Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lane Kiffin: Weasel, Martyr or Both?

Wow, even by Raider standards, that press conference was surreal.

Perhaps the strangest moment was Tom Cable saying he loved and respected Lane Kiffin, right after the boss who’d promoted Cable to head coach had just portrayed Kiffin as a lying weasel who’d sown team disharmony.

What’s clear is that the acrimony between Davis and Kiffin dates back to last season, and that it continued throughout the winter and beyond. 

I’m certainly looking at Kiffin a bit differently this evening. He said he’d hold his own press conference tomorrow, so we’ll see what he has to say.

I stand by my previous take that, regardless of who’s more to blame in this specific matter, the organization’s indecision regarding Kiffin has led to the inexcusable outcome of another season of turmoil—at precisely the time we can least afford it.   

The warning signs, in fact, were even greater than I could have imagined. This relationship was doomed to failure. Action clearly needed to be taken yesterday (ie: last winter), not today.

As I’ve said before, the more failure, the less margin for error. This is a basic principle of life, business and sports. After tying the NFL record for consecutive seasons of 11-or-more-loss futility last season, we had no margin for error heading into this season.

We have even less today.   

The High Cost of Indecision

Update - 2:45 p.m.: The press conference is on ESPN News and can be viewed online here. Mr. Davis has the gloves off. Accusations of deceit, lying, etc. 

Update - 1:45 - The Oakland Tribune will be live blogging from the Raiders press conference at 2 p.m. Click here to visit the blog. 

Update - 1:30 p.m.: Lane Kiffin is saying that he will hold a press conference tomorrow. The Raiders are saying he was fired "for cause." This could get real ugly. 

It’s official: the Raiders are reporting that Lane Kiffin has been fired—which is yet more evidence of the high cost of indecision that has plagued the Raiders’ coaching selections over the past several years.

You will recall that the Raiders dragged their feet prior to hiring Art Shell in February of 2006, a choice that, in retrospect, looked desperate. That was a year of substantial coaching turnover in the NFL, and we were the last to make a decision—and that decision turned out to be disastrous.

The following year, after Shell was fired, the Raiders again failed to act swiftly and decisively. It took three weeks after Shell’s firing to find a replacement—and that replacement was Lane Kiffin, who initially came to be interviewed as a potential assistant to head coaching candidate Steve Sarkisian. 

At the end of last season, it was clear that there was turmoil surrounding Kiffin. Yes, the media acted irresponsibly by reporting rumors and innuendo, but the fact is that there was fire behind the smoke, and it turns out the media were right about that, just as they were right about the behind-the-scenes drama since day one of this season. 

Since the Raiders did not act last winter to replace Kiffin, I assumed that the organization had healed itself, and that Lane Kiffin was here to stay, at least through this season. Why wouldn’t I assume that? What would be the point of starting a new season with a coach you’re anxious to jettison? Why keep the guy if there’s even the remotest chance of the early-season acrimony that has ensued since the start of this season? These are questions I would still like answered.

This summer, I received my season ticket pitch package, which was emblazoned with the theme of “I Will,” which in part read: “I will be a part of the journey and bathe in the glory when we arrive.”

Well, what journey are we on, exactly? Where are we going? Whose map are we following? 

I decided to re-up my season tickets in part because I was confident that, this time, the Raiders had a vision and a plan. That plan (and I use the term loosely) lasted one week into the season, and has since been derailed by sniping and speculation fueled by the organization itself. 

Indecision is killing this organization. If there was any chance of firing Kiffin this September, then he should have been fired last winter. Period. After five years of failure, there’s no excuse to be moving sideways instead of moving forward, to be rebuilding yet again instead of simply building.

Apparently, Lane Kiffin was the wrong guy—again. Just as Callahan, Turner and Shell were the wrong guys. Here’s a suggestion: Stop hiring the wrong guy! Start hiring head coaches with proven NFL experience and success, not unknown college assistants (Kiffin), not weak retreads (Turner), and not guys who haven’t been on a sideline for five years (Shell). Since not having a general manager has been a disaster, hire a general manager. Then give the coach and general manager time to build a foundation. Is this too much to ask? For once, I hope not. 

You do realize, don’t you, that if the Raiders don’t win more than five games this year, the team will set the NFL record for most consecutive 11-or-more-loss seasons. There are no excuses for chronically underperforming parity in the NFL at a record-setting pace. It takes an epic run of bad decisions (and indecisions) to reach this point. 

Just another coach won’t fix this. It’s time for the Raiders to install mirrors all over the headquarters in Alameda. It’s time for visible, tangible change. It’s time for decisive redirection and rethinking of the entire approach to the front-office structure, and to finally pick the right men for the right jobs, and to give them the time and space to do their jobs. 

