Coach Sparano Puts a Cap on 2014

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Q: What is the message that you left the players with?

Coach Sparano:"The message I left the players with is that first of all, I was very proud of them. They handled a difficult situation with class, with dignity and professional. We talked a lot about the offseason. We talked about things that we needed to do going forward as a football team, and we talked about the fact that this team, although not evident with number of wins, has started to set a little bit of a standard here and has started to pave the road, I think, for what lies ahead in the future. In doing that, I shared with them the fact that never mind our veteran players and the kind of veteran leadership that we have on this football team, which has been outstanding the entire season. I've said this before: A lot of times when we were counted out, that group rallied and got us right back into some things. But the other thing I did mention to them today is that – and I don't think a lot of people understand – there are 27 players on our team that are first- or second-year players that played a total of 10,196 plays. That's good news for the Oakland Raiders – 10,196 plays [by] first- and second-year players. Mychal Rivera – 865 plays; Gabe Jackson – 700-and-something plays; the list goes on and on and on. Those are all good things for the future here, and that's the message that I left them with – is just talking about the future, the things that they needed to do here in the offseason and the direction that the Oakland Raiders are heading."

Q: What did you learn about yourself as a coach this season?

Coach Sparano:"Learned a lot of things about myself this season. One, I always knew that as a coach, I had the ability to adjust and adapt. But sometimes coaches can be independent operators a little bit. You're an assistant coach, you're the offensive line coach, you're the wide receiver coach – you're just worried about farming your own land. I learned that you can adjust and adapt. This team has taught me an awful lot about that, quite honestly, with their work ethic, the way that they've approached things daily, the amount that they've allowed me to push them and to coach them. That's something that I asked them from day one – just let your coaches coach, that's important to me. They did that and they did it with class. So I learned an awful lot this season. This team taught me a lot, again. My conversations with [Owner] Mark [Davis] have taught me a lot, and with [General Manager] Reggie [McKenzie]."

Q: When is the last time you did speak with Mark Davis?

Coach Sparano:"Friday. I sat next to him on the plane, if that counts – to and from."

Q: Were there conversations about your future?

Coach Sparano:"We just talked about a lot of things. We had good visits and I'm going to keep that between Mark and I. But a good visit."

Q: How badly do you want to be the head coach, and is there a possibility that if you are not the head coach, you will come back in a different capacity?

Coach Sparano:"All I want to do right now is be the head coach of the Raiders. So how badly? Very, very badly. This is my team. I left my team today and I'm looking forward to starting over again with them. Those decisions will be made down the road. As far as anything else with me goes, I only have one concern right now. It's being the head coach of the Oakland Raiders."

Q: Nine losses on the road this season, including the trip to London. Why was the road such a mystery?

Coach Sparano:"I don't think the road was a mystery. Obviously, we didn't play well on the road – I wouldn't say 'play well' all the time on the road. It was interesting, I looked back today doing some different types of research today, and I mean, we lost I don't know if it's four games by 23 points or something to that effect. I'm talking about after the takeover. We played a game in San Diego – we lost by a touchdown. We played a game in Cleveland that was right to the very end of the game. We didn't play poorly. I mean, we played a game in New England prior to the takeover that coulda, shoulda, woulda. We scored a touchdown that got called back on a penalty with a little bit of time left; I'll leave that one alone. At the end of this whole thing, there were some games that got away from us on the road and I think our kids played hard, but we got caught in a couple of storms. St. Louis was a storm. I don't necessarily see that at Kansas City. That score was 17-whatever it was, 17-6 with five minutes left to go in the third quarter of the game, so I don't really see that as one of those type of games. But we didn't win them, and when you take a bunch of young players and you bring them on the road and you take them out of the home environment, which we needed to make important and we finally did make the home environment important [by] winning three games in a row here at home against really good teams, you've got to have the same kind of passion and the same kind of enthusiasm and the same kind of swagger when you walk into somebody else's building. When you walk into those buildings, they've got to know that the Raiders are here. That's what happened in the past here. Way back when, when I came into this league, when the Raiders came into your building, you knew the Raiders were in the place. It was like the Rolling Stones coming into town – you knew they were there. We've got to figure a way to bring that back, and these players learn easily. They've learned a lot of lessons here. They learn easily and they adapt easily. I have every confidence going forward that we'll figure that part of it out. I mean, there was a time when I was in Miami where we went 7-1 on the road but we didn't win any home games. So I was getting asked the same question – 'You guys are road warriors, but you're not winning at home.' We had to figure that part of it out. Teams learn. They adjust. It just takes one of those hard-fought games out there on the road. You get a couple breaks and you win a football game, or you make a couple breaks. Yesterday we had a break early in the game. A tipped ball by [Justin] Tuck and a pickup by [Keith] McGill and we're right in the football game. Then the thing got away from us."

