Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Renegade Trade Proposal

I just received the following email from someone named Stirg. I get lots of interesting emails, but this one was particularly mysterious and intriguing, and therefore worthy of reprinting.

I'm assuming that Stirg has absolutely no connections with the Atlanta Falcons' front office, which may explain why he's enlisting me to orchestrate a trade with the Raiders. It's a brilliant plan. After all, as Randy at Raider Nation Podcast alerted me, the Miami Dolphins actually sought season ticket holder input on the hiring of their next coach. So why shouldn't Raider Take, with your feedback and guidance, be able to swing a trade? At this rate, I'll be having Thanksgiving dinner at Amy Trask's house later this year.

Anyhow, here's Stirg's email. What do you think?

I'm seeking personnel from the Raider Nation that would be interested in trading their number one 2007 draft pick to Atlanta; for Matt Schaub and the Falcons number ten pick. Before laughing at the hypothetical situation, think about it for sixty seconds (you're on the clock).

Both teams get what they want. As a matter of fact, Oakland can kill two birds with one stone in the first round. Consider this: Matt Schaub has been a pupil to the west coast offense for seven years (to include proud ownership of every major passing record in the history of the University of Virginia). His pro-career began in Atlanta and he has spent the last three seasons learning, you guessed it, Gregg Knapp's offense; and, I might add, he has perfected it. Oakland, then, can choose to use their number ten pick (received in the trade) for Dwayne Jarrett, (you guessed it again) Lane Kiffin's star pupil. This offense, coupled with the #3 best ranked defense in the N.F.L. last season, would immediately scare most teams and return the Raiders to playoff contention.

Atlanta could choose the obvious, Calvin Johnson, with the number one pick, making him most marketable behind his Atlanta roots. Games would continue to sellout and an enormous amount of pressure is lifted off Michael Vick's publicly-exposed-shoulders.

Let's set the record straight...I'm a true Atlanta fan and I enjoy every down Matt Schaub has played for the Falcons; I would hate to see "a starter on most N.F.L. teams" go. The reality of it, however, is Vick is a lock at the position and Schaub will never see playing time, as long as Vick is healthy. This trade, actually, is perfect and can satisfy both parties (Atlanta is going to lose Schaub, eventually; and Oakland should consider that it takes a rookie Quarterback about three years to learn Gregg Knapp's offense [see Michael Vick '03-'06]). Oakland Raiders will, otherwise, receive only one professionally unproven player in the draft, if they continue to maintain their position at number one. With this trade, however, they can solidify their greatest needs at Receiver and Quarterback, in one round.

Consider the posibilities from the perspective of both clubs; and, it is possible the trade can be achieved. After all, in 2001, Atlanta traded up, sending LaDainian Tomlinson to San Diego, and ended up with the greatest QB to change the game of football.

Go tell that to Mr. Davis.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Future Shock: Kiffin A Bold Step Forward

Yes, I feel minty fresh this morning, now that Lane Kiffin has been hired to lead the Oakland Raiders. Ahh, minty fresh!

I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about Coach Kiffin, although I got a good snapshot of his career over at Calico Jack’s Silver & Black Forever. However, I do know that he’s not Jim Fassel or Denny Green or some other questionable retread. I do know that it’s not late February. I do know that Kiffin represents an attempt to step boldly into the future and not blindly into the past. For those reasons, I rejoice.

When Steve Sarkisian skulked out of Alameda, I said that I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over the fact that a college quarterbacks coach decided he wasn’t up for the task. I will now sleep soundly knowing we got a guy with an NFL pedigree who knows he’s up for the task, who has embraced this task at the tender age of 31 years.

Surely, we have many ills yet to be cured. But at least we now have a physician who gives us hope. It must not stop here. Our offense must be remade in our coach’s youthful, forward-thinking image, and authority should be granted to do so. If that means moving Moss, fine. If that means drafting JaMarcus Russell in the first round, great. Coaching has been a big part of our problem of late, but let’s not forget the other half of the problem, which is a lack of talent, character and/or chemistry in the locker room (on the offensive side of the ball).