I have a new theme for the Raiders: Not “I Will,” but “You Will.” I've done my part. Now do yours. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Near Win with Poor Timing

I’m not going to complain too loudly about this loss. I like our team this year. We’ve put a serious scare into two of the conference’s top teams over the past two weeks. Our defense is resurgent. Our offense is showing promise. I see building blocks where I haven’t seen them for years. I say: Keep Kiffin. 

For the second week in a row, however, I’m mystified by our clock management (or lack thereof). At the end of the first half, we ran two plays over a span of 55 seconds. No two-minute offense, no hurry up, nothing. Only after the clock ticked down to one second did we call our final timeout—for the sake of attempting a 76-yard (!) field goal.

Well, if we were going to try a big kick like that, why not a two-minute offense with some quick outs to try to rip off another 10 or 20 yards to get into a more realistic range? 

After all, this was a game where three points could have changed everything, and pissing away those potential three points at the end of the half is yet another time-management head scratcher, the latest in what has become an epidemic in Oakland over the years. 

Is there some sort of invisible force field over Alameda that makes it impossible for the organization to install a simple two-minute offense? This has been going on for years, across several coaching regimes, and I just don't get it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cirque du Alameda

Well, things are going from bad to worse, as this video will attest. Raiders executive John Herrera apparently took exception to San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami's assertion that the Raiders distributed a negative article about Lane Kiffin to local media last week. The result was a near brawl after today's press conference, replete with f-bombs and in-your-face finger pointing.

Now, I can certainly understand Herrera's frustration if, indeed, Kawakami's account about the article distribution was untrue. I wasn't there to know whether or not such a thing happened (the Raiders don't recognize independent bloggers, just Raider-hating bloggers employed by established media outlets), so I can't really take sides on this matter, but I've got to think that Herrera got so heated for a reason. Unfortunately, he looked a bit silly in the process. He is a "senior executive" for the Raiders, but he looked kind of junior league coming unglued like that.

What's even more unfortunate (and revealing) is that this is the only rumor the Raiders have chosen to vociferously deny at this time. Not that Kiffin is hanging by a thread. Not that Kiffin has no significant role in the defense. Not that communication has totally broken down between the head coach and the front office. No, only that the Raiders didn't distribute a negative article about Kiffin to a beat writer.

Wow, that's like chasing minnows with a shark on the loose.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Shameful, Illogical Way to Lose

Why the painfully soft defense in the 4th quarter? It wasn't working, so why keep doing it? What on earth was the point of that? Also, why didn't we use our two timeouts at the end so that we could have a chance to score? We have Johnnie Higgins ripping off huge runbacks, Sebastian Janikowski's big leg on the sideline and the likelihood of only needing a field goal to come back in the last seconds, yet we allow the Bills to run the clock down to one second? What a shameful, illogical way to lose.

Rob Ryan has survived three head coaching changes, so I imagine he'll survive this. In fact, at this rate, he'll be promoted soon. I've got a feeling he'd survive a nuclear winter in Alameda. Why, I have no idea.

In the last minute, the Bills weren't using their timeouts to stop the clock (except to use one to stop the clock with three seconds left after purposely running down the clock) . Shouldn't that have been a hint to someone on the other sideline that it's to the Bills' advantage to let the clock run down? Is it possible that I find myself yet again explaining kindergarten-level clock management to professionals?

At the end of the game, we let 43 seconds expire between first and second down, then 25 seconds between second and third down. On third down, they kicked the field goal with three seconds left (at which point, Kiffin attempted, and failed, to call a timeout!). If we'd called our timeouts properly, third down would have come with about a minute left instead of three seconds left. Yes, they would have run another play instead of kicking on third down, but we still could have had time for a runback and a few plays to get into Janikowski's field goal range. Instead, we just sat there without timeouts in our pocket, opting not to compete until the bitter end.

Red Zone Blues

First quarter take: Great start overall, but just can't seem to punch it in. Defense needs to hold strong. Love the Raider Hater announcers. They sound worried, which is a good sign.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Sirus Quote from Kiffin

I just heard the following from Lane Kiffin on Sirius NFL Radio:

"I don't know anything more than you guys know. Nothing has been told to me besides what's in the media and supposedly what's coming from our front office people."

What Kiffin didn't say was this: "Mr. Davis took a few minutes out of his morning, walked downstairs to my office, and told me everything was cool and that this is all just a bunch of bad information."

What Kiffin did say was that he knows no more about his status than Ray Ratto across the bay in the Chronicle newsroom. What Kiffin did say is that no one in a position of authority within the organization has told him anything, leaving him in the dark and totally alone to answer disturbing questions about his status.

