Raider Vault: Raiders vs. the Bye Week; Remembering Tom Cable and Art Shell


Sep 30, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie (left) and Tony Sparano (right) during a press conference to introduce Sparano as Raiders interim coach at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders, thankfully, have a bye this week, taking a week off before facing the Chargers at home on October 12th. The Raider Vault piece usually focuses on a memorable past matchup with the weeks’ opponent, and the bye week will be no different. The Raiders are also facing their first week with a new coach in the middle of a regular season for the third time since 1989, and this week on Raider vault we will look back to the Silver and Black’s experience with interim coaches and mid-season hires, as well as some recent examples from around the league.

After the Bye Week

The NFL most recently instituted regular bye weeks beginning in the 1990 season, which was for the Raiders Art Shell’s first full year as head coach after being hired mid-season to replace Mike Shanahan in 1989. In 1990, the then-Los Angeles Raiders had a bye in week 8, going in with a 6-1 record. They dropped their first game coming out of the bye week to the Chiefs, then lost a second straight game a week later to the Packers. After a narrow win in Miami against the Dolphins, they lost again to Kansas City, before turning it around and winning five straight to close the season with a 12-4 record. Three of four games lost that year had come within four weeks of the bye.

The Raiders struggled out of the bye week in the early 90’s under Art Shell. After winning a close game to Denver (and the next three in a row after) coming out of the bye in 1991, the Raiders dropped their post-bye game in 1992 to Philadelphia in a blowout, then lost BOTH post-bye games in the 1993 “double bye” season. After winning two straight week-after games in 94 and 95, the Raiders lost narrowly to Denver in the first game after the bye in 1996. Enter the Joe Bugel era.

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Beginning in 1997, under Joe Bugel, the Raiders went on a streak of post-bye week dominance: the Raiders won their first game out of the bye week six consecutive years, including in the awful 4-12 year under Bugel, all four years under Jon Gruden and the 2002 Super Bowl season under Bill Callahan. In 2000, the first game after the bye was a memorable 34-28 overtime win over San Francisco: Jeff Garcia had led the 49ers back from a 28-14 deficit to tie the game, only to lose in overtime on a 31-yard TD strike from Rich Gannon to Tim Brown. In 2002, the first game out of the bye was memorable for how not close it was: a 52-25 curb-stomping of the Titans that was pre-empted even from Northern California media markets for a “more competitive” game midway through the third quarter.

But in 2003, the streak would come to an end, followed by a streak of a different kind.  For ten consecutive seasons the Raiders would fail to win their first game after a bye week, a streak that spanned seven head coaches and continued even during the two competitive 8-8 seasons the Raiders tallied in 2010 and 2011. Some of those losses were more memorable than others: in 2008 the Raiders came out of the bye to face the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome and got pummeled 34-3; in 2010 the first game out of the bye was at Pittsburgh and resulted in a 30-3 loss. In 2012, the final year of the streak, the 1-3 Raiders faced undefeated Atlanta in the Georgia Dome and had the game tied at 20 with 40 seconds left on the clock, only to see Matt Ryan lead the Falcons down the field to get in position and kick a winning field goal.

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  • The Raiders finally broke the streak of post-bye week futility last year, in a memorable 21-18 victory over the Steelers in which Terrelle Pryor rushed for a 93 yard touchdown on his first play from scrimmage. That win would be the high point of the season: the Raiders went 1-8 after that game and Terrelle Pryor would end up benched in favor of Matt McGloin.

    This year, the Raiders face a difficult test after the bye week: the San Diego Chargers, who have won 17 out of the last 21 meetings with the Raiders, including three of the last four. The Raiders will be coming into the game with a new coach, and what happens in that game could very well set the tone for the rest of the season – and the next few seasons.

    First Week With a New Coach

    The Raiders have some pretty recent experience firing a coach mid-season and replacing him.  In 2008, head coach Lane Kiffin – in a foreshadowing of his college head coaching career – was fired after going 1-3 in the first four weeks of the season and 4-12 the season prior. Kiffin’s replacement was Tom Cable who, like Tony Sparano now, had been the offensive line coach under Kiffin.  In another eerie coincidence, Lane Kiffin was fired after week four, going into a bye week, just like Dennis Allen.

    Coming out of the bye week with a brand new interim head coach in 2008, the Raiders got shellacked in the aforementioned 34-3 loss to the Saints in New Orleans. The 2008 Saints, Drew Brees and Reggie Bush notwithstanding, were not a particularly good team: they went 8-8 that year and finished near the bottom of the league in total defense and scoring defense. While their top-ranked offense putting up 30 points wasn’t completely unsurprising, the absolute ineptitude displayed by the Raider offense against a bad Saints defense certainly was.  Oakland managed 226 total yards, and Jamarcus Russel was 13 of 35 passing – a 37% completion rate. The Raiders did manage an exciting victory the following week against Brett Favre and the Jets (remember that?), and would manage to put together a pair of victories in weeks 16 and 17 against the Texans and Buccaneers (Jon Gruden’s last game as a head coach). Under Cable in 2008, the team went 4-8, bringing the season total to 5-11.  Still, the 4 victories were enough to convince Al Davis to keep Cable around, and he coached the Raiders another two full seasons, being fired after the 2010 season with a 17-27 overall record in Oakland.

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  • In 1989, head coach Mike Shanahan – yes, that Mike Shanahan – was fired after week 4 of the regular season (I’m noticing a trend here) after the team got off to a disappointing 1-3 start coming off a 7-9 record in 1988 during Shanahan’s first year as head coach.  Instead of promoting an interim head coach from Shanahan’s staff, Al Davis brought in Hall of Famer Art Shell, the long-time Raider offensive guard, to be his new head coach. There was no bye week in 1989: within days of being hired, Shell had to go out and coach his first game as an NFL head coach – and the first black head coach in the NFL since Fritz Pollard 1921.

    Shell led the team on the road against a struggling Jets team that was also 1-3, and got a 14-7 win as his defense picked off Jets QB Ken O’Brien twice, including one that was returned for the winning touchdown. The Raiders would go on to win seven of the next ten before dropping the final two games, and ending the season at 8-8. Shell would go on to lead the Raiders to a 12-4 record in 1990, a playoff victory, and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Shell remained as the head coach of the Raiders until after the 1994 season, coaching the Raiders to a 54-38 regular season record, four winning seasons, three playoff appearances and two playoff victories.

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  • The Raiders are not the only team to ever fire a coach in the midst of a losing season, of course.  In 2010, halfway through the season with a 1-7 record, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones fired head coach Wade Phillips, who had led the Cowboys to three consecutive winning records and two playoff appearances in the previous three years. Jones, in an Al Davis-esque move, promoted former Cowboys backup quarterback and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to interim head coach. Garrett led the Cowboys to consecutive wins against the Giants and Lions, and they finished winning five of their last eight under Garrett to finish 6-10. Garrett went on to lead the Cowboys to three consecutive 8-8 finishes, and is still the head coach in Dallas, who are looking very strong this year after a 3-1 start. Garrett is 32-28 as the Cowboys head coach with no playoff appearances yet.

    The firing of a head coach during the season has, historically, not led to much improvement, and only in a few cases do the interim coaches end up becoming the long term answer at head coach for the team. The Raiders have a lot of negative history as of late, both with coaches and with coming off of bye weeks, and next Sunday at home against San Diego may be an opportunity to reverse both.