Some in the media have already unsheathed their daggers. Well, he’s better than nothing! A last resort! The Raiders’ second choice from USC alone! Go ahead and mock, my friends. Go ahead and doubt Mr. Davis’s ability to identify young coaching talent, such as Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan and John Madden. Go ahead and tell me that Mr. Davis is totally out of touch and hasn’t made good choices for 25 years, when just six years ago his team was enjoying a Super Bowl-bound renaissance under the guidance of a similarly underestimated and untested former offensive coordinator in his thirties.

Norv Turner and Kerry Collins? Been there. Art Shell and Aaron Brooks? Done that. Lane Kiffin and JaMarcus Russell? Minty fresh! Results are pending, but at least we have good reason to hope. We should not underestimate the power of hope to fire up the Raider Nation, to fill seats and restore our faith in the Oakland Raiders. Nor should we doubt Coach Kiffin's ability to restore order and purpose on the field, to give this team the direction it needs.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the benefits of this hiring are tactical, philosophical, spiritual and economic.

Welcome, Coach Kiffin. I, for one, am fired up. The future is, indeed, now.

Friday, January 19, 2007

News You Can't Use

UPDATE – 8:59 p.m.: Looks like Sarkisian is out of the running. I knew that we were in trouble when the author of the infamous “James Lofton Working on Details of Contract with Raiders” story filed a de facto retraction earlier today stating that Lofton was out of the running—and that “it appears that USC quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian will be hired instead.” Wow, this guy’s like King Midas in reverse. Later, ESPN published a story (thanks to RoundRockRaider for the tip) titled “Raiders Coaching Candidate Rejects Offer,” in which Sarkisian is quoted as saying, “While the job was never offered to me, at this time in my career, I've told them I want to stay at USC.” In other words, there was no offer, but ESPN would prefer to write the headline to their own fairy tale? I don’t make this stuff up, folks!

My take? I agree that it looks bad, and we might never know the true story, but I'm going to take Sarkisian for his official word, because that's all I've got. Let me say that I won't lose any sleep over the fact that a 32-year-old college quarterbacks coach decided that he wasn't ready for the job. I'd rather we found that out now, not later. So who's more ready to lead a team in the NFL, Steve Sarkisian or Rob Ryan? We now know the answer. Personally, I don't want to see Denny Green or Jim Fassel in Alameda. You know how I feel about Mike Martz, like him or not, his winning percentage as an NFL head coach is superb, and his ability to run an offense is unquestioned. Let's not despair just yet. I'll take Rob Ryan. If we want to pursue this McDaniels guy, fine. But one thing's for sure, if we pursue McDaniels, he's not going to let Mr. Davis hide the keys to the kingdom. There's no longer any leverage on that front. Freedom and control will be major bargaining chips.

Notice that the media are suddenly backing off after gorging on speculation and inaccuracies for two weeks about the Raiders coaching search? Even Raider Take's favorite columnist, who told us last year that Al Saunders was as good as hired, has published a piece today reminding us that nobody truly knows what's going on except Al Davis. How precious.

To make his point, our favorite columnist wags his finger at Tuesday’s infamous San Diego Union-Tribune report about James Lofton (allegedly) finalizing a contract for the position of head coach. Of course, he conveniently omits the headline story in his own paper titled “Raiders Might Talk to Martz.” Might? This story stated that “a Raiders official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Martz is believed to be on Davis' short list of candidates.”

My take: When you’re using unnamed sources to confirm
, you might have a problem. How, exactly, does one confirm a belief?

So now our favorite columnist rides into the picture astride the white horse of caution: Don’t jump to conclusions, ye unwashed masses, I’m here to tell you that Al Davis works in mysterious ways. Gee, thanks for the news flash.

Oddly, our favorite columnist then briefly dismounts his white horse of caution to claim: "The Raiders are also known to be hyper-intrigued by New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels." How he knows this, we don't know, because he doesn't say. Apparently, Al Davis isn't the only one to work in mysterious ways.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Jerry McDonald at the Oakland Tribune, who has done a great job of separating speculation from fact, even while going on the record to state that he thinks the job will go to Sarkisian. He's out on his own limb, but at least he recognizes that it's a limb, and it's carefully constructed. He also broke the news about Lane Kiffin coming to Alameda yesterday.

So yes, our favorite columnist is right that “we’ll know when we know,” except if Sarkisian gets the job, in which case we might say that he was the last to know.