Q: Antonio Smith said if it wasn't for you, this team would have gone 0-16. What is it that you were able to do to not go 0-16?

Coach Sparano:"That's nice for Antonio to say that. But I flipped that and I say that if it wasn't for them, that would've been the case, because they had to go through the battles; they had to deal with the new coach; they had to deal with change; they had to deal with a different culture that I'm trying to bring to the table here. They all had to be willing to do that. We made some changes. We did some things that way and I think that there's a clear spark between me and the players here, my message to the players here – and I think that anybody that doesn't see that isn't really looking hard enough. The biggest difference were the players in that locker room."

Q: How important is continuity in building a football team?

Coach Sparano:"I think continuity is huge in building a football team. I could give you the numbers – you guys have them. But since 2002, it's eight head coaches; it's about 115 assistant coaches; and it's 55 and about 138 – that's the won-loss record. So I think continuity in building a football team is critical if you feel like you have the right man for the right team in the right position with the right players."

Q: The fact that you have so many players going to bat for you and lobbying for you to keep your job, what does that mean to you? How much of an impact do you think that might have?

Coach Sparano:"I don't know about the impact, I really don't. That's for somebody else, Mark [Davis] and Reggie [McKenzie]. I have all the faith in the world in those guys, in Mark and Reggie and the decision making process that they're going to go through. I understand that it's not easy. I understand it's difficult. My job quite honestly was to make it difficult for them and from the day that I took this over, that's what I set out to do, make it difficult for them. They'll make the final decisions when this whole thing is done and we'll see where we are."

Q: You obviously have a body of work in place here. That being said, do you expect a formal sit-down interview with Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie?

Coach Sparano:"Yeah, I would say that that would take place. I mean, I expect that and I would say that that would take place, but, yeah."

Q: What are the greatest areas of need right now on the roster?

Coach Sparano:"Honestly, I'm just digging through this thing right now, and I'm not trying to skirt your question, but I think that's a question for a different time right now. I mean, I kind of know what this press conference is going to be about. We have some needs, there's no question about it, but we have some good young players here too and we have some veteran players that I think, in my humble opinion, deserve to be around here. It's the right mix. I always say this, and I've said this the first day I met with the team. Dennis [Allen] had me speak to the team, I don't remember what week it was, it was early in the season though and I talked to the team about the right 53 guys. Not necessarily the best, but the right 53 players. I believe in that. That's something that Bill Parcells told me a long time ago and kind of taught me. You might have a great player, he just might not be right for your team. He might be great for somebody else, just not great for the Raiders. But you might have this other guy sitting out there who's a darn good player that is 100 percent right for your team. So, that's what I'll say about personnel."

Q: Would you say that you have grown closer to Mark Davis since taking over the head coaching job?

Coach Sparano:"There's no question about that. I think if Mark were sitting here he would say the same thing. There's no question about that. I've learned Mark and I think Mark has learned me, and that's been mutual. I respect that, because as I said to you before, that's not something that I had towards the end of my, quite honestly, my time in the other place. When I was hired in the other place, I was hired by Wayne Huizenga and Bill Parcells. So, the relationship between Mark and I has grown every single week and has only gotten better because, what I love about listening to Mark is, he just says it. I appreciate that and I respect it because I just say it and my team respects that. When I just say it, they get it. If he just says it, I get it and I can say it to him and we can have good give and take that way. Our conversations have been great and he's taught me an awful lot over this time period and that's not something that I'm just saying because I don't just say things."

Q: You took over during a bye week and had to implement your changes. How much easier would it be to implement how you like to be a Head Coach if you had a full offseason?

