Here is the transcript of a long interview I did with Reggie McKenzie a few days ago. I found him open, charming, smart. I hope you do, too. My column on McKenzie will run later today on the PD website and tomorrow in the paper. If you find any typos in this transcript, be kind to me. I typed a lot of words.
Where were you born?
What street did you grow up on?
Lilac Avenue. It was a house, small little house. I want to say it was close to 1,000 square feet. It was small for three boys and Mom and Dad. One story. There was a little basement that was more used for storage until Mom went down there and knocked it out and painted walls so we could hang out down there. You could do something in that basement. It was a small home compared to what I’m living in now.
When you say living in now, do you mean Green Bay?
In Green Bay.
Are your parents still living?
My dad is. My mom passed my last season when I was a player here (1988). But my dad’s still living
What was your mom’s name?
What did she do for a living?
She was pretty much a housewife but she was a daycare school teacher. She worked in the elderly home to help out. Most of her work was more teaching. She was a Sunday school teacher, she was giving of herself more so than going from nine to five working at some office somewhere. Dad was a social worker.
What is your dad’s name?
Does he still live on Lilac?
What are your brothers’ names and what do they do?
My twin brother is Raleigh and he’s now a college scout with the Raiders. And my younger brother of two years is a (he hesitates to get this right), he is – I call him the mad scientist – but he is a lab technician – for fear of getting it wrong I’m going to not say a whole lot about it – he works for the Oak Ridge National Laboratories.
May I say he’s a scientist?
And what’s his name?
What is your wife’s name?
Your wife’s a lawyer?
And you have how many kids?
What high school did you go to?
Austin-East. It was actually two high schools merged, East High and Austin High.
I read you were the valedictorian. Does that mean you studied hard?
Absolutely. (He laughs.)
That’s the only way I knew how. I really didn’t have to be told. That’s one thing from an early age it was ingrained. But my folks didn’t have to say, ‘If you don’t study hard,’ or ‘If you don’t make A’s and B’s you won’t play,’ they didn’t have to tell us that. Looking back, it was a competitive thing, me and my brother competitive thing and within the class. A couple of students that were good I wanted to be better than them. That’s how it really got started, to tell you the truth. I remember the second grade, there was a little contest and getting second place.
What was the contest?
We were going from print to cursive writing. It was doing it all correctly and neatly and seeing who did it the best. They gave us a couple of days. It came down to me and this girl and she beat me.
It didn’t feel good?
No. (He laughs.) I came in second.
Are you still proud of being the valedictorian?
Clearly proud of it?
What was your college major?
Business management. Personnel management, actually.
I wanted to go into business because my brother and I, we always talked about running a business together. He majored in marketing and I majored in management. See what we can do after college. I also thought about education. We always talked about teaching and coaching high school. Matter of fact, when I went to get my masters I went in education administration.
You have a masters?
Well, no I didn’t finish because when Ron Wolf called me up to Green Bay I was – I kick myself to this day – I only had another semester and I should have finished.
At what school was that?
When you were in the NFL – I know you did not have a long career – you got hurt, right?
My knee. Tore my ACL, MCL.
Were you a good football player?
Yes. I was good. I don’t think I was great by any stretch but I thought I was a good solid football player.
What grade would you put on a good solid football player – A, B, C, D – like that.
I would say good solid football player B-minus, C-plus. A good solid football player. I thought from an overall career, that’s what I’d give myself. A couple of years, I thought I was a B player.
Were you the kind of player you now would like to draft?
Tell me why.
The qualities I thought I brought to the table were – this is just outside of numbers – my football intelligence, instincts were good. I thought my ability to learn was really good. I thought my work ethic, my toughness were good. From a physical standpoint, I thought I was a power player. I played with good strength. I played the game physical. I thought I was an above average athlete in regards to speed, quickness, explosiveness. I was better than average but I don’t think I was special in speed, quickness, even size. I was just solid 6-2, 244 pound linebacker. I wasn’t nothing special when you see a 6-3, 6-4, 255 that runs 4.5. I wasn’t one of those guys.
