The Oakland Raiders shocked many when they decided to part ways with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave but keep defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. While Musgrave was the architect of a top ten offense, Norton was the architect of a bottom ten defense. The Musgrave move became more clear when we began to realize that it was more about keeping Todd Downing than getting rid of Bill Musgrave. Now, with the hire of John Pagano, the decision to keep Ken Norton, Jr. also makes more sense.
The primary reason for bringing in Pagano was to help Norton.
I really do believe that. But I also believe the choice of John Pagano over other assistant coaching options should have Norton concerned. Pagano has been a defensive coordinator since 2012 and is perfectly capable of taking over this defense should the Raiders choose to move on from Norton.
The decision to promote Downing to offensive coordinator was smart because of the fact that it provides a level of stability for Derek Carr and the rest of the offense. There will be changes, but they will not be wholesale changes. Carr and his teammates will not need to spend the offseason and training camp learning a totally new offense. The result is a young and talented coach who could be an upgrade but who doesn’t threaten a step backwards as the team learns a new scheme.
On defense, the Raiders don’t have any rising stars or even highly thought of veterans that could be seen as the heir apparent to Norton’s seat. Or rather, they didn’t have any. With Pagano on the staff, Jack Del Rio has a guy he believes he can rely on should he make the decision to move on from Norton. Del Rio has worked with Pagano before and he isn’t a big enough name that Del Rio would be concerned about bumping of egos on a defense that Del Rio clearly wants to have a hand in.
If you look at Pagano’s career stats as a defensive coordinator, they are a bit underwhelming, but they aren’t bad either. Most of his defenses in San Diego were middle of the pack in the NFL. But he was a linebackers coach before becoming a coordinator and is seen as a coach who is good at dialing up pressure. As it just so happens, the Raiders need help with their linebackers and pass rush.
Which brings us to another reason Norton should be worried.
It seems fairly obvious that if the Raiders defense doesn’t improve, Del Rio could move on from Norton and in the direction of Pagano. But what if the defense improves dramatically and in particular, the play of linebackers and pass rushers? What if the improvement is seen by many, and most importantly by Jack Del Rio, as being the product of John Pagano?
It doesn’t seem all that unlikely that there could be a scenario where the Raiders defense improves and Ken Norton, Jr. still loses his job. I mean after all, we just saw the offensive coordinator of the sixth ranked offense in the NFL not get his contract renewed by the Raiders.