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Reggie McKenzie, the new general manager of the Oakland Raiders, answers questions from the media at an introductory press conference at team headquarters, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 in Alameda, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

Set aside the usual standards for assessing talent in the NFL draft, and the difference in approach for the Raiders under first-year general manager Reggie McKenzie can be distilled into a single sentence:

Only self-starters need apply.

Dating back to 1963, when the draft was first run by late owner Al Davis, the Raiders were known for coveting the biggest, fastest and strongest athletes. As for the more intangible qualities of work ethic and attitude, it was up to the staff to coach it out of them.

McKenzie loves speed, strength and size, but he is confident in his ability to measure heart and zeal as much as a time in the 40-yard dash or a series of bench press reps.

"You can find that in guys pretty easily," McKenzie said. "Because if they don't love football, it shows up."

In a sense, it's a "takes one to know one" approach.

That's the picture that emerged through interviews with those who've known McKenzie well dating back to his days as a high school and college athlete in Tennessee through his NFL career and his gradual climb up the ladder in Green Bay as a scout and personnel executive. The character traits McKenzie will be seeking in the draft are the same ones he possesses in abundance.

They happen to be the same qualities the Raiders have been lacking over nine consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance, with the high-water mark being 8-8 records in 2010 and 2011.


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Raleigh McKenzie, Reggie's twin brother, is a 17-year NFL veteran and an elementary school teacher and high school football coach in Herndon, Va.

"I wasn't sure what Reggie was going to do when he was done playing," his brother said, "but I did know he'd be doing something in football because he loved it so much."

In contrast to the combative Davis, Reggie McKenzie, 49, rose through the ranks in Green Bay with an understated integrity.

"Reginald has always been as rock solid as you could ever imagine," said Sam Anderson, a retired coach and school administrator from Knoxville who has known McKenzie since the eighth grade.

"He'll never change," said Seattle G.M. John Schneider, who worked with McKenzie in Green Bay from 2004-09. "He's very grounded, spiritual. A very, very sound individual."

A 10th-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1985, McKenzie started 32 games in his first two seasons before being slowed by a leg injury. He left the Raiders after the 1988 season, didn't play in a game with the Phoenix Cardinals while rehabbing in 1989-90, then played briefly with the 49ers in 1992.

Working as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, in 1993, McKenzie ran into Packers G.M. Ron Wolf, who was scouting Charlie Garner and Heath Shuler. Wolf was a personnel executive with the Raiders when McKenzie was drafted.

A week later, Wolf called and offered McKenzie a job in scouting as a pro personnel assistant. He stayed for 17 years, becoming director of pro personnel in 1997 and director of football operations in 2008.

"I wasn't going to be a scout," McKenzie said. "It came knocking on my door."

When Raiders owner Mark Davis was looking for someone to run the football side of the organization after his father passed away on Oct. 8, he sought Wolf's input. McKenzie interviewed with Davis and former Raiders coach John Madden and got the job. No one else was interviewed.

"Reggie has the rare ability to determine who can and cannot play, and it's a skill he had very early on after I hired him with the Packers," Wolf said. "He was my right-hand guy there. I had a lot of faith in him as a personnel evaluator and relied on him heavily."

With the Raiders not having a draft pick until the third round, No. 95 overall, and having five total selections, it will be up to McKenzie to unearth production from non-premium picks.

Eliot Wolf, the son of Ron Wolf, joined the Packers in the scouting department in 2004, and said McKenzie's skill as an evaluator goes beyond identifying motivated players.

"He's one of those rare guys, and hopefully I'll get there some day, who can watch a short amount of film on a guy and you now what he is right away," Eliot Wolf said. "He'll watch more, but his first inclination is usually right on."

Larry Marmie, linebackers coach at Tennessee when McKenzie was a junior and senior, expects him to find players that mirror his own set of values.

"Any player will tell you they love playing football, but some of 'em love it on their own terms," said Marmie, a former head coach at Arizona State and NFL assistant. "Reggie's going to be looking for guys who love to play the game, love the preparation and the challenge.

"Because that's in his own makeup; he'll be good at recognizing those things."

McKenzie has been described as deliberate, methodical and laid-back. Raiders coach Dennis Allen joked one of the first things he realized about his new boss was "he'll never die of stress."

At the same time, McKenzie managed to be an instant starter on a star-laden Los Angeles Raiders team loaded with big personalities simply by the way he carried himself.

"You realize very quickly that he's one of those guys you can immediately trust," said Vann McElroy, a former Raiders safety and now an NFL player agent. "It's hard to define that, but you find it in people who aren't arrogant, who don't make it about themselves, and who show up every day in a quiet way but don't put up with doing anything halfway."

Said former Raiders teammate Jerry Robinson, who served as an usher in McKenzie's wedding: "I remember Reggie being very studious, taking notes, doing film study. Now that I look back on it, he was doing more than just getting ready for a game. There was a purpose to it. Now we know what it was."