By Elizabeth A. Davis
Reggie McKenzie took a different path to becoming an NFL general manager. He played in the NFL and then transitioned to the front office.
McKenzie, a Knoxville native, was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1985 after a standout career at UT Knoxville as linebacker. He played four years with the Raiders and finished his playing career after stints with the Phoenix Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
While a player, he did not envision himself ever becoming a GM. After he retired, McKenzie (Knoxville ’86) spent one year on the staff of coach Phillip Fulmer at UT Knoxville. It was the same year the Vols had a top recruiting class that included quarterback Peyton Manning.
“But, lo and behold, the opportunity came before me to get a job with the Packers. They did seek me out. I didn’t think about being a scout or going into that line of work, but when it was presented to me, it sounded interesting, and I jumped on the opportunity to do that,” he says.
“A lot of people are depending on me, and I know that.”McKenzie joined the Green Bay Packers in 1994 as a pro personnel assistant and was promoted to director of pro personnel three years later. His path then became clearer.
“Once I started scouting, then I quickly put that as one of my goals,” he says about striving to become a GM.
In 2008, McKenzie was promoted to director of football operations, and three years later, the Packers won their first Super Bowl since 1998. After Raiders owner Al Davis died in October 2011, Oakland looked for someone familiar with the organization who could make good personnel decisions, which had been handled mostly by Davis. Oakland turned to McKenzie.
He believes his hiring by the Raiders is significant on many levels.
“I will say there is some added pressure because (I’m) an ex-football player, African-American and an ex-Raider coming back to the Raiders,” he says. “It’s a little bit more responsibility that you don’t want to fail. A lot of people are depending on me, and I know that.”
To help build the team, McKenzie hired twin brother, Raleigh McKenzie, (Knoxville ’85), another former Vol, to work in the personnel department.
“We’re building for the future, but we don’t like to call it rebuilding. We’re retooling,” Reggie McKenzie says. “We have to refocus and try to get it done the way we want to get it done. That usually takes a little time.”