- Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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CARMEL, Ind. -- Hope springs eternal before the first kickoff of a regular season, perhaps nowhere more than in the streets of Silver and Blackdom. The Oakland Raiders may not have had a winning season since 2002 but the slate is clean for Oakland as it prepares for Sunday’s opener at Indianapolis.
It’s Year 2 of the Raiders' new regime and owner Mark Davis is as enthused as any fan, but he is also realistic. I sat down with Davis for a brief Q&A Saturday evening at the team hotel, and we discussed topics as varied as Davis' hopes for the season, his desires for a new stadium and what impresses him about quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who is expected to start against the Colts.
Paul Gutierrez: Eve of opening day, everyone except for the Broncos and Ravens are 0-0. Where are you right now in terms of where this team is and your expectations? Is there promise, hope?
Mark Davis: I don’t know. I want to see what we’ve got. We’ve got nine new guys on defense with a quarterback that I’ll call Charles Woodson, which I think really’s going to help guys like Tyvon (Branch) and I think the defense is really going to be the interesting part for me just to see what we’ve got. It’s the second year with (defensive coordinator Jason) Tarver, Jason’s system, and Coach (Dennis) Allen and I want to see if we have a defense coming on. The past, whatever, six, seven years, everybody was always saying we don’t have one. It was a tough thing to overcome so let’s see what happens with nine new guys.
PG: From an organizational standpoint, though, are you still in rebuild mode, or is there more promise involved here, or are you just, let’s wait and see what we do have?
MD: Somebody brought an interesting term to me -- they called it a reboot. Which is a pretty good term. We never liked to use the term 'team rebuild,' it was always 'reload' and everything else. But it’s definitely a rebuild. It seems like (general manager) Reggie (McKenzie) has done a really good job of getting the (salary) cap, the contracts, everything basically in a good order now. So, we don’t have any excuses whatsoever from this point on in building an organization that’s going to be the best. I think we’ve still got a ways to go, but I think we have a lot of the pieces.
PG: Last year, you said you didn’t think this team could be a Super Bowl team, but that it could compete for a playoff spot. Is there a different vibe this year from your perspective?
MD: Yes and no. I mean, obviously, every year you go into it with one goal, and that’s to win the Super Bowl. That is the goal. Now, you have to be realistic in the same sentence and understand what you’re going to go after. But yeah, we want to win every game and every game is winnable. One way or another, you’ve got to find a way to win a game, but I think the things I was looking for at the end of last year and, actually, the whole of last year, was progress. Starting to build the organization and building an identity. That is what I was looking for last year. I think we didn’t quite get to that point yet and there were times when we just didn’t progress like you’d like to see. I think we all felt that way. I’d just like to see that this year. I’d like to see us start to build on something, start to gain an identity and see what we can do with it. We’ve got some young players. It should be interesting. Like I said, the defensive side of the ball is one thing, the offensive side is the other and we’ve always been an explosive offense so we’ll see what we come up with this year ... with (new offensive coordinator) Greg Olson and [running back Darren McFadden walks by and says hello] this guy right here.
PG: How much more comfortable are you now starting your second full season as the owner?
MD: I’ve always been comfortable in this space, but the thing that I’m finding is right now is still, is it’s disappointing that I’m spending my time on stadium issues, trying to get that going and (dealing with) the football team. I see that it’s really hard to do both. You know, you want to focus on one thing and really spend a lot of time and yet you’re off running the meetings on this and that and all of that, so that’s the (frustrating) part for me. And if we can get the stadium situation finalized, then that will give me a lot more time to really see if I can help on the other side.
PG: Where are you right now, then, on the stadium issue? I know your last public comments were that you didn’t want to sign another short-term deal with the Coliseum, but you want to stay in Oakland, build on the current Coliseum location, yet Los Angeles was still a potential option.
