NAPA, Calif. (AP) Reggie McKenzie walked through the lobby of the hotel adjacent to the Raiders' training camp facilities and was immediately approached by a middle-aged man seeking an autograph. The freckle-faced general manager stopped a few moments later to talk with another group of fans eager to speak with him.
What a difference a few years - and a few more wins - make.
Four years after become the Raiders' first general manager since Al Davis and inheriting a franchise laden with salary cap and personnel problems, McKenzie is more popular than ever.
He's got a team that many believe can be a legitimate playoff contender after more than a decade of futility; two franchise players in quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack; and a roster filled with rising stars such as wide receiver Amari Cooper.
McKenzie also has a contract extension after agreeing on a deal that will keep him with the Raiders through 2020.
''That's a great feeling when you get a hand-pat on the back,'' McKenzie said Saturday before heading out to watch practice. ''Anytime people recognize the job you're doing, it's a sense of accomplishment.''
The Raiders are coming off a 7-9 campaign, their best mark since consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2010 and 2011.
That might not like seem like much of an achievement, but Oakland hasn't made the playoffs in 14 years, so it's monumental when compared to what shape the team was in when McKenzie was hired by Mark Davis.
The Raiders were in salary cap purgatory at the time and McKenzie had to painstakingly work his way through the mess while making sweeping changes. High-priced, underachieving players were let go. Replacements were bargain-buy veterans McKenzie had to sign just to keep the team running as he and his staff got the books back in order.
Along the way the Raiders kept piling up the losses - 37 in McKenzie's first three years on the job. That led to critics and fans calling for Mark Davis to fire his general manager.
Davis adamantly stuck by McKenzie. Now the owner is beginning to see the fruits of his faith.
''He was committed to my plan so a lot of credit goes to him,'' McKenzie said of Davis. ''I'm sure he had a lot of phone calls, a lot of people talking to him saying, `Is Reggie the guy?'
''The guys in the building, all the guys I'm working with, they saw the plan. It wasn't going to be a quick fix and I'm not into quick fixes. It was a process and it worked the way we kind of planned. I still haven't had a winning season, let's get things straight. But we feel good about the direction it's going and we feel good about this upcoming season.''
For McKenzie, the contract extension gives him more time to complete the plan he laid in place in 2012.
''I want to be a consistent, good football team, and that's what we're trying to build,'' he said. ''We want to try to get on the other side of the .500 mark and just keep going. Our ultimate goal from Day 1 is I want to hold up the (Lombardi) trophy, and it's a process to that. There's not a quick fix to it.''
NOTES: McKenzie said the Raiders remain supportive of suspended linebacker Aldon Smith. Smith signed an $11.5 million, two-year contract in the offseason, but recently checked himself into a rehab facility.
''Our deal is to support Aldon from a standpoint of the person,'' McKenzie said. ''Whether he comes back to us or not ... we told him from Day 1, `We care more about you than the player.' Whatever he does to ensure his health, we're going to stand by him. We know his situation. It's not like we had blinders.
''We knew going into last year a suspension was probable and it's going to be an uphill battle for him. He's going to have to fight the good fight. We're not going to bail on him. But he has to do his part.''
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