And that, Raiders fans, is news you can’t use.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Sark Sails Back to Oakland?

I no longer believe anything I read in the media about the Raiders' coaching search, thanks to the utter lack of accuracy, accountability and credible attribution demonstrated to date, so I probably shouldn't reference this late-breaking report from CBS Sports: "The Oakland Raiders brought in Southern California quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian for a second interview Wednesday as the team intensified its search for a new head coach."

I guess I'm referencing this rumor (I will no longer call them reports) because it makes me feel better. To be honest, that James Lofton business made me want to reach for the nearest bottle of Colt 45 or Pepto Bismol, whichever was closer. Not that I know much about Sarkisian, either. It's just a gut feeling at this point.

I would also be quite happy with Rob Ryan as head coach, as he is a true Raider and a known quantity. I also like the idea of Mike Martz (53-32 as an NFL head coach), but apparently the Raiders don't.

Back to the reports...I mean, rumors...As I commented earlier, I really wonder: What are the standards here, journalistically speaking? It seems like everyone is quoting unnamed sources, and when what they say doesn't come remotely true, then it's simply, "Oh, well, c'est la vie?"

Look at how Shoop, Martz and Green have been reported with regard to the Raiders job. It's all over the map, which means at least half of these reports are absolutely dead wrong, with little basis in reality. Go to RaiderNews.com and view the past two weeks of conflicting stories for a nice snapshot of this journalistic train wreck. Now we have this James Lofton business, with a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter stating last night: "James Lofton and the Oakland Raiders are working on details of a contract, sources said Tuesday...Lofton could be named the team's coach as soon as Wednesday."

Could? James Lofton could also get abducted by aliens tonight.

I could write that an unnamed source tells me that Mickey Mouse is on the short list of candidates. Does that mean it should be a headline in a major metro newspaper? What about not using unnamed sources in the first place unless you can confirm with a second source, unnamed or otherwise? What about, after watching numerous "reports" already going down the accuracy drain, approaching the matter with heavy skepticism before making any substantive claims about someone being on a short list or being called in for an interview or working out a contract? I wouldn't blame the Raiders (or the NFL or anyone else) for spreading misinformation to serve their own agendas. But I do hold the media accountable for biting the same hook, over and over again.

I should make sure that I don't paint with too broad of a brush by adding that some folks, like Jerry McDonald at the Oakland Tribune, are doing a fine job of separating speculation from fact. Nevertheless, there is a proliferation of misinformation right now that is verging on alarming or asinine, depending on your perspective.

It's one thing to speculate from an opinion standpoint, it's another to "report" the "facts" with the help of allegedly "credible" unnamed sources, only to be proven totally off base. In the real world, that gets you in trouble. In sports, it apparently gets you a pat on the back and "better luck next time" from your editor.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

James Lofton - New Head Coach?

I find this report from the San Diego Union-Tribune hard to believe: "While the Chargers are dragging their feet regarding the future of their head coach, the team's most hated rival appears ready to fill its head coaching position with a Chargers assistant. Receivers coach James Lofton and the Oakland Raiders are working on details of a contract, sources said Tuesday."

Of course, we heard that John Shoop was a front runner (oops), and that Mike Martz was on the short list (oops again). The standards of accuracy and attribution with regard to coaching vacancies are obviously pretty low.

So either our friend at the Union-Tribune is totally misguided, or he's on to something, in which case...Well, let's not jump the gun.

P.S. Thanks to Jesse for the tip.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Future Is Now: Running Back

When you look at LaMont Jordan’s 2005 season (over 1,000 yards rushing and 70+ catches), and you consider the abysmal play of our offensive line in 2006, you have to cut the guy some slack. On the other hand, he averaged just 3.8 yards per rush in both 2005 and 2006, so you have to wonder just how much slack to cut him.

Also, Jordan missed a lot of games last year to injury, and a couple of games the previous year. Are we seeing a trend in the making?

The same goes for Justin Fargas. His fourth season was his best season, yet he only averaged 3.7 yards per carry at the end of the day. He’s one tough dude when he’s not injured. Unfortunately, he only carried the ball 40 times total in the preceding two seasons due to injury. I would call him an asset, but certainly not a star.

