Sunday, January 27, 2008

Zero Sum Game

If the reports about Lane Kiffin being under fire are true, then we’ve entered a zero sum game.

Most fans are siding with Kiffin. Others are suggesting that if Kiffin doesn’t want to stay in Oakland, he deserves the boot.

Therefore, the Raiders are either bent on undermining a force of positive change, a coach who had finally steered our lost ship in the right direction. Or…the Raiders want to cut ties to a guy who is disloyal, and who wasn't really such hot stuff in the first place.

If it’s the former scenario, that's bad.

If it’s the latter scenario, it’s equally bad, because it would mean that the Raiders organization, after five years, 61 losses and four head coaching hires, has remained incapable of establishing any form of consistency, continuity or direction, which would amount to organizational incompetence of the highest order.

Zero sum game.

How many second chances do the Raiders get with their paying customers? At what point does loyalty yield to outrage? Where does the buck stop? These are questions that many fans are rightfully asking themselves, even if we might have different answers.

Immediately after learning about the original ESPN report and gauging initial reaction from the Raider Nation, I posted a take suggesting that, if the report wasn’t true, the Raiders should issue a formal statement repudiating the report, with a vote of confidence from Al Davis supporting his head coach.

Some questioned my assertion that Al Davis needs to say something. Well, no, he doesn't need to say anything. That wasn’t my point.

My point was that he “should” say something. Why? Because fans don't “need” to renew their season tickets. Because fans don't “need” to follow the team. Because fans don't “need” to care. Everyone has a choice, including Mr. Davis.

I am in no way agitating for fans to abandon ship. Also, if this story is a fabrication, then our wrath should be directed at ESPN like never before.

However, there is a reason why so many fans, so suddenly, reacted so forcefully to this report, and the reason is rooted in the unnerving ongoing uncertainty regarding the direction and identity of the team, and the vacuum of communication between the organization and its fans, which may be part of the "Raider Way," but which is also becoming increasingly bad business.

I have been taken to task by many for suggesting that the organization improve its communication and clarify its direction. None of my business, I was told. Okay. But the gap between “none of my business” and “bad business” is rapidly closing.

Even if the ESPN report is false, it unfortunately speaks to a larger truth, which is evident in the negative fan reaction over the weekend. You heard me right: even if the reports are false, a truth has nevertheless been revealed.

Some will argue with the negative reaction. Well, the reaction is what it is. It’s raining today. I can argue about it, but I’m still going to get wet. When the vast majority of your customers are outraged, saying they shouldn’t be outraged is tantamount to arguing with the weather.

Since December, my mood about the Raiders has darkened. Something just didn’t feel right to me. I felt that we could have done a lot better in 2007, and I wondered why we didn’t, and what we were doing to rectify the situation. Long regarded as an optimist, I was suddenly cast as a pessimist. Here’s why:

1) I argued that we should remain concerned about lingering organizational dysfunction that is likely beyond Lane Kiffin’s control.

2) To those who were putting all of their eggs in Kiffin’s basket, I preached caution. To those who suggested that Kiffin has true authority to make key decisions regarding staff and personnel, I asked for firm evidence of such.

3) I was unwilling to view the 2007 season as an acceptable measure of progress.

4) I pressed for an end to the growing excuses and wishful thinking that have resulted in lowered standards in some fans regarding what we should expect from the organization, specifically in regard to its executive operations, on-field performance and fan relations.

These positions were viewed by many as pessimistic as of Friday, but today look downright tame compared to the fan reaction I’m reading.

Since these reports broke, I have been measured in my comments, unwilling to jump to conclusions. But I must say that it doesn’t look good. We haven’t heard from Al Davis, which does make me wonder, as does Kiffin’s non-denial. With all of the actors (Kiffin, Trask, etc.) sounding so stiff and rehearsed, there’s no way that this is just all a big media-fueled misunderstanding, and that things are just peachy between Lane Kiffin and the Oakland Raiders.

Which means that we’ve either alienated a solid head coach, or that we’ve saddled ourselves with yet another bad one. In other words, depending on your perspective, we’ve wasted a great opportunity or yet again demonstrated remarkable organizational incompetence.

Such is the zero sum game that faces the Raider Nation today.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Truth Will Set Us Free

I don’t know if there is any truth to the rumor that Al Davis has asked Lane Kiffin to resign, as alleged in an ESPN report citing unnamed sources. According to this report, Mr. Davis has gone so far as to draft a resignation letter for Kiffin to sign, but Kiffin is instead daring Mr. Davis to fire him. The report alludes to serious friction between the two.

If there is no truth to the rumor, I would advise the Raiders to release a brief statement quoting Al Davis along the following lines:

“The rumors originating from the ESPN report are categorically false on all points. Lane Kiffin is integral to our long-term plan of building a championship team. Our fans should know the truth.”

In fact, the Raiders were recently inspired to make a similarly formal statement on behalf of Rob Ryan. If they can do it for their defensive coordinator, they can do it for their head coach. Who knows, a statement might be in the works this very second. It won’t be a second too soon.

John Herrera, a senior team executive, has already been quoted as saying, “It’s not an issue. Lane’s the coach.” Thank you, John, but I’d like to hear it from the man upstairs.

Kiffin himself was rather coy earlier this week when asked about his alleged differences with Ryan, pretending he'd never heard about the rumors. Wow, what surefire endorsement of Ryan.

As Calico Jack stated in an earlier comment: “John Herrera's statement leaves doubt in most of our minds. The comments from Kiffin leave doubts in our minds. This doubt needs to be erased once and for all.”

If the ESPN report is not true, it would be mightily unfortunate that the Raiders have once again been irresponsibly maligned by a careless media outlet. It happens a lot, as I have documented on these pages for the past three years.

