Normally, children of legendary owners fall into two categories. Either they are astute in football and business like Art Rooney II (Steelers) or disasters like Jim Buss (Lakers). In the NFL, and within a fanbase, perception and reputations are fluid. For Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, the last year proved this fact out. No one associated with the Silver and Black underwent a more profound transformation. Fifty-two weeks ago, fans and national media portrayed him a particular way. In reality, Davis did not change; he allowed others to attempt to write the narrative, while his went to work.
The Prodigal Son
When Al Davis died in 2011, Mark inherited the empire. As a result, he panicked, allowed Hue Jackson to mortgage the future on an aging quarterback, sitting at home. The beginning of his tenure started with a thud. The Raiders finished 8-8, missed the playoffs. Fans attacked Davis for his haircut, perceived approach, and affect. More importantly, he was not Al and did not share the same zest for football, in their minds.
The Right Move
After the Jackson debacle, Davis met with John Madden and a host of Raider dignitaries to discuss the next step. His cadre of advisors suggested that he would hire Reggie McKenzie as general manager. Over time, McKenzie righted the financial wrongs of Al Davis; bring the franchise to a starting point. Through shrewd business and salaries, he cleaned up the overwhelming mess left for him. Under those consequences, Mark appeared to not mettle and let McKenzie go about the business of Raiders football.
With the books firmly in order and two cornerstones to build a team around in Mack and Carr, the stadium issue arose. Davis and the City of Oakland failed to arrive at a mutually beneficial deal. Whether you side with the city or team remains irrelevant. There was no feasible deal from Davis’ end, so he began to look at relocation. Cities like Carson, Las Vegas, and even San Antonio jumped into the fray. When the league voted against the Carson project, fans and media took unlimited shot at Davis. Yet, the words did not seem to affect him. As RaiderNation began to fracture over stadium location, Davis continued to work behind the scene. He is not Jerry Jones, thirst and eager to see that crimson light of TV cameras.
When the league approved relocation to Las Vegas, Davis took his victory lap and proceeded back into the shadows. Yet, with a minimum of two seasons remaining in Oakland, the Raiders needed to keep local interest. He wanted to field a competitive team for their Raiders final season at O.co.
As the Chargers pounded a lifeless Raiders team, cameras caught a visibly angry Davis shaking his head. For the first time, his expression mirrored that of his father: disgust. Between the Philly collapse and the Los Angeles meltdown, Mark Davis saw enough. A day earlier, reports surfaced that the Raiders were going to pursue Jon Gruden. For the same reason, Gruden’s name finds its way into the rumor mill every offseason. However, shortly after Sunday’s game, Mark Davis fired Jack Del Rio. In a move, eerily reminiscent of his father, Mark ignored the remaining years/money on Del Rio’s deal. On its own merit, that signals a man tired of losing/underachieving. Perhaps the most surprising is the way Davis personally fired Del Rio. No intermediary, face to face and with surgical precision.
Given these points, maybe Mark Davis is the incarnation of at least part of his father’s nerve. While people will still crack the PF Chang’s, Hooters or minivan jokes, they will fade away. At this moment, Mark Davis played his hand better than just about anyone gave him credit. No one saw the speed and decisiveness of any of the Gruden rumors. If you look ask fans their perception of Mark Davis now, you can see a difference. He appears less like Fredo Corleone and more Tony Soprano.