The fact is that LaMont Jordan was signed to be our star at running back. But I’ve just got this sense that, in order for LaMont Jordan to rip off a huge run, conditions have to be perfect. I don’t see him creating his own holes through brute force, nor do I see him exploiting creases or turning fast corners on the outside. If there’s a hole there, he’ll hit it. It just has to be a big perfect hole. Please tell me if you think I’m wrong.

Remember when Napoleon Kaufman would slip through a crease and his feet would sprout wings? Remember Bo Jackson running over Brian Bosworth? I miss those days.

Forget the entire NFL, just look around the seven other western division teams (AFC and NFC), and who do you see? LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, Frank Gore, Stephen Jackson, Tatum Bell and Edgerrin James. Where would you rank LaMont Jordan in that group? Pretty low. Maybe above Tatum Bell and Edgerrin James (at this stage of his career), but that’s it.

Granted, the western divisions are rather stacked at running back, but you get my point. Look at it another way: The Raiders have drafted only one running back (Fargas, third round, 2003) higher than the sixth round since 1998, and none higher than the third round since Napoleon Kaufman was selected in the first round in 1995. Now let’s look at the aforementioned running backs:

Johnson: First Round
Tomlinson: First Round
Alexander: First Round
Jackson: First Round
James: First Round
Bell: Second Round
Gore: Third Round

Do you see a trend here? I would suggest that the state of the Raiders’ running game is directly proportional to the team’s emphasis (or lack thereof) on the running back position in the draft. In fairness, Jordan was a second-round pick by the Jets in 2001, but you get my drift.

I see our options as follows: (1) do nothing—stick with the current cast; (2) sign another strong veteran to either take the lead or to at least spell the others (in the vein of Charlie Garner coming in to complement Wheatley); or (3) finally get serious about the running back position via the draft. Personally, I would like to draft a franchise running back, but I’m not sure I want to do it at the expense of drafting a possible franchise quarterback.

The challenge is that we have huge needs across our entire offense: quarterback, tight end and offensive line also need a lot of help. The wide receiver position is also a bit of a wild card, too, but not as dire as the other positions. It’s sort of a perfect storm of desperate needs. It’s easy to say it’s broken. It’s hard to say how to fix it, at least with some measure of expediency.

My take is that we can live with Jordan and Fargas (and Crockett, Lee, etc.) if necessary, in order to first fix some other positions. However, if that’s the case, then I wouldn’t expect great things from our running game anytime soon.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Future Is Now: Quarterback

If you can discern the Raiders’ plan at quarterback, please enlighten me. Every time I thought they might be making a move to the future with Walter, they handed the ball to Aaron Brooks. If it later came out that the position was being managed according to the laws of voodoo or astrology, I wouldn’t argue.

In retrospect, and as I feared, passing on Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler in the 2006 draft may come back to haunt us. Sure, Michael Huff is solid, and potentially a force. But look at it this way: What if you were to call the Cardinals or Broncos and offer them Huff for Leinart or Cutler, straight up? That conversation would last about one second, and it would end in dial tone. For obvious reasons.

The fact is that all positions are not created equal. See kicker v. running back. Or, in this instance, safety v. quarterback. When your offense lacks identity, leadership and stability at its most crucial position, a safety or cornerback can only take you so far. What about Troy Polamalu or Brian Dawkins, you say? I say: If you like the sound of dial tone, call the Patriots and offer Troy Polamalu for Tom Brady. Call the Bengals and offer Brian Dawkins for Carson Palmer.

Just how important is the quarterback position? Consider the eight teams playing this weekend. Of these eight, only one, the Chicago Bears with Rex Grossman, have any question marks at quarterback—now or next year (assuming that Donovan McNabb heals). We’re talking about guys named Brady, Manning, Brees, Hasselbeck, Rivers, McNair and McNabb when he heals. It’s not a coincidence.

The funny thing about quarterbacks is that they all suck. You know what I mean. Just mention the names Peyton Manning or Donovan McNabb, and a dozen people will jump up and tell you how much they suck. Well, let me just say that I wouldn't mind sucking like that.

