The Raiders had all but finished setting up their satellite headquarters for this past week, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Sarasota, Fla., when they realized something was missing.
“Clocks in meeting rooms,” said football operations coordinator Tom Jones. “Inside our building (in Alameda) we have clocks everywhere. That was the one thing like – oh, we need some clocks in here so we know what time of day it is.”
Rather than returning to the Bay Area after their 33-16 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, the Raiders instead boarded a short flight to Sarasota and spent this week in central Florida preparing for their Sunday game against the Buccaneers in Tampa.
For Raiders players and coaches who will already log the second-most travel miles of any NFL team this season – 31,580, behind the Los Angeles Rams’ 37,072 – staying in Florida meant avoiding a pair of cross-country flights. For Jones and other members of the Raiders’ staff, it meant taking the entire football operation on the road for 10 days.
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Ironically, for a Raiders team that has a 1-2 record in Oakland this season and 4-0 everywhere else, that translated to making the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota feel as much like home as possible.
“The goal was to basically have the coaches and players wake up and, without driving in to the office, feel like they can do everything pretty much exactly the same,” Jones said by phone from Florida.
The Raiders left Oakland last week on an airplane carrying about 27,000 pounds of cargo, Jones said – compared to 10-15,000 pounds for a normal trip. Upon arriving at their Sarasota hotel, coaches and players found a set-up mirroring their Alameda headquarters, aside from the adjacent practice fields (the team practiced this week at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, about 20 minutes away).
Coaches’ offices were “replicated,” Jones said, each equipped with three screens for film study. Their home facility has two copiers, so they brought two copiers. The team also set up its own wireless network at the hotel, since playbooks are distributed to players electronically on iPads.
While most of the team’s offices and meeting rooms were located in one part of the hotel, Jones said players’ rooms were their own space. Still, the team’s nutritionist worked with hotel staff to prepare meals, and Jones said the meeting areas were stocked with snacks to ensure nobody went hungry while readying to face the Buccaneers.
“It’s been pretty seamless,” Jones said. “We’re at a Ritz-Carlton, so that’s lovely. I think guys are enjoying it. They’re getting their rest but also getting their work done. No one’s really missed a beat.”
A win at Tampa Bay would give the Raiders their first 5-0 road start since 1977, when under coach John Madden they finished 11-3 and appeared in the AFC championship game. Prior to departing, the Raiders said they hoped the trip would yield an improvement not only of their record but of team unity.
Quarterback Derek Carr stated his belief that, “When you get those times at the hotel to be around each other, eat every meal together, do those things, I think it’s nothing but good.”
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, meanwhile, recalled keeping his team on the West Coast between games in Oakland and Seattle in 2013 and said, “We just felt like it brought our team closer together.”
That is more than just a convenient sound bite, said Jack Lesyk, director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology.
“When you’re in a situation where you’re working toward a goal – practicing, training, running plays – you’re connecting with only a part of your teammates and that is their role, what they should be doing and how it interfaces with you,” Lesyk said.
“To go out to a restaurant or have some beers together, or to go to the pool or the beach, those kinds of experiences are where you get to know each other. Usually it humanizes each other not just as players, but as people. You start to care, you start to bond, you play better as a team. There’s no guarantee for that, but I think that often does happen.”
The 49ers, notably, broke up back-to-back road games by staying in Youngstown, Ohio, in 2011 and 2012 under then-coach Jim Harbaugh. The Jaguars, Ravens and Falcons all have taken extended trips in recent years. Some liken it to midseason training camp, though the condensed roster during the season provides an even riper environment for bonding, said sports psychologist Doug Gardner, who founded ThinkSport Consulting Services in Northern California.
“There’s a transitory nature in training camp, where there’s a lot of players that won’t be with the team when they cut the roster to 53,” said Gardner, who’s also worked with the NFL Players Association. “And with turnover in the NFL, that’s the other big issue here.
“The league’s gotten younger, and with kind of not having as many fifth- to seventh-year veterans as there used to be, these are critical opportunities for young players and veteran players to spend time together and really impart wisdom and share experiences, types of things that aren’t always done in the NFL anymore.”
The Raiders, Jones said, began planning for this trip as soon as the schedule was released in April. If successful, its effects could be just as far-reaching.