Nevertheless, this report has created a bit of a crisis, as evident in fan outcry here and elsewhere. And effective crisis communications has nothing to do with the origins of the crisis, but the quality of the communication.

Therefore if the report is not true, then it should be officially refuted and repudiated, point by point. If it is true, or if parts of it are true, well…Let’s not go there, shall we?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Out of The Wilderness

Immediately upon the conclusion of the 2007 season, Lane Kiffin said: “This won't happen again...We'll get it fixed.”

A few weeks earlier, Rob Ryan had this to say about his defense: “I thought we'd be in better shape, but that's life in the big city...We've got great players...We've given up a lot of big plays, whether it be tackling or whatever...It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is.”

Do you detect a difference in philosophies? One a fixer, the other an enabler, perhaps?

I don’t mean to hang a guy based on a few quotes, but you have to admit that Ryan’s words were ill conceived, if not completely delusional. At some point, you have to address the facts instead of just saying that’s “life in the big city.”

I’ve had enough of “life in the big city” over the past five years, haven’t you?

But before we go on, I would like to apologize for leaving all of you in the lurch these past few weeks by going AWOL from Raider Take. And I would like to thank the Mighty Memdf for a kick in the pants that motivated my return to the keyboard.

The truth is that I went on vacation, a vacation from everything—job, bills, life and even Raider Take. I went to the desert and played golf amid the cacti and wild javelinas, drank red wine with Mrs. Take and watched the sun descend over the Sonoran wilderness. It was a long time coming. I highly recommend the desert.

Upon my return, I was astonished to discover 500+ comments appended to my previous take. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your willingness to keep the home fires burning during my irresponsible and unannounced absence. Such is the greatness of the Raider Nation.

I was also surprised to discover the controversy about Rob Ryan’s alleged un-firing, or whatever you want to call it. Additionally, I was flummoxed by the reality that we need to fill serious holes at left and right tackle, center, wide receiver, defensive line, strong safety and cornerback, and possibly running back. After just 19 wins over five seasons, I’d like to think we’d be further ahead in the rebuilding business, wouldn’t you?

So I just went into avoidance mode. I glanced at your takes, I glanced at the stories, but generally remained disengaged over the past several days. Maybe it’s just a vacation hangover. Maybe it’s writer’s block. Or maybe I’m just waiting for a strong signal from Mars or Alameda that the team is ready to face the music and embrace radical, evident change. Of course, the organization is not obliged to send such a signal, just as I’m not obliged to be happy about it.

After winning one less game this year than we won last year, the Dolphins have already hired a new VP of football operations and a new general manager. The Raiders haven’t filled those positions because they still don’t exist in Alameda. So we’ll just wring our hands about the DC position, waiting for the Championships to end, for the Super Bowl to end…tick, tock…waiting…for…the Pro Bowl, the Senior Bowl…tick, tock…

In a recent Q&A with Jerry McDonald, Kiffin said what I’d been saying for weeks: “It’s not okay because we played some teams well and we won a couple divisional games. That’s not okay. This season was not a success…We’re going to work on that right now and we’re going to look at every single way we can to fix that.”

When asked directly if he was going to retain Rob Ryan (assuming he had a choice), Kiffin stated: “First of all, we haven’t made any decisions yet. Those will come pretty soon. Just like I said, with players and stuff, we’re still going to get all the information in and get it all together before we make any changes….We’re not worried about people’s feelings or any of that. We’re worried about winning. And we need to start winning. We need to do everything we can to put us in that position. So, we’ll look at everything.”

As far as I can tell, there are only three ways to look at the Ryan question: (1) Kiffin really wants to keep him; (2) Kiffin will get rid of him, but despite saying that decisions will come “pretty soon” and the fact that positions are already being filled across the NFL, has decided to wait to get rid of him for reasons we can only speculate; or (3) Kiffin wanted to get rid of him, but was overruled by Al Davis.

Now, let’s consider the first scenario. Are we to believe that Lane Kiffin really wants to retain a guy whom he inherited, whose unit ranked among the worst in the league, and who says things like “that’s life in the big city?” If you believe that, then put a tooth under your pillow tonight, because there’s a fairy on the way.

As for scenario number two, you can reverse engineer all sorts of explanations to prove the logic behind the Raiders, once again, dragging their feet on a critical decision while other teams act swiftly and decisively.

As for the third scenario, we really don’t want to go there, do we?

In other words, none of the scenarios is very palatable at this point. Or maybe I just spent too much time in the desert? What am I missing?

I’m not advocating that we rush to Ryan’s door with pitchforks and torches in hand. He has no doubt done his best, but doing your best isn’t always enough in the brutal competitive reality of the NFL. Ryan belongs on the hot seat. This is the NFL, not an after-school special.

Perhaps these reports of organizational dissention, however, are just fabrication? We’ve certainly witnessed enough media fabrication over the past six months.

Nevertheless, consider my three aforementioned scenarios, and tell me what I’m missing?

Perhaps I’m just late to the discussion and beating a dead horse with this Ryan business. But I would submit that this Ryan business is a window into the future of our team, as viewed through the lenses of control and decision making, which in turn have bearing on a lot of things, including the upcoming draft.

Or perhaps I’m jumping the gun. Perhaps it will all come clear and make sense soon. But don’t be too hard on me. After 19 wins over five seasons, I’m just anxious for more method and less madness. You can create justifications for every decision (or non decision) made over the past five years, but you can’t justify the results, and the results put the decisions in question, which makes the justifications questionable.

Anyhow, that’s my take, and I’m sticking to it, at least until you beat it out of me with your retorts. I have returned from the wilderness. But the real question is: Have the Raiders?