FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2011, file photo, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen appears before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. The Oakland Raiders reportedly agreed Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, to hire Allen as their new head coach, breaking a more than three-decade stretch of offensive-minded head coaches for the franchise, according to Fox Sports and ESPN, with both outlets saying final details were still being worked out Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross, File)
ALAMEDA, Calif. — For more than three decades, the Oakland Raiders operated under a similar formula with late owner Al Davis hiring offensive-minded head coaches and remaining deeply involved in devising the team’s defense.
That pattern has changed with new general manager Reggie McKenzie’s first major hiring since taking over the football operations earlier this month.
McKenzie is finalizing a contract to make Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the team’s next head coach, a person familiar with the process said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the team is not publicly discussing the search.
Fox Sports and ESPN first reported Tuesday night that the Raiders had chosen Allen to replace the fired Hue Jackson and become the team’s seventh coach since 2003.
Allen, 39, will be the first new Raiders coach to come from the defensive side of the ball since Davis hired linebackers coach John Madden before the 1969 season. Madden won 103 games in 10 seasons and led Oakland to its first Super Bowl following the 1976 season.
But the Raiders structure changed Oct. 8, when Davis died at age 82 of heart failure. Davis had run the entire operation for most of his nearly half-century with the team.
His son, Mark, took over as managing partner and began making changes after the season. His first decision was to hire McKenzie away from Green Bay to make all the major football decisions.
McKenzie’s first move was to fire Jackson, who went 8-8 in his only season on the job. McKenzie then began a two-week search that ended with his choice of Allen.
Before serving as Denver’s defensive coordinator last season, Allen spent five years as a defensive assistant in New Orleans and also coached for Atlanta.
While Allen has run the 4-3 defense that the Raiders have used the past seven seasons, there are expected to be stark changes in strategy.
Allen was an aggressive coordinator in Denver, with a propensity to call blitzes that the Raiders traditionally stayed away from during Davis’ tenure. He preferred to pressure the quarterback with a strong defensive line and playing man coverage in the secondary.
The old way worked well at times for the Raiders, who won two Super Bowls in the 1980s under Tom Flores and won three straight division titles from 2000-02 under Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan.
But the team was far less successful after losing the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay in January 2003. Oakland failed to post a winning record or make the playoffs over the next nine seasons. The Raiders’ 99 losses over those nine seasons are the second most in the NFL and their current nine-year playoff drought is tied with Cleveland for the second longest in the league.
In his first season as coordinator in Denver, Allen helped the Broncos improve from allowing a league-worst 29.4 points and 390.8 yards per game to ranking 20th in yards (357.8) and 24th in points (24.4) this season on the way to an AFC West title.
The Broncos increased their sack total from 23 to 41 and were tied for the sixth-most blitzes on pass plays in the league this season, according to STATS LLC.
Allen quickly gained the trust of players in Denver who are already lamenting his departure.
“He knew how to get us ready,” Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey told NFL.com from the Pro Bowl. “I give him a lot of credit for the success we had this year. ... (He’s) serious about the business. He’s one of the most intense coaches I’ve had. It was a pleasure working with him. You knew what he was going to bring you every day.”
The Raiders struggled mightily on defense this past season despite having many high-priced players on that side of the ball.
Just this past offseason, cornerback Stanford Routt, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, defensive tackle Richard Seymour and safety Michael Huff got contracts worth more than $160 million combined.
That quartet joined former top 10 pick Rolando McClain, who signed a $40 million, five-year deal when he was drafted in 2010, and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who just finished the fourth year of a $50.5 million, seven-year contract, on one of the league’s most expensive defenses last season.
The salaries did not translate into success. Oakland had franchise worsts in touchdown passes allowed (31), yards per carry (5.1), yards passing (4,262) and total yards (6,201), while giving up the third-most points (433) in team history.
The Raiders joined this year’s Tampa Bay team as one of the four teams to allow at least 30 TD passes and 5.0 yards per carry in a season, a distinction last reached by the 1952 Dallas Texans. The Raiders also became the sixth team since the 1970 merger to allow at least 2,000 yards rushing and 4,000 yards passing in a season.
One of Allen’s first tasks will be fixing two long-standing problems: stopping the run and reducing penalties. The Raiders set an NFL record last season with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards.
Since the start of the 2003 season, Oakland has committed a league-worst 1,183 penalties — 133 more than second-worst Arizona, which is the same difference between second and 14th place.
The Raiders also have the worst run defense in the league over that span, allowing 175 touchdowns on the ground and 141.7 yards rushing per game.