Allow me to digress for a moment…The coaching search is really heating up, not only in Alameda, but here at Raider Take. Please check out the more than 100 comments on the preceding take for an inspired and insightful discussion about our coaching needs. There’s not much I can add to the discussion at this point, especially with the local media chasing red herrings and leading us down blind alleys.

In the same day, one outlet says John Shoop is being fitted for the crown while another outlet says he’s not even under consideration. Click here to read the contrasting stories. It reminds me of last year, when Raider Take’s favorite columnist said Al Saunders was sure to be our next head coach, only to be repudiated by his own paper the next day, which reported that Saunders was never really in the running. I’m glad these folks aren’t covering world politics or war or something else where getting it right can be a matter of life or death.

So while the plot thickens on the coaching search, and as we wait for more legitimate information, I am inspired to launch an offensive positional analysis under the banner of “The Future is Now.” Thanks to Damon for the idea. We begin the series with the position of quarterback.

One thing I don’t want to hear is: “Al never…” or “Al won’t…” as in “Al never picks a QB in the first round” or “Al won’t want the financial headache of selecting a first-round QB.” Even if Mr. Davis isn’t finally re-thinking the strategy that bracketed Rich Gannon with Jeff George, Kerry Collins and Aaron Brooks, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

Do you think Aaron Brooks has what it takes, and that he should lead this team in 2007? If so, please speak up. If you think we should put all of our eggs in the Andrew Walter basket, please tell us why. If you think we should pin our hopes on yet another journeyman free agent, I’m all ears.

If you say none of the above, then you’re treading on “Al won’t” territory. You’re treading on first pick in the first round territory. You’re treading on Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell and Troy Smith territory.

To be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time breaking down college game tapes. In fact, I spend almost no time watching college football. In a perfect world, maybe I would. My world isn’t perfect. The trash needs to be taken out and Mini Take needs his diaper changed and there’s a lot of Raiders stuff that needs tending (and, alas, all three of these activities have lately become increasingly similar). So I can’t say I know a lot about these potential first round prospects, except to say that Troy Smith is dropping like a stone after tonight.

I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the bowl contest between Quinn and Russell, either. I did turn it on, however, just in time to see Russell hurl the ball 50 yards in the air off his heels for a touchdown strike. Very impressive. It’s being reported that he hasn’t quite decided to declare himself for the NFL draft. If he does, then he’s worth a serious look, based on what I've heard and seen to date.

As for Quinn, I’m not sold on his throwing motion. It looks a bit clipped to me. He seems to come up short in big games, too. Also, Brady is a great last name for a quarterback, but a questionable first name for a quarterback. Not to be shallow, but if we’re going to break the Ken, Jim and Rich mold, we might as well do it in style with something like JaMarcus.

So let’s review: Brooks, Walter, New Journeyman or First Round Draft Pick? Even if we pick someone in the first round, we’ll need someone to keep the seat warm for several games before he starts. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s not think in terms of Week One in 2007, but rather Week Fifteen, or even 2008. If we agree that stability and identity are important at the quarterback position, then in addition to acting now, we need to think ahead.

Personally, I haven't worked it all out yet. There's a lot of time between now and the draft. I do know, however, that I'm getting tired of instability at quarterback, of looking for the next Gannon needle in the George, Collins and Brooks haystack, of hearing, "Al never...."

Maybe Al should?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Cavemen and Crackpots

Five of the last six Raiders head coaches will never, or should never, be named a head coach in the NFL again. These five are: White, Bugel, Callahan, Turner and Shell. I don’t need to explain the first three. It’s possible that an NFL team might tap Turner at a future date, but I seriously doubt it, as it’s been amply demonstrated that he is not head coaching material. As for Art Shell, he’s been a head coach once in the past 12 years, a gig that lasted one year and ended with two victories. He will never be a head coach in the NFL again (I’m not being disrespectful to Art Shell, I’m just stating a fact).

In other words, the Raiders have a rather sad track record of selecting head coaches over the past 12 years, when you consider that five out of their last six coaches will never again be named a head coach in the NFL by any of the 31 other teams in the league. Even Dick Jauron got a head coaching gig after failing with the Bears, as did Dave Wannstedt. But not five out of the last six Raiders coaches. It’s really quite remarkable.