Reggie, when you saw guys like that when you were a player, what did you feel about them?
Well, I felt like, ‘Woo, this guy he’s pretty athletic. This guy can run.’ Now, when those guys had instincts, made the great plays because he felt it, he understood the scheme we were playing, had ability to understand the game and play with the instincts, you knew when a guy was special at any position. I did have a chance to play with some of those guys.
You didn’t hold it against them?
No. No. I looked at them like, ‘I’m glad he’s on my team.’
I get the impression you work very hard now. How many hours a day do you work?
A lot. I get here early in the morning, usually around 7:15. I stay late. The fact that I’m here by myself now. I’m here till 9:30. My wife calls, (he whispers) ‘Go home.’ Things need to get done, need to get thought out, planned out. I can get on the phone (at night) talk to guys around the league, agents. You can spend some of the late hours working the communication part of it and catching up on information on the internet or that’s been emailed to me, inter-office stuff. You can get a lot done when everybody else is gone and everybody’s not knocking on my door and needs to see me. It’s different being a general manager than being a director of pro personnel and director of football operations. I didn’t have to be called upon to answer some of the things I am now.
What do you think about during the day?
There’s a lot. Main thing I do think about every day, ‘How can we get this thing one step better?’ Whether it’s hiring one more equipment person, whether it’s hiring a security guy, whether it’s bringing in a new scout, whether it’s adjusting someone’s responsibilities, whether it’s upgrading the football fields, upgrading the computer system or phone system, whatever it is, I’m thinking ‘I want to be proactive and not reactive.’ Being reactive is going to take you back a step or two. I don’t want to be behind. I’m trying to think ahead.
It brings you back to that test in the second grade. You don’t want to come out second.
Yep, you want to win. At the end of the day on Sunday, when you’re reading the ticker you want to see Raiders scoring more than their opponent. “W”. Raiders “W.”
Eventually will you bring your family out here?
Yes, by this time next summer for good. It’s a long-distance-type deal right now. They come out a few times and vice versa I go see them whenever I can, but they’ll be out here. We need to get them to stay in school one more year and we’ll get them out here.
So, the reasoning is for your children?
Yes. I didn’t want to put that all on my wife to handle everything at the house with the move. It would have been way too much. And I didn’t want any resentment towards Daddy for picking them up and getting them out here. The way we’re doing it is perfect. They’re into so much, especially my two sons who are left at the house now. My daughters are just finishing freshman and sophomore year in college, so they’re away from the house. My sons are 15 and 12 and they are just finishing ninth and seventh grade.
Do you sometimes get lonely?
Yes, but how technology is now with FaceTime and Skype. You can see their face instead of just hearing them on the phone. You can see expressions. That helps.
When you came in you had to let people go, you had to, I guess, in the real world you call it firing. Are you a hard guy?
Hard heart? No. Not even close. When change comes, unfortunately, people kind of go along with that change. When I had to let some guys go, that’s not an easy thing to do, but when you’re trying to put your stamp on things, you want to surround yourself with certain people and ideas, and the system I want to create and move towards a different culture. From being here early and assessing things, it was different from how I wanted to do it. Some things needed to change.
Do you worry you will do a good job?
Of course. I don’t dwell on it. I try not to play the what-if game from the standpoint of wins and losses. But I do want to make sure that I understand that it’s a game of wins and losses and how our team is going to respond to both and prepare. That’s my hope is to make sure that we’re always working towards winning and if I can add a guy here or make an adjustment here in communication with the coach or what we’re doing as a system, whatever thing we can improve we’ll try to do that if it’s going to help us win. When you’re winning those decisions are even better. We want to build for the long haul. I didn’t want to try to do a quick fix. But even in this building (process) it’s not a rebuilding. When you hear rebuilding it’s OK you know you’re going to lose a lot of games but you’re trying to get better for the future. I don’t like that whole rebuilding statement because unfortunately people look at it as you’re looking to lose this year to get better next year. And that’s not what we’re doing. We want to win this year and we want to win early and often and we’re trying to put our team in that situation to where we can win early and often. Hopefully, we do.