Coach Sparano:"It's completely different. It's a complete different spin. You develop a culture now. That culture starts to grow now when you send those players home. Our exit meeting today was part of starting to develop a culture. That's the way I approached it with the players. But your offseason, your OTAs, your voluntary workouts, your minicamps, all those things that are in between training camp between now and then, you develop and you implement your culture and what you want to do, your coaching staff, the players that you draft or that you sign as free agents, it's all part of a plan, a vision going forward. You don't develop that vision in two practice days in a bye week. That's really what we had. We had two practice days, with the rules being what they are. Actually one practice day because we came back from London on a Monday, you guys know that, so that was one of our days. We practiced on Tuesday, I believe it was Tuesday, and that was it. I didn't see them again until the following week because of the way the rules are. To develop a change like that, it takes the players to really dive into that change in a short period of time. We had to go out there and play San Diego. We played San Diego and we played a really tough game that could have went either way, everybody knows that, including San Diego. I mean, at the end of it we didn't win it, but we played well and there was a little bit of validation there, validation to the message and to the approach. I think that's what kind of snowballed, if you will. There were lapses, like I mentioned before, you get beat 52 to nothing, that's a lapse. That doesn't mean – that's a scar. I said this before, there are a lot of scars in this game. They don't define who you are, they're just scars."

Q: Antonio Smith said he didn't know what it meant to be a Raider until you took over. Was that culture just not implemented?

Coach Sparano:"I'm not going to pass judgment on what was implemented and what wasn't implemented. All I know is that I love history and I love – that's one of the reasons I came here. One of the reasons I came here and quite honestly, one of the reasons I stayed here. Everybody knows that. At the end of this, last year at this time, it could have been different. I stood here and I stood here for a reason, because I love this history. I've been fortunate, to be with the Dallas Cowboys, to be with the Dolphins, be here. I've been fortunate to be in some places with great traditions and great history. To walk around the hall every day and to see Willie Brown or to go out to the practice field in London and there's Howie Long. That kind of history gets me going a little bit and I understand much clearly now, and clearly with the help of Mark quite honestly, but through my own research and my own study and the things that I wanted to get wrapped up in what it is to be a Raider. Are we there right now? No. Will we get there? Yes."

Q: Was your status discussed at all today or was it something left unsaid?

Coach Sparano:"I've been busy all day right now."

Q: I mean with the team, was your status or the coaching staff's status…

Coach Sparano:"No, I didn't approach it that way with the team. Today was a team meeting, an exit meeting and my job is to make sure that those players understood everything that I felt about them, walking out the door, and about this season and that's exactly 100 percent what I did. I put the emphasis completely on them, which is where it belonged."

Q: There will be a segment of media and fans that will say 3-9 isn't good enough…

Coach Sparano:"I get it."

Q: But, you're confident enough that the foundation has been laid and you think Mark Davis will see that too?

Coach Sparano:"I can't speak for Mark, but I'm confident. I'm confident and I know the direction this is headed. I've done this before, not quite like this, but there has been a lot of work done here, right now, and by God I want that work to be for me, for this organization."

Q: Donald Penn said that the reason why you went 3-9 was because you inherited the players and if you had the whole offseason and your own players, things would be different. Would you say that's fair?

Coach Sparano:"Again, I appreciate what Donald says. This is a hard business. There's no fair or unfair, any of those things. I get it. I'm a big boy. I understand it. I get it. Certainly isn't my first rodeo. I think that when you get a chance to put it all together… One of the exciting things about being head coach in this league is getting a chance to put it all together your way with your vision. There's something to be said for that. Could it be different? Sure."

Q: The stat you just cited about the 27 players, is that something you've broken down for other teams you've been with? Have you ever been with a team that approached that?

Coach Sparano:"I don't think I've ever been with a team… I took over a 1-15 team in Miami. We didn't have that many young players play that many plays. I'm not looking at that as a glass-half-empty kind of thing. I think the Raider fans should look at that as glass-half-full in this situation. Keith McGill played an entire football game yesterday out there and competed against some pretty darn good players out there. DJ Hayden has played 670-something plays without special teams. TJ Carrie, 500-something plays without special teams plays. These guys have got to be up in the 700s. When you look at that, never mind Khalil Mack's 1,000-plus or Derek Carr's 1,000-plus or Latavius Murray's 300. When you start to look at those plays with those young players and you start to think about where we were when I came here and where we are right now. We are in two totally different places right now."

Q: With Latavius Murray's 82 carries, he's got eight carries of at least 15 yards. That's a pretty high percentage. Is there any part of you that thinks, man I should have gotten that guy in earlier?

Coach Sparano:"Of course. I'm not going to not admit that. The Monday morning quarterback in me is out there just like it is in everybody else. There's no question about that. If I had this crystal ball and this big 'ol thing… Sure. I'm sure glad we found out. I'm sure glad we did. Latavius Murray is going to be a really good player. That's one of the things looking at it today, and talking to the players. There is like 32 or 33 categories that the league breaks down that are critical categories. I look back and I say where were we from Week 1-4, and where were we from 5 through 17. In 28 of those categories, this football team has gotten better. In some of them, staggering. Like being 32nd in third downs in defense, to fourth. Being sixth in red zone offense to first. Rushing, the number isn't anywhere near where I would want the number to be, but that area has improved on both sides of the ball, too. Defensively, very much so. Offensively, not where I want it to be, but it has improved. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we got Latavius involved."