In an earlier take, I said that the margin for error is razor thin for the Raiders at this point. Mistakes are not an option, not after 15 total victories and three head coaches over the past four seasons. A lot of mistakes have been made over this period. We now have no choice but to be utterly brilliant.

I would like to pen a nice elegy for Art Shell, but I don’t really have time. Typically, I’m pretty sentimental when it comes to the Oakland Raiders, but the time to get down to business is yesterday. No more dragging our feet like last year. I will just say that Art Shell is a class act. I’m glad he’ll remain in the Raider Nation family. I feel sorry for him, and I wish him the best, both personally and professionally. He gave it his all, but it just wasn’t enough.

It’s possible that Mr. Davis might already know who will replace Art Shell. If he does, I hope he announces it soon. If he doesn’t, then things will get very interesting, and we will have a lot of fun with it.

Remind me once again about the knock on Mike Martz? Yes, I know he had a reputation for being a bit crazy, and that he had a temporary health issue two seasons ago. But what’s the real knock on the guy? I’m sure someone out there can explain. Here’s what I wrote last January: “If what we’ve heard is true, Mike Martz might be a bit of a crackpot. However, that would make him a crackpot with 53-32 record and a Super Bowl appearance under his belt, and a top 10 ranking in total offensive yardage in each of his 5+ seasons in St. Louis.”

The idea of Rob “Caveman” Ryan as head coach is intriguing. After all, how many NFL head coaches sleep on bamboo sticks and eat raw meat for breakfast? If he’s tapped for the job, maybe we could lure his twin brother from the Ravens to take his place at DC? Tom Flores wasn’t exactly Mr. Personality (sorry Tom), but John Madden and Jon Gruden were both charismatic and demonstrative, in stark contrast to White, Bugel, Callahan, Turner and Shell. That might be a shallow perspective, but there might be something to it, and if there is, then Rob Ryan fits the bill.

Anyhow, there is much more to come. For now, a new day dawns in the Raider Nation.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Shell Out?

UPDATE 8:08: This is as official as it gets. The Raiders have confirmed that Art Shell is no longer the head coach. Thanks to X for the tip.

UPDATE 7:07: The revised ESPN story quotes Shell's agent saying the following:
"There is no final decision, and beyond that I have no comment." Thanks to Doobie for alerting us to this update.

UPDATE 5:59: ESPN is reporting the following:
"Oakland coach Art Shell is scheduled to meet with his staff at 2 p.m. ET Friday to inform them that he's done as the Raiders' coach, a team source told ESPN.com. Shell and owner Al Davis met for most of the day Thursday, but at this point, it is unclear whether Shell is resigning or is being fired."

UPDATE 4:27: Citing two sources within the Raiders organization,
Yahoo is reporting that Art Shell will be relieved of his head coaching duties. Thanks to BlandaRocked for this news tip.

A reader wrote a few days ago, citing what he called a reliable source, saying that Art Shell would be sacked. He was not alone.

Now ProFootballTalk.com is saying that it will happen today: "A league source tells us that the Oakland Raiders are firing coach Art Shell. Today."

Just to clarify, I'm not saying it will happen. I have no insider access or information. All I'm saying is that the rumor mill has churned to the point that a professional football news site is saying it will happen, citing a league source. If they are working off of bad information, then shame on them. If they are right, then they've got a nice scoop, and we will have some big news around these parts.

Thanks to LK for alerting us to this development.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Pride: The Autopsy of A Lost Season

Pride is woven into the fabric of the Oakland Raiders experience. It constitutes half of the team’s signature slogan: Pride and Poise. I now submit to you that pride, more than anything else, was our undoing in 2006.

This is probably the hardest take I’ve ever written. I admit that some of it is speculative. I fear that it will come across more negatively than intended. So why bother? Because I think it’s important that we sift carefully through the wreckage of 2006. In order to determine where we’re going, we should first try to understand exactly how we got here.

Here’s my condensed take on the 2006 season, from the promising start to the ugly end: Al Davis, told by so many that his methodology and philosophy were outmoded, was determined to prove otherwise. Knowing that time might be short at his age, and being a man of great pride, Mr. Davis went back to the future in pursuit of one last blaze of glory. He seized a golden opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong in the clearest way possible: he hired Raiders legend and ex-Raiders coach Art Shell to pilot the team’s firmly stated return to classic old-school Raiders football. Along the way, however, personnel shortcomings were grossly overlooked. These shortcomings were compounded by the hiring of offensive coaches with outdated resumes or marginal NFL coaching experience. The result was a combustible mix of player and coaching issues that imploded into chaos and incompetence on the offensive side of the ball.

