It is far too easy to assign a large portion of the blame for the Raiders’ 1-4 start on the horrendous play of JaMarcus Russell. Through 5 games, Russell’s numbers are as terrible as you’ll ever see in the National Football League. With a completion percentage (42.1%) well below his QB rating (47.1), it is more than fair to criticize the young signal caller for failing to take the necessary steps in becoming the face of the franchise.
However, when you’re offense hasn’t gained more than 200-yards in a game since September. There is more than enough blame to go around.
At the conclusion of ’08, JaMarcus Russell was looking like he was on his way to becoming the player Al Davis envisioned when he selected the former LSU Tiger number one overall. Russell played three masterful games to conclude the 2008 season, completing 63% of his passes, throwing 6 TDs to just 2 INTs and most importantly leading the Raiders to consecutive victories.
What has changed since last season? Paul Hackett. That is the glaring difference between then and now.
Russell’s work ethic might not be legendary, but he was certainly doing something right last year.
Has JaMarcus mysteriously forgotten everything he’s ever learned in the game of football?
Could it be that Russell has an evil twin who has taken his place, wearing #2 on Sundays?
Is JaMarcus intentionally trying to throw games in hopes of being benched so he won’t have to take hits from 300-pound lineman any longer?
Or, is Paul Hackett simply doing what he does best – ruining good talent.
When looking at Hackett’s resume, it becomes clear that there is a consistent pattern of underachievement.
As a head coach, Hackett was never going to be confused with John Madden. In his three years as the big man on campus at the University of Pittsburgh, Hackett led the Panthers to a woeful record of 13-20-1. In 1998, Hackett took the reigns from his mentor, John Robinson, at USC. In each of his three years, the Trojans’ win totals decreased, finally bottoming out as Hackett led USC to a place the storied program had never been before – dead last in the Pacific 10 Conference.
Hackett was replaced by Pete Carroll and the rest is modern college football history. Carroll quickly returned the Trojans to their glory days and Hackett was back to the NFL.
Interestingly enough, Hackett did not leave the cupboard empty for Carroll. All-Pros Carson Palmer and Troy Polamalu were both Hackett recruits. Under the tutelage of Hackett, Palmer arrived at Southern Cal with a bounty of potential yet never seemed as if he’d progress any. When Carroll arrived with Norm Chow in tow, Palmer blossomed into a Heisman winner and eventual number one overall selection in the NFL draft.
Some can be attributed to Palmer’s injuries, but most can be traced to Hackett and his inability to either inspire or lead.
As an offensive coordinator, Hackett has been blessed with some standout NFL talent. He might not have been calling plays for the likes of Joe Montana and Marcus Allen in their prime, but his offense in Kansas City was sporadic at best, ranking as high as 5th in the league to as low as 24th. Not surprisingly, after his departure, the Chiefs’ offense was ranked in the top 10 for 6 of the next 8 seasons. Hackett’s parting gift to the Chiefs was to help develop Rich Gannon into a franchise quarterback for the Raiders. Perhaps his crowing achievement, though it would be hard to argue with the role Jon Gruden played in the growth of Gannon.
The last time Hackett was an NFL play caller was in 2004 as a member of the New York Jets’ coaching staff. During his four years under Herm Edwards, Hackett’s offense never ranked higher than 17th and was as low as 23rd. His unit was below average despite having an All-Pro runner in Curtis Martin, talent out wide in Wayne Chrebet and Laveranues Coles, a dominating offensive line and a young quarterback named Chad Pennington.
Pennington’s progress, or lack thereof, is the most glaring example of what Raider fans can expect from JaMarcus Russell. All the things that Russell isn’t, Pennington was before Hackett ever coached him. Pennington arrived in New York as an accurate thrower who made good decisions and had excellent footwork. All the tools any coach could ask for from a young quarterback. Pennington showed flashes of brilliance, but never evolved into the “Joe Montana” prototype he was billed as.
Russell is everything Pennington never could be. He is a natural talent with instincts that can’t be coached and an arm the likes of which has never been seen.
Hackett’s conservative approach to coaching Russell has stunted his growth. When watching JaMarcus play, you can see him thinking instead of reacting. Quarterbacks must do what comes naturally by relying on their instincts; this is the essence of the position. Coaches must find ways to rely on the talent of their players while helping to refine their skills; this is the essence of the job. If Hackett coached Brett Favre, you’d better believe that you’d never see him even attempt the type of throw he made to beat the San Francisco 49ers just a few weeks ago. Sometimes, making the right decision must be ignored when a QB believes that making a play is possible.
Hackett is no longer an NFL play caller and might not ever be again unless Tom Cable is relieved of his duties this year. Of course, Hackett would have to leap frog the “passing game coordinator” Ted Tollner first.
Given his track record, the decline of JaMarcus Russell should have seemed inevitable under Hackett.
Russell is playing worse than ever and Hackett cannot be excused from that. There is no progress being made. Nothing changes from week to week. If Russell is following instructions, then he is getting horrible coaching. If Russell is ignoring instructions, then Hackett needs to be more vocal in his displeasure with his pupil. These are the traits of a leader. These are the tools Hackett does not have in his arsenal.
The worst part is that should Cable be excused from his head coaching duties for any reason, Hackett could very well become the man in charge.
Unable to inspire; incapable of getting the most of his talent; Paul Hackett could be the worst thing to happen to the Oakland Raiders in 2009.
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Topics: Al Davis, Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin, Herm Edwards, JaMarcus Russell, Joe Montana, John Madden, John Robinson, Jon Gruden, Laveranues Coles, Marcus Allen, Norm Chow, Paul Hackett, Pete Carroll, Rich Gannon, Ted Tollner, Tom Cable, Troy Polamalu, Wayne Chrebet