For the sake of argument, let's presume that all of this is just one big media-fueled misunderstanding, and that while even the most credible Raiders beat writers are quoting people from inside the organization as evidence of the reputed turmoil, either the beat writers are either making things up or the front office is loaded with mendacious traitors (which would signify a different, but no less significant, issue). Let's presume that the Raiders are tired of issuing official statements to refute destructive rumors about staff members (despite the fact that a statement was issued on Rob Ryan's behalf earlier this year). 

Okay, let's do those mental gymnastics and get ourselves in a position to believe all of that. The question still remains: Why won't anyone talk to Lane Kiffin and let him know what's up? What's the point of leaving him in the dark? 

Well, there is no point, unless there's at least some truth behind the reports and that there's fire where there's smoke. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Arrowhead Goes Mute

Pride and aggression were the ingredients for victory today. I take back everything I said last week. Not. Monday night's shameful exercise deserved every possible ounce of fan repudiation and outrage. In fact, I believe that the Raider Nation's collective voice contributed to the wake-up call that fueled today's performance.

Do you recall all those Haters who said the Raiders blew it by drafting McFadden because of the team's supposed depth at running back, including the joker last week, highlighted by Calico Jack, who said that McFadden had the look of a bust? Funny how an injury-prone Justin Fargas coming off a solid (but by no means astonishing) career season and Michael Bush coming off no carries qualify as massive depth to the Haters, who apparently will only praise the Raiders' talent when it supports a larger Hater talking point.

Well, Darren McFadden shut more than a few pieholes today, and not just in Kansas City. And with Fargas injured once again, the logic of drafting of McFadden is now as obvious to the rest of the world as it always was to us.

Prior to the start of the season, I said I thought it was funny that so many folks were saying that the Raiders are the worst team in the AFC, and even the NFL, when the Raiders aren't even the worst team in their division. Today proved me right, and the Hater World View just got cloudier.

But if I wake up tomorrow to learn that Kiffin has been canned (in the wake of widespread speculation saying it will happen), my world view will be cloudier, too. I'm not going to stress about it tonight, because the media have told us a lot of fairy tales that haven't come true. But if they're right about this, I'll be singing a different tune. What species of bad judgment would we be dealing with to find ourselves in such a predicament in week three, following five straight years of bad judgment and equally bad football? Well, I'm not going to worry about that tonight. Tonight, we are 1-1, and anything is possible.

A Three Point Lead!

First few minutes take: Got to hand it to Janikowski, that was a sweet kick. The defense actually forced a punt, too. A miraculous turnaround from last week. The offense needs to sharpen up, and the penalties need to stop. Go Raiders!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Putting The D in Dysfunctional

Honestly, Monday night’s game was the most horrific defensive performance I’ve ever seen in Oakland. The Raiders put no pressure at all on Jay Cutler. I doubt they even had to wash Cutler’s jersey after the game. Sure, our secondary got burned, but you can only run around in circles for so long before someone gets open.

So, how can you get picked apart like a Thanksgiving turkey for two quarters, only to make no apparent adjustments to stem the tide? How can you not blitz to try to mix things up? Only one man can answer that question—the head coach, right? Not so fast.

Here’s how Jerry McDonald summarized Lane Kiffin’s comments to the media on Wednesday: “Lane Kiffin has his own ideas about defense. He is simply powerless to implement them. He leaves that up to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and owner Al Davis, who meet weekly to formulate the defensive game plan.”

McDonald quoted Kiffin as saying: “We talk about it early in the week. Rob and the owner are in communication. For the most part, I let Rob do his thing over there. He has a belief in certain things and he has a conversation with the owner about that.”

Hey, Rob—is that a new tattoo, or actual bus tire marks your chest? And how about Kiffin calling Mr. Davis “the owner.” Isn’t that sort of like Bill Parcells calling T.O. “the player?”

Well, here’s how Rob Ryan responded today, as quoted by McDonald: “When I deal with Al Davis, guys, it’s in the offseason. And here’s the thing: Al Davis knows football. And I’ll have four-hour conversations with him in the offseason about everything in this league. About offenses, about players, about scheme, about everything, but during the week, guys, (bleep), I don’t have time to talk to my wife, okay. If I’m going to make one phone call, it’s going to be her, all right? That’s the truth. I’m just telling you the truth. I literally had one conversation with Mr. Davis last week, and it was about Fred Wakefield.”

If what Kiffin says is true (and thus, by default, what Ryan says is not true), I can sort of understand his urge to distance himself from Monday night’s debacle. He wanted Ryan gone after last season, but was overruled by “the owner.” So the last thing he wants is to be indicted in a continuation of last year’s defensive catastrophe.

Yet even if what Kiffin says is true, that Rob Ryan and Mr. Davis run the defense and that he doesn’t really have a say in it, he had to know that his comments would undermine team unity at a very crucial and sensitive time.

