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Raiders’ new GM McKenzie not just another legend hire

The Raiders wasted little time in their search for a new general manager. This week the team set up an interview with Packers Director of Football Operations, Reggie McKenzie, they liked what they heard, and promptly hired him as their General Manager. But these wheels started in motion three decades ago.

McKenzie has long been a frontrunner for the job due in part to his having been a linebacker for the Raiders during his playing career. Also, having presided over the Green Bay Packers during their run to the Super Bowl last season certainly helped make the decision an easy one.

McKenzie was drafted in the 10th round of the 1985 draft by the then Los Angeles Raiders where he played linebacker for four seasons from 1985-1988. He started every game his first two seasons at right inside linebacker in the Raiders’ 3-4 scheme. As a rookie, he helped the Raiders win the AFC West with a 12-4 record.

He left the Raiders after the 1988 season and moved on to the Cardinals for two seasons although he never played a game as a Cardinal. He was out of football in 1991 so he spent a season as a defensive coach for Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. In 1992 he played in the World League before coming to the Bay Area where he signed with the San Francisco 49ers and appeared in his final two games as an NFL player.

Wasting no time, he immediately returned to his alma mater where he served as an assistant under head coach Philip Fulmer. That year, the Volunteers appeared in the Florida Citrus Bowl and recruited a quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning. Just to make sure he was making the most of his time there, McKenzie simultaneously pursued a master’s degree in Education Administration.

In 1994, just two seasons removed from his NFL playing days, former Raiders personnel director Ron Wolf called his former linebacker to join him with the Packers as a pro personnel assistant. He has been with the Packers ever since. He has worked his way up the ranks in the Packers organization. In 1998, after just four seasons in the Packers front office, he was named Director of Pro Personnel. Then after ten seasons at that position, he was finally named Director of Football Operations in 2008.

During McKenzie’s tenure with the Packers, the team had the third most wins in the NFL with 170 regular season wins, trailing only Pittsburgh (172) and New England (180). Also on his watch, the Packers captured seven division titles, three conference championships, and Super Bowls XXXI and XLV, and look poised to make another Super Bowl run.

Now exactly 20 years since he last suited up in the NFL, McKenzie leaves one bay area and returns to the Bay Area in which he played his final NFL game and to the team with which he spent most of his playing career. It was a long time coming for this former player and great football mind. But for McKenzie, his journey started a long time ago.

Reggie isn’t just some football player who had visions of running a team. First he was valedictorian of his 1981 high school graduating class. Then he went on to be a two-way star at Tennessee while earning a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in personnel management. It was clear then that he had designs on this day long ago. It couldn’t be a better ending for both he and the Oakland Raiders.

As the Raiders’ GM, he will likely perform the same duties he performed for the Packers to help them become such a successful franchise in recent years. During the season, McKenzie will provide advance scouting reports on upcoming opponents and will work closely with Hue Jackson and his staff. He also will contribute to the scouting of college prospects, making school visits in both the fall and spring, and work in conjunction with Amy Trask and Mark Davis in preparation for the draft. It is a role in which Ron Wolf said McKenzie is a “tremendous evaluator” of talent.

He will also play an integral role in judging the Raiders’ current players and evaluating potential free agents across the league. McKenzie will be heavily involved in all of the team’s moves on a daily basis, including all tryouts and transactions.

And like every step of McKenzie’s life dating back to high school, there will be no down time. He will come right in and be asked to immediately work with the current staff and front office to hire a new defensive coordinator as well as several defensive assistants.

But make no mistake, if anyone is right for that task, it’s McKenzie. He has a proven track record, with relationships built across the league. He should serve to be the first in a string of strong hires for the Raiders as they attempt to ensure a new winning tradition in Oakland.

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