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Q: In Derek Carr, what stood out most to you about him? Following up, where do you see him needing to get better between now and next season?**

Coach Sparano:"The things that I've seen Derek get better at during the course of the year, one of the things that he's gotten much better at is his ability to handle pressure and his ability to identify pressure. Gets us in the right protection and gets us the right call and understand where his problems are. I think as a quarterback, if you're oblivious to those things, you really have very little chance in this league. They come at you a bunch of different ways. Never mind how he reads coverage or his decision-making process, all of which has gotten better, that's another one of those statistics. Just Derek's completion percentage over the last couple of games, those types of things. All those things have gotten better. His touchdown to interception ratio has gotten better. All those things have gotten better. I think the thing that is the biggest plus is that his ability to understand protections and what he can do at the line of scrimmage and the way that he handles those things because that's not something that several months from now… You're going to go back through those things and try to coach it, but he's going to be so far ahead at that point. Those are the things that he's gotten better at. The things that I think he needs to improve on? I would just say from Derek's end, it's just to continue that grind, which he likes. He enjoys that. He's a football gym-rat, if you will, as far as studying and doing those types of things. It's not going to be arm talent. It's not going to be his athletic ability or any of those things. Sure, get a little stronger but Derek is plenty strong. It's just going to be continuing the mental part of it. Putting himself in those situations, taking a look and watching these college games that are going on the next several days and saying, 'There's that formation, what's my line call here?' Put himself in as many of those situations as you possibly can right now."

Q: As the quarterback, he'll take the heat for the losses and the credit for the wins. He seemed like he handled that pressure as well as any veteran has handled it. The way he handled and kept himself composed throughout the year, how much of that was a surprise to you or was it a surprise?

Coach Sparano:"Honestly, I'm going to say it was a surprise. I'm not going to say it wasn't a surprise. Let me make myself clear on that. I knew the kind of character person we were getting. I knew the type of man this guy is. Circumstances were difficult. Derek was drafted here under another coach. A lot of quarterbacks can say they've been through three head coaches in such-and-such. This guy has been through two head coaches now in one year and it happens to be his first year. To handle those situations was a tremendous strength of his. The way that he handled it with great character and poise, my hat's off to him. I made a point to make sure that I always communicated with Derek. I think that's really important from my end. It's something that I learned a long time ago, to make sure that I communicated with him on really non-football issues. My conversations with Derek rarely have anything to do with football. Just to make sure that I communicated with him and that he was doing OK. Some days when I'm not smiling, he can bring a smile to my face. He helped me."

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Q: What would you say is your highlight when you look back?**

Coach Sparano:"That's a great question, a really good question. I would say the highlight to my season… Well, there was a few. The highlight to my season without question was winning the first football game and seeing the guys smile in the locker room at the end of that. The price that they paid, players, coaches, general manager, owner, fans afterwards, seeing the smile on their faces was probably the highlight. And then, any time you can beat the team across the bay, that's pretty good, too."

Q: The coaches that are working under you now weren't the guys that you hired. Where are you with that? Do you want them all back next year or is that something you'll have to go over?

Coach Sparano:"I haven't even thought of that right now. I'm not putting anything before anything right now. I just know that those coaches upstairs have done a heck of a job for me. I appreciate every single one of them for the job that they did for me. They didn't pick me either. My first meeting with the players was one thing, but the very first thing I had was meeting with the coaches prior to the players, and that's what I told the coaches at that point. 'I get it. You didn't sign up for this.' They signed up for Dennis Allen. At the end of it, they got me. But as I said to them, I didn't kind of sign up for it either at that point. 'So let's make this work.' And to a man upstairs, I can tell you that every single one of those guys has given me every ounce they have, and I appreciate it and I know the players appreciate it."

Q: I think there were three times yesterday when you had a first-and-10 and you had a false start. When you get to Week 17, and you're still doing that, is that the kind of thing that still has to be worked on here? Are those the kind of mistakes that can be smoothed out with a whole offseason?