Let’s not sugarcoat the situation. Our offense wasn’t merely bad or awful. It was biblically impotent and incoherent. One touchdown scored in the last 16 quarters of the season. No more than 22 points in a single game. The 20-point barrier broken only four times (one of which, the Steelers game, had nothing to do with the offense). Twelve total touchdowns on offense. Six games with single-digit scoring. Three shutouts. If you’re not utterly scandalized by these statistics, you’d better make sure you still have a pulse. Worst of all, our offense was so atrocious that it more than cancelled out significant strides on defense.

From the beginning, the 2006 season would live or die upon the aforementioned premise of pride. It was gutsy. It was also very risky. Live by the sword, die by the sword. But that’s what I like about Al Davis. He enjoys a swordfight. If it had worked, it would have been absolutely brilliant. Can you imagine if the Raiders had enjoyed a turnaround like the Jets and Saints? It would have been the ultimate sharp stick in the eye of the Raiders Haters. Personally, I salivated over the prospect. The problem is that it didn’t work, and now this original premise of pride, in retrospect, looks like a trap—one that blinded the team to its own intensifying shortcomings in matters of talent and chemistry and, later, coaching.

Here’s what Art Shell said in July: “This is the Al Davis system. You've got to understand something. I grew up in this system. This is a system that allows us to attack from any place on the football field. Again, you've got to have the players to do that, and we feel we have the players to do that. This is a system that will allow you to play, and run the football with what we call power, where we're going to come downhill at you. We're going to attack the flanks. We're just going to run the football at you, then we're going to play-action, and strike from anywhere on the field.”

Here’s what Tom Walsh said: “Basically, we’re running the Raider offense the way it’s been run when you go back to the 60s, 70s and the 80s.”

Any questions?

In other words, personnel and chemistry were not perceived as issues. All we needed were Attitude, System and Old School Raiders Football. Working off of that prideful premise, we made little effort to hire a coach from the outside. We hired an insider who hadn’t prowled a sideline in six years, and who hadn’t been a head coach since 1994. We hired an offensive coordinator who had been away from the NFL for more than a decade, and who had been away from the game of football for seven years. We hired a pair of offensive line coaches who, despite once being great players, had marginal coaching experience. We hired a quarterbacks coach with no NFL experience, and very little experience as a quarterbacks coach at any level.

Meanwhile, we made no significant personnel moves on offense. Please don’t say that this was a rebuilding year. Around whom did we allegedly rebuild on offense? Aaron Brooks? Who else? Silence.

Our offensive unit didn’t field itself. Our executives—Al Davis, Mike Lombardi and Art Shell—fielded it. Our executives passed on potential franchise quarterbacks such as Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler in the draft. Our executives passed on a running back like Maurice Jones-Drew in the second round, and did not shore up the running back position via free agency or trading (despite LaMont Jordan’s shortcomings and Justin Fargas’s proneness to injury). Our executives built a receiving corps around two players, Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, with serious character flaws. Our executives put our tight ends position in the hands of two major underachievers. Our executives did not aggressively pursue a free agent lineman such as Larry Allen. They simply signed Aaron Brooks and drafted Paul McQuistan in the third round and Kevin Boothe in the sixth round, and left it at that. Thus, we now find ourselves with huge question marks at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and offensive line—a totality of uncertainty that is simply stunning.

None of this mattered last summer, however, as long as we had Attitude, System and Old School Raiders Football. Or so we thought. This was the temptation of Al Davis. This was pride blinding reality.

As for me, I was on board. Go read my posts from last summer, you’ll see no shortage of bullish optimism. I’m not going to beat myself up for not being a better talent evaluator than Al Davis, Mike Lombardi and Art Shell. But I bought this season on a conceptual and philosophical level as well. Back in March, I wrote: “Talk about guts. The Oakland Raiders, implored by so many to subscribe to NFL groupthink and to ‘get with the times,’ have instead blazed a spectacular trail back to the future. They may fail. I hope and expect that they will succeed. Either way, they’ll do it on their own terms.”

