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Head Coach Jack Del Rio Builds Solid Foundation For Raiders In His First Year

General Manager Reggie McKenzie took a deep breath and slowly began addressing the assembled media in the team's Willie Brown Auditorium. 

"It's a great day today," McKenzie said. "When the season ended, [Raiders Owner] Mark [Davis] and I set out to find the next coach to lead the Raiders into the future. That process began by us casting a wide net to interview coaches. This process was thorough and comprehensive with Mark and I. The process led us to the best man for the job, the best man, Jack Del Rio."

When McKenzie finished his introduction, Del Rio then leaned over the microphone and gave his first statement as the Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders.

"I am really, really excited to be in this position," the Hayward, Calif.-native said. "I'm honored, I'm very grateful, very humbled."

Over the next 45 minutes, he went on to share his philosophy, on both sides of the football, as well as his goals for the organization moving forward.

That press conference occurred January 16, 2015, now almost one year ago, and what a year it's been for Head Coach Del Rio and the Raiders.

First and foremost, Head Coach Del Rio, and his 19 years of professional coaching experience delivered a level of accountability and legitimacy to the Silver and Black that the team had not had had in recent years.

"I'm excited to join this group of men and pursue the idea and the goal of bringing back the Raiders to greatness," Head Coach Del Rio said. "This is an organization that has been an excellent organization for a number of years, and it's fallen on some hard times recently, but the foundation is in place for us to be great again."

And over his first season at the helm, Head Coach Del Rio did indeed show that the foundation for the Raiders' return to relevance was being built.

While the team ultimately fell short of their goal of winning the AFC West and earning a playoff berth, the Raiders did show a marked improvement, finishing the 2015 campaign with seven wins – four more than they had in 2014, and their most since 2011.

Not only did they win more games, Head Coach Del Rio's squad was effective playing on the road, boasting a 4-4 record away from home – something that previous regimes had not been able to accomplish.

In addition to the uptick in the win column, Del Rio also showed that he and his staff had the ability to develop the young Raiders' stars, as both quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack both enjoyed improved years in their second professional seasons.

Head Coach Del Rio referred to Carr as a "young talent," and that talent was certainly on display his second year under center, as the Fresno State-product saw him  numbers improve across the board in his first season working under Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Similarly, Khalil Mack, the focal point of the Raiders' defense, also enjoyed a career year in 2015, showcasing not only his raw strength but this season, also flashing the type of finesse in the pass rush he didn't have as a rookie.

"He's an impressive young man," Del Rio said when first asked about Mack. "He was a tremendous talent coming out in the draft. He's off to a solid start. I think for him and for all the young players, and for all the players period, it's about putting in the work. There's no short cut to being really good."

And to say Mack was "really good," in 2015 would be a bit of an understatement, as he finished the season second in the NFL with 15 sacks, tied a franchise record with five sacks in a game, and also made a bit of history, as he was the first player in league history to earn All-Pro First-Team honors at two separate positions.

Yes, the Raiders won more games in 2015, and ultimately that's what Head Coach Del Rio and his staff will be measured by, but the impact of the Raiders' head coach runs deeper than just what appears in the win column.

Since he took the job one year ago, the Raiders built an 18,500 foot, state-of-the-art Performance Center, saw their young nucleus of stars continue to develop, won as many games as the two previous campaigns combined, but more importantly, they're relevant again in the ever-changing NFL landscape.

So, was the season a success?

The Raiders were undoubtedly a better team in 2015 than they were a year previous, but there are still holes on the roster, and areas that need improvement, and Head Coach Del Rio knows that his team is far from a finished product.

Del Rio said himself in his final press conference of the season that the team did not meet all the goals he laid out when he took the job, but he did say that that 2015 was, "a good beginning," for what he plans to build with the Raiders.

While the team remained on the outside looking in at the postseason this year, a good beginning and strong foundation aren't things the Silver and Black have been associated with in years past, and even though the Raiders aren't where they want to be just yet, the man in charge of leading the charge back to the playoffs is encouraged by what he's seen since he returned to the Bay Area in mid-January of last year.

"There were a lot of really positive things," Del Rio said when describing his first season. "There are some areas that we have to be better in, and that we absolutely will be better in. It's not what we all want. It's not all that I'd like it to be as soon as possible, but it is a real solid beginning."

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