Updated January 9, 2021 - 1:01 pm
Mark Davis looked forward to the 2020 NFL season like none before. The Raiders’ owner could see himself watching his team officially open its inaugural season in Las Vegas while playing in the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium.
But the realities of COVID-19 intervened — fans weren’t allowed to attend home games — and the Raiders stumbled to an 8-8 finish following a 6-3 start.
Davis wasn’t happy with such a record and yet remains steadfast in his belief that head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock are capable of returning the Raiders to the playoffs, which they have now missed 17 times in the last 18 years.
Davis reflected on the just concluded season in a question-and-answer session on Friday with Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney.
A: It was really tough, no doubt about it. There were times when I was pretty sad about it. But at the same time, I made a commitment to the fans and needed to stick by it. Hopefully, this next season, we will all get to go in together and enjoy it as we should. It was a very strange year, like the “Twilight Zone” with COVID-19 and all the challenges it presented.
Q:What is your response to an 8-8 record?
A: That’s clearly not good enough. It has never been good enough for us, but we haven’t done much better in the last 20 years. We went 12-4 in 2016 and were one-and-done in the playoffs. So there hasn’t been any real progress. We are hoping that we’re building something here. At the same time, results are the only thing that speaks. That’s what speaks to me and we just haven’t done it yet.
Q: What are your fondest memories of the 2020 season?
A: Winning the first Las Vegas Raiders game in Carolina was quite an achievement and something that will live forever. Second, as bad as this year has been for everybody, for that inaugural game at Allegiant Stadium — to see my mom (Carol) light the (Al Davis Memorial Torch) is one of the greatest moments of my life. I look back at that and see the pictures of it and it brings me such joy. It makes everything else a little less tragic. For me, seeing her at that stadium and lighting the torch, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Q: After this season, is your faith just as strong now in head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock?
A: Absolutely. In Year 1 with Jon, it was a deconstructive phase where he wanted to get things down to more salary cap control and really start building the team. We made a little progress in Year 2 but obviously not enough. Mike then came in and our drafting and player management (strategy) was a little different. I thought we made some progress there. We were really looking forward to this inaugural season in Las Vegas — our new practice facility and everything else. All the things we dreamed of were coming true.
But this season — and I’ve said it many, many, many times — life got in the way with the virus. It’s just hard to judge things based on any continuity. You’re being coached on Zoom calls, the rookies didn’t have a chance to have a normal beginning to their (careers). It’s really hard to put any kind of grade on the season, except to say we didn’t get to where we expected to be. But yes, I’m happy with (the leadership).
Q: Given life in the pandemic, how tough was it making an impact in the community?
A: We were the only team in the league moving into a brand new community. The Rams and Chargers had a couple years of a head start, having moved to Los Angeles right away. This was our players moving here, not knowing anybody and immediately being put into a hibernation type of existence of masks and being 6 feet apart. They didn’t get a chance to do all the things we wanted to do. There was no way for us to build a bond between the team and the community.
A: I’m involved in the interviews in a small way, but my philosophy is one thing I know is what I don’t know. And I’m going to let the guys I hired do their jobs. It’s up to Mike and Jon to determine who the person is that they feel will do the best job for the Raiders. I’ll play devil’s advocate with them and question them, but the final decision is their choice.
Q: How close do you believe the Raiders are to returning as a playoff team?
A: That’s hard to say because I don’t think we got a true picture of everything this season, so I don’t know. When you’re looking at it and hoping, it’s usually Year 3 when the draft picks from Year 1 are really starting to let you know if they’re going to be players or not. We didn’t get that look this year. Guys were in and out. We had one week where the offensive line didn’t practice all week. We had another where the defensive line didn’t practice all week. We had another game where the defensive backs coaches weren’t even there. I’m not saying we’re different from any other team, so these aren’t excuses. It’s an explanation.
This coming year, we have to make progress. There is no doubt about it, no question about it. We have to make progress. The defensive coordinator is going to be a very important part of this — watch our games and you see that. We have to make progress. I don’t believe anybody in that building feels any differently.
Q: What are you looking forward to most next season?
A: When 65,000 people can walk into that stadium and I’m one of them. We’ve been waiting for that for 60 years.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.