do from that spot. It makes all the sense in the world to do a home and away."

--Count coach Jack Del Rio as a fan of Christian McCaffrey, the Stanford running back who was a high school teammate of his son Luke at Valor Christian in Colorado.

"I heard people question whether he'd be able to go from high school level to the college level, and now the questions come out, 'Can he go from the college game to the pro game?'" Del Rio said. "I think you're going to see the same thing. The guy is a great football player and he will have an impact in this league."

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