Raiders Coach Jack Del Rio Opens Up
Local legend Jack Del Rio is back and hoping to return the Raiders to their championship roots.
It’s been a rough last decade or so for the silver and black. But with a promising core of young players starting to take shape, the future is finally—finally—starting to look bright, even if speculation about the team ditching Oakland for Los Angeles continues to cast a pall over the franchise.
Enter new head coach Jack Del Rio, 52, the former three-sport star at Hayward High, a Rose Bowl champion at USC, and an 11-year pro who previously coached the Jacksonville Jaguars. Del Rio, most recently a defensive coordinator for Denver, takes over as head coach of his hometown team with a mandate to revive the Raiders’ glory days.
Diablo talked to Del Rio about his East Bay roots, the good ol’ days, and rediscovering the best hamburger in the world.
Q: First things first: How’s it been returning home?
A: I’m really excited to be back where I grew up. I’ve got a lot of friends and family out here that I’ve remained in touch with; my old high school coach at Hayward High is one of them. This has always been home, so I never felt like I lost contact with the area. But to be back home again to lead my childhood team is a dream come true.
Q: What does it mean for you to be in a position once held by guys such as John Madden and Tom Flores?
A: I take a real pride in it. I’ve got pictures of all the Raiders’ Super Bowl–winning coaches displayed in my office. That’s what we’re here for: bringing the championship back to this organization and getting back to a championship level.
Q: Obviously, the Raiders have been a long way away from the success of the John Madden era for a while now. How do you re-create that success, especially given all the questions about the future of the team in Oakland?
A: The first thing is pushing back against the negativity. For us, it’s about going forward and instituting our plan: What can we do going forward? Our staff is looking for the things these guys can do and looking for how we can develop their talent and mentality. We’re really not looking back, comparing ourselves against some of the bad teams or bad things that came before us. We want to tap into what’s special here and why it’s special, and get going down that road. For me, it’s about fundamentals: physicality, great energy, and passion. And we’re seeing that as we begin.
Q: How do you think you’ve changed as a coach from your first head coaching gig with Jacksonville?
A: You become wise with the experience you get. I’ve had nine years—that’s a wealth of expertise to draw on. Everything you touch matters: how you assemble a staff, how you prepare a football team, how you practice. You think you’ve got it all figured out before you get in this seat, and then you get in that head coach seat, and you figure it out pretty quickly.
Q: Who were some of the coaches you learned the most from?
A: I played for several great coaches, including Jimmy Johnson and Denny Green. I was able to coach with and under Mike Ditka, who gave me my start in this league. He had an incredible passion. I also spent time with John Fox and Brian Billick, who really took a lot from the Bill Walsh philosophy. So I’ve drawn on all that. But what it comes down to is you have to be yourself. I’m true to who I am and the things I believe in.
Q: As a big Raiders fan growing up, do you have special memories of those teams?
A: It’s not really tied to any one great moment or game as much as I just remember always loving the Raiders. My favorite player was Phil Villapiano. And there was Marv Hubbard and Kenny Stabler—a couple of guys who passed this year. Man, there were some characters: Otis Sistrunk and Ted Hendricks. And I played with Marcus Allen at USC, so I thought he was a great player and a great teammate. Growing up here, I’d always go to one or two games a year with my dad, which was such a treat. I mean, I had the pennant hung up on my wall. I was completely into it.
Q: Now that you’re back, do you have any old haunts you’ve revisited?
A: Val’s Burgers in Hayward, at the bottom of Kelly Hill. That’s close to where I grew up. It was and remains my favorite burger joint. I think that’s the best burger in the world. I mean, I’m biased; but it is.
Q: Your kids are all grown now. How are you handling the empty nest?
A: Yeah, my son is a redshirt [football player] at the University of Florida, and one of my daughters is in college in the South. I’ve got another daughter who’s married and in law school in Louisiana. We’re spread out. This is the first time we’ve moved that we haven’t been looking for college prep high schools. So that’s a treat.
Q: I’ve heard your dad is a season ticket holder. Can we expect to see him in the Black Hole?
A: My dad was a big Raiders supporter back in the day. He was part of the lineman’s club and was a season ticket holder, but that was years ago. Mostly, he’s been supporting whatever team I’ve been with. That’s something I’ve heard from some of my really dear friends here: They’re all happy they can finally root for me personally and the team I’m with.
From East Bay Highs to the Raiders
Del Rio isn’t the only East Bay legend fans should keep an eye on this season. Here are three Raiders players who starred at local high schools.
The De La Salle alum entered his second year with the Raiders as one of the most valuable defensive backs on the roster, and even spent some time returning punts this preseason.
The Deer Valley grad has been shuffled around in his time with the Raiders, moving from running back to defensive back and now back to offense. But watch for the blazing-fast Jones to make his mark in the backfield this season, or perhaps by returning kicks.
Roy Helu Jr.
The veteran running back from San Ramon Valley High is back in the Bay Area to provide depth in the backfield. After sitting out most of the preseason with an injury, he’ll have to make a strong early impression to hold off Jones as the number two man.