MD: Oakland is absolutely where we would prefer to get something done. And it would be on that specific site. There’s definitely issues that go along with that. We’ve been meeting with the city and the county. We just had another meeting this last week. There’s still some big, big questions that we have to get answered by both sides. Both sides are trying. Whether there’s a sense of urgency or not? I know there is on our side. We have to find out how urgent on their side. The picture that’s been drawn is there. We know what needs to get done. It’s just whether it’s going to be able to be done. It’s tough, Paul, it really is. But the fans in the Bay Area are great. They are the best. I’ve come to the conclusion that a 53,000-seat stadium, that we played in from the 60’s and all that, is basically what our market is. We’re not an 80,000-seat stadium, we’re not a 65,000-seat stadium, really, unless you’re winning every game and all that stuff. But those aren’t the hardcore fans that are there ... for us the 53,000–seat stadium is good and maybe 5,000 club seats bring it up to 58,000 seats. But in all those years, I think when we moved back (to Oakland) we overbuilt the market, so to speak. Especially because of the pricing and everything else, and that’s all marketing. And that was a whole different concept, having the Oakland Football Marketing Association taking (ticket sales) out of the team’s hands might not have been one of the better things to do. Go up to Seattle. What a great stadium that is. It’s not Dallas. It’s not probably what the 49ers are building or anything of that nature, but it works. It works for that market. And that’s all the Raider fans need. It’s just going to be tough, but we’re working on it.
PG: Sharing the 49ers new stadium out of the picture, then?
MD: Yeah, it’s out of the picture, and again I’ve used this analogy of the Jets and the Giants in the old Meadowlands. The Niners, I can’t say good enough things on what they’ve done. They’ve got a stadium, they’re building it in California. They got it done. They’re doing a 68,000-seat stadium that’s going to be red and gold. They’re going to have the Joe Montana hotel across the street. They’re going to have their bricks and all that stuff. That’s not a Raider stadium. And for us, for me, I want the Raiders to have something that’s a legacy to my father and to the Raider brand. If in fact we’re able to get a stadium built, it will probably be the last one of my lifetime ... so I want it to be great and I want it to be the Raiders’.
PG: Any movement on the business side of things as far as hiring a team president, especially in the wake of Amy Trask leaving?
MD: Yeah, I’ve been talking to people ... but I’m leery to do anything before a stadium situation is figured out because I look at it as whoever’s going to be running the business and that’s the revenue side of it, it’s pretty much site-specific in my mind. A lot of people say no, those people (team president candidates) can plug in anywhere. But I think for somebody to deal with corporations in the Bay Area, that’s one person that’s been in the Bay Area for a long time, who knows how to do that. The other teams in the Bay Area have people that have done that very well. So you’d be looking for somebody that knows the Bay Area. If we were to be going to either Los Angeles or somewhere else, you’d want somebody that knows that market, has those connections with those kinds of people ... so for me, I think it’s a site -specific thing. I believe (finance officer) Marc Badain is doing a great job right now, carrying on ... he’s done a phenomenal job. And he is doing a phenomenal job. And the atmosphere around the office is just phenomenal right now. I don’t know if you’ve talked to other people around but everybody’s really happy around there. And we’re not winning yet, you know what I’m saying? But they all have the opportunity to do something. When I talked to the staff, I told them I’m not going to micro-manage them. I’m looking for the right people, smart people, give them goals and the results will speak for them. It’s not where I’m going to sit over your shoulders and tell you what to do every step of the way. We come up with goals and they sold out that third deck on the (Coliseum’s) west side.
PG: On the original bowl?
MD: The east side is completely tarped and then the corners of the west side are tarped. Last week there were four (sections) tarped (on each side); this week there will be three. We’re going to be working with the Oakland schools. So there’s 800 seats (being freed up by removing a tarp on each side) and we’re going to be giving them to the Oakland schools -- 400 kids and 400 parents. We’re going to bus them, we’re going to feed them and we’re going to have a chalk talk at the arena for them before the game, talking about work ethic, school work, trying to work in the community ... but I told (the staff) in a meeting, 'Listen, I want to sell out that third deck.' And they got it done, which is really exciting to me. That third deck, we’ll call that The Penthouse. Let’s get that excitement back. I just hope that the team can give the fans something to cheer for, too.
PG: Speaking of the fans being excited, and I know it’s Allen’s call to not publicly name a starting quarterback yet, but if it was indeed Pryor tomorrow, what would you like to see out of him?
MD: Wow, well, just as any quarterback, I want to see him win. He’s been nothing but just a great, great Raider. Ever since the day he got here, and you know he came in with all the bad press behind him, it never ever fazed him. All he’s done is work hard, try to learn, learn from Carson (Palmer). He’s been a team guy all the way. Even this preseason, he said, 'Hey, whoever ends up being the quarterback, I’m pulling for him and we’re all trying for it.' You can’t ask for anything more ... there’s something about him that’s different.
PG: What else about him?
MD: His confidence.
PG: What about his skill set and his potential to make plays with his legs?
MD: Yeah. He does. (Davis laughs) He does. I mean, you tell me. It’s pretty obvious what he brings and we’ll see what happens. Like I said, his confidence is there.