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Las Vegas Raiders: Champ Kelly should be team’s permanent general manager

champ kelly las vegas raiders

In some ways, Champ Kelly’s journey sounds like it should be one in silver and black.

It’s the story of an underdog who won’t quit. The story of someone with a passion for football and a desire for greatness but without the expediency of connection. No, Kelly, who played collegiately at the University of Kentucky, relied on just one thing to get where he wanted to be — faith.

In the realm of NFL front office management, few stories carry the resonance Champ Kelly’s journey does. As the interim general manager of the Las Vegas Raiders, he embodies determination and resilience and his path from humble beginnings to a pivotal role in the NFL is a tapestry woven with hard work, belief and an unwavering belief in his chosen path.

From Software engineer to the bright lights of the NFL

Champ Kelly Las Vegas Raiders
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly’s ascent from an IBM software engineer to college scout for the Denver Broncos in 2007 epitomizes his unwavering focus and tenacity. It was during his time with the Broncos that Kelly began establishing himself as an expert in player personnel management—a foundation he would continue building upon when he transitioned to a more influential player personnel role with the Chicago Bears. His keen eye for talent and ability to nurture players became increasingly evident as he made picks that would shape the Bears’ future.

Now, he’s close to realizing a dream job. But ask him when he knew he wanted to be a general manager in the NFL and Kelly has a surprising answer.

“I have never chased titles in my life,” Kelly recently told The Athletic. “I have always known I wanted to have an impact and have a purpose of growing leaders. So, whatever role I have been in, that’s always been the focus.”

The Champ Kelly File

  • Interim General Manager, Las Vegas Raiders (2023-present)
  • Assistant General Manager, Las Vegas Raiders (2022-2023)
  • Assistant Director of Player Personnel, Chicago Bears (2017-2022)
  • Director of Pro Scouting, Chicago Bears (2015-16)
  • Assistant Director of Pro Personnel, Denver Broncos (2010-14)
  • Assistant Coordinator of Pro and College Scouting (2008-09)
  • College Scout, Denver Broncos (2007)
  • General Manager, Lexington Horsemen (2007)

Champ Kelly and his journey to Las Vegas via Chicago

Champ Kelly Las Vegas Raiders
Photo: Chicago Bears

During his tenure with the Chicago Bears, Kelly played a role in selecting and developing key players who had far reaching impacts. One notable selection was Roquan Smith—a linebacker chosen eighth overall in 2018—who quickly established himself as an indispensable pillar of strength within the Bears’ defense.

Kelly also led on the selection of safety Eddie Jackson, a player drafted in the fourth round of the NFL Draft in 2017, has become one of the top safeties in the league. This demonstrates Kelly’s eye for talent and his ability to positively impact a team’s roster. These players, among others, serve as proof of Kelly’s talent evaluation skills.

There’s no doubting Kelly’s time in Chicago is what has prepared him for this role with the Raiders and why he’s one of the most coveted general manager candidates in the NFL.

“I went from the parking lot of consequence to being in a room where decisions are formed,” Kelly said last year when he joined the Raiders. “So it was a tremendous opportunity and blessing for growth, for me personally. We made some really good decisions and had some good times, but we also had decisions where we didn’t do it right. To be able to learn from that has been tremendous for me personally.”

Kelly has interviewed for two open general manager positions in the past few seasons including in his old stomping grounds of Denver and in Atlanta. While those opportunities didn’t work out, it seems his place may have been made ready where a group of men would need his leadership during a tumultuous time.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders standing in Sportsnaut’s NFL power rankings

Champ Kelly: A Leader for Challenging Times

Image: Raiders.com

When Kelly took over as interim general manager for the Raiders after Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels were fired, he faced myriad challenges. Along with interim head coach Antonio Pierce, Kelly quickly set the mood and helped stabilize a fractured and spiraling locker room.

There was no culture of trust or faith in one another. McDaniels operated the opposite way of Kelly and Pierce. His ability to guide the team through times has been remarkable and his approach is characterized by a mix of humility and strategic wisdom which has played a crucial role in maintaining stability and setting a positive direction for the Raiders.

“And I think what Champ [Kelly] has done, which I really appreciate, is he has his opinion, he has his thought and his vision, but he brings it to me before he even says it, then asks me mine,” Pierce said at the duo’s introductory press conference. “And I think if we agree or disagree, we walk out understanding what’s best for the organization, what’s best for the team, what’s best for us.”

While the Raiders are just 2-2 since Kelly took over, the mood and the output the team is getting from its roster is the best it can be. Kelly hasn’t been shy in shedding team distractions — including veteran cornerback Marcus Peters and special teams player Roderic Teamer — when their attitude or effort doesn’t match the culture the Raiders are attempting to build. 

But is Kelly the right guy for the Las Vegas Raiders’ opening?

When the Raiders hired Kelly as an assistant general manager last year, had it not been for the duo of Ziegler and McDaniels, Kelly might have had the job last year. According to comments from Mark Davis, Kelly was already on his radar.

Now, with Kelly having effectively cleaned up some of the mess left behind by the frat brothers Zieger and McDaniels, he doesn’t have to look far for a guy with the experience and the expertise to help take the Raiders where they want to go. His dedication to cultivating a team culture makes him an ideal candidate to lead the Raiders toward long-term success. His growth journey and deep knowledge of the game perfectly align with the Raiders’ aspirations of building a sustainable and more prosperous future.

Champ Kelly represents more than a potential choice for the permanent general manager position for the Raiders: he embodies resilience, professional excellence and personal integrity.

In Kelly, the Raiders have found a candidate who not only promises ongoing success but also brings a vision and stability that are crucial for the franchise’s future. 

The Raiders have their man.

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