I was wrong about the outcome, but right about the terms.

If all of this sounds like I’m simply bashing Al Davis after the fact, that I’m saying his pride was unfounded, that it was all one big mistake, then I haven’t made myself clear. I’m not saying those things. I am just saying that the team got ahead of itself and overlooked some crucial matters. We tried to build a beautiful new house, but we built it on sand: talent problems, chemistry issues and coaching inexperience. The house might yet be built, the architectural plans might still be solid, but only if we work a lot harder on building our foundation.

Here’s what we now know for sure: Our current cast of offensive players and coaches, at least together, cannot score touchdowns or win games. That’s an established fact. So before we get ahead of ourselves again, before we start cutting players, devising draft scenarios and deciding whether or not Coach Shell should stay or go, let’s revisit the premise that got us here in the first place. Is the premise itself totally flawed—Art Shell and company leading a return to glory through classic Raiders football—or can this premise work if, unlike last year, we make substantive improvements in our offensive player (and coaching) personnel? Personally, I haven’t decided yet. I still love the premise. The challenge is living up to it.

In closing, I want to address three frequent statements that have the potential to disrupt our logic as we move forward with discussions about where we go from here:

1. It’s all the players’ fault.

So you say it was the players, not the coaches or management, who failed to execute, who literally dropped the ball? Fine. But players don’t sign themselves. Players don’t draft themselves. Players don’t promote or demote themselves. Executives do (in this case, that means Davis, Lombardi and Shell). In what company or organization or sports franchise does the management bear no responsibility when the frontline employees fail to execute their basic job requirements? Who hired these employees? Who trained these employees? Who evaluated these employees and found them capable? Who put the company in the hands of these employees? Sure, Bill Belichik is just lucky and Starbucks is a fluke. To suggest that the players alone are accountable for this mess is to misunderstand the basic concepts of management, organization, training, teambuilding and coaching.

Yes, players are to blame for their own individual lack of execution. Executives, however, are to blame for putting the team in the hands of players who can’t execute.

2. Art Shell is the only one who would take the Raiders coaching job.

After firing Norv Turner, Mr. Davis did not act swiftly. Nor did he make winning pitches to (or accept pitches from) Mike Martz, Ken Whisenhunt, Al Saunders, Bobby Petrino, Cam Cameron, Pat Hill and other coaching candidates. Our search for a head coach was halfhearted at best. Coaches like Sean Payton and Eric Mangini were locked up before we even got out of the gates, and for whatever reason, guys like Whisenhunt and Martz either passed on the job because they weren’t offered enough, or they were not offered the job. Art Shell wasn’t a last resort. He was a choice.

I don’t want to hear that no one wants the Raiders job, period, as if money and assurances have nothing to do with it. Is the OC job in Detroit so much more attractive than leading the Oakland Raiders (Martz)? Is working as an OC for Daniel “Money for Nothing” Snyder the ultimate dream job (Saunders)? Of course not—unless you’re getting better money and/or better assurances. Give the coaching position the equivalent of Jerry Porter’s signing bonus and the right assurances regarding power and responsibilities, and you will have more than enough qualified applicants.

3. Every team eventually goes through this, it’s the cyclical nature of the NFL, it was just our turn.

No, every team does not go through this. Every team does not regress to two wins after consecutive seasons of four, five and four wins. Every team does not score twelve total offensive touchdowns in a season. In today’s parity-driven NFL, it is difficult to stay on top for long. The inverse, however, is also true: it is difficult to stay at the bottom for long. There is no excuse for regressing after three seasons in which you did not exceed five wins. Al Davis will tell you that. It takes a lot of bad decisions for that to happen in today’s NFL. We need to stop making bad decisions. Our margin for error is very slim at this point.

Finally, please remember this: While I say that pride was our undoing in 2006, that doesn’t mean that I think that pride is fundamentally a bad thing. I still have my pride as a Raiders fan, just as the Raiders still have their pride as an organization. With some shrewd moves on offense, we can
—no, we willturn this ship around. I’m on board. Win or die trying. Onward!

End of Season Haiku 2006

Path to glory turns
gory, sixteen TDs and
just two wins, baby.