Coach Sparano: "Yes. Because those are the kind of mistakes, no matter what environment you're in – home, away… Just because you're away in somebody else's place, you can't use those things as excuses. One thing that I've tried to make sure that our team understands is that there are no excuses. We don't create them, we don't make them, we don't use them. They are lined up out there for us. They are all over the place. I've been as honest with you people as I possibly can. A lot of times excuses are set up this way too for the players. They are all over the place. You have a new coach. You are starting a rookie quarterback. There are a lot of excuses. You have 15 guys on IR. You have the whole nine yards. There are a lot of excuses that are out there. We try not to use them. In those situations, we can't use those things as excuses. We have to be disciplined enough in that environment to handle those situations better."

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Q: Do you think after you buried the football, do you think that was a gimmick that didn't work? Or do you feel that it was still a poignant moment for the team in the long run?**

Coach Sparano: "No, I don't think it was a gimmick. I did something out of good sincerity and that was well-though-out at the time. Does burying a football mean you're going to win a lot of football games right away? No, it doesn't. All I was trying to do was say, 'Listen, we ALL have to understand that what's in the past is in the past. And we're going to move forward right now. It's going to be a different way, so we need to put that in the past.' Instead of standing up in front of them and talking about it, that's what we did at that point in time. Did it convert immediately into what I expected it to? My expectations when I put the ball in the ground at that point was only one thing: To make sure that the players understood that we were starting new and that there was going to be change, and I need you to buy in. So the answer to that question is yes."

Q: How has your relationship with Reggie McKenzie developed this season and what do you think of his vision?

Coach Sparano: "My relationship with Reggie is… I'll say this to you and you can write it however you want to write it. It's been outstanding. We talk daily, once, twice. It just depends on what the scenario is. We go over every football game together. We talk about a lot of personnel things that way. So, his relationship and my relationship are very good. I appreciate that. As far as his vision goes, I share his vision. I know what Reggie expects and I do share that vision. I won't speak for Reggie, but I will tell you that I share that vision. Not different than Mark [Davis]'s vision."

Q: Are there still loose ends that you're tying up over the next few days?

Coach Sparano: "Yeah, there are loose ends that I am tying up over the next few days. I have the coaches doing a few different things right now and I need to do a few different things right now and get some things tied up. We'll give the coaches a little bit of… These guys have put in a lot of time here and I am going to give them a little bit of time and I am going to sit right here."

Q: Derek Carr became the starter right away and started all 16 games. How valuable was that experience for him this year?

Coach Sparano: "Very valuable. I only say that because you could look at it a few different ways. You could look at it and say, 'Maybe you didn't start him early in the year and then all of the sudden you go to him.' Listen, if you find something, it's good. In this case, we found something that we feel is good. It's important to get him out there. We didn't do that with Khalil [Mack]. We played him. We put him out there and let him go. What did Khalil do? Little by little by little, better, better, better, better. And that's really what Derek has done. I think it's more important at the quarterback position, only because the experience that you gain from the amount of snaps that he has taken right now are so valuable. It's not a guess anymore. He's seen it. He understands it. He did it. He played in Seattle. He played in Denver. He's played an all-star group in the last four or five weeks. I think every Pro Bowler that's out there we played in the last four weeks that are pass rushers. He's seen all of those guys. At one point in the game yesterday, I looked up at the scoreboard and they had nine Pro Bowlers or something like that up there on the board. He's played those defenses. I think that experience for Derek Carr and for our organization and for the Oakland Raiders and for our fans, for our football team is very, very valuable right now."

Q: Going into the offseason, do you think that most of these guys on IR will be ready to go by the time the offseason program starts? Is there anybody that is long term?

Coach Sparano: "That's a good question. That's some of the stuff that I am still gathering right now because the exit physicals were this morning. We still had a couple of guys… Even some of the guys that were IR'd that we were still gathering some final information on. But I would say that I feel good about most of the players that they would come back during the offseason program and be ready to go. I'm sure there are a couple of guys that at the end of this will need to get a couple of things taken care of. I don't know if there is anything really serious, serious."

Q: Has there been conversations or contact much with Nick Roach?

Coach Sparano: "Yeah, sure. Nick is around, absolutely. He was in the meeting today. They were all there. Nick, Tyvon [Branch]. We saw them all today. It was good to see those guys – Carlos [Rogers]. Everybody was there. Nick has been around quite a bit."

Q: It's your understanding that he plans to play next year?

Coach Sparano: "That's my understanding. Yeah, that's my understanding."

Coach Sparano closing remarks: "I just wanted to say to you – and I say this with all sincerity – you guys have been really awesome and great pros at what you do. I appreciate it and I thank you for it."

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