Right now, the focus should be on doing everything to recover from Monday night, and to put the pieces back together to ensure victory on Sunday. How do Kiffin’s comments serve that goal? Clearly, they don’t. Such comments are immature at best, considering their timing.

Personally, I think it’s clear that Kiffin doesn’t have much say in the defense. After all, he is given no say in who occupies the defensive coordinator’s position, so it stands to reason that there are a lot of things beyond his control on the defensive side of the ball. I sure don’t see his fingerprints on Monday night’s defensive performance.

Still, instead of putting the D in Defense, his comments just put another D in Dysfunctional.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Night in Haiku


Cursing, honking, smells

like beer, rage, broken glass; “We 

are all embarrassed.”


DeAngelo, lit

up like a Christmas tree, torched

by a Royal flush.


Cutler drops back, looks,

orders pizza, waits, texts his

wife, throws deep, touchdown! 


KSFO tells

me: “Look at the positives.”

Where's my microscope?

P.S. Thanks to blackbegonia for getting the haiku rolling.

Monday, September 08, 2008

"We Are All Embarrassed"

"We are all embarrassed."

- Lane Kiffin during the postgame show

I don't know how it looked on television, but it was sure grim inside the Coliseum. This was a gutless, confused and undisciplined performance, especially on defense. Not much silver lining in this one. Lots of work to do. For now, all I can do is quote Lane Kiffin.  

Five Keys to Victory

1. Get Javon Walker fired up and ready to play. Walker is a head case, but he’s got ability, too. We need him badly tonight. He’s playing against his old team and nemesis, Dr. Shanarat, so that should count for something, right? Hopefully, Kiffin has pushed the right psychological buttons, enabling Walker to forget about his ailing leg and remember that he’s got something to prove, not only to the Broncos, but to the Raider Nation. Pride and poise, Javon, pride and poise. 

2. Denver had an awful rushing defense last year, and the trend should continue on Monday. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to open up holes at home against the Broncos, and there’s no reason not to turn McFadden loose. Kiffin is talking about using McFadden with caution. Well, this is no time for caution. Just turn him loose.

3. Which brings us to: Play to win, don’t play not to lose. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But how many times have we seen the latter over the past several years? I trust that Kiffin is now ready to play to win, based his own comments from last year.

4. On that note, memo to the Caveman: Blitz! No, really, it’s okay to try. It won’t hurt. Lots of defenses do it. Here, let me help you…

5. Stay loose, have fun, live it up. I’ll be there, and I know I will. 

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Fan Is Always Right

The fan is always right. Well, not always. But I’m often amused when some sportswriter, commentator or player dismisses “the fans” as rabid imbeciles who shouldn’t even be allowed to state the obvious.

Just listen to KSFO’s Raiders postgame shows, which have turned into a bizarre weekly series of mind-control exercises designed to subvert the obvious. The low point came last September, when the hosts berated a 13-year-old kid for making reasonable observations about Sebastian Janikowski’s poor performance on opening day, mocking the young Raiders fan by asking if he was a kicker and telling him to call back when he “grows up.”

How dare this child question Sebastian Janikowski, who was coming off a season in which he ranked 30th in the NFL in field goal percentage, who had fessed up to getting lazy and fat despite being paid millions, and who had just missed three more kicks that afternoon! You tell ‘em, George Atkinson, because you played the game!

I was reminded that the fan is often right while watching the Redskins against the Giants last night. In the big scheme of things, I don’t know squat about football. I have never played nor coached football, which apparently disqualifies me from having an opinion in the eyes of the “you haven’t played the game!” elitists.

What the anti-fan elitists forget, however, is that most of us fans have two important things going for us: common sense and hindsight. In many cases, common sense alone is sufficient. The fact that we often have hindsight on our side is just a bonus, one that is very helpful in forming cogent, reasonable observations.

So, while I may not have “played the game,” it was obvious to me that the Redskins were butchering the concept of clock management at the end of both halves last night, and defying the basic laws of time and common sense in the fourth quarter. I didn’t have to wait for the sportswriters to validate my observations this morning. I made my observations just as quickly as anyone else.

Does that make me a better football mind than Redskins head coach Jim Zorn? Or Art Shell, for that matter? No, of course not. But it does make me question why so many question us fans for stating the obvious, no matter how obvious it is.

Watching the Redskins last night was essentially a morbid flashback of the Raiders under Norv Turner and Art Shell. Go read my postgame takes from 2005 and 2006, which document all sorts of instances of clock mismanagement, insufficient urgency and bizarre timeout strategies.

We’re not even talking about Xs and Os here. We’re talking about kindergarten-level concepts, such as it’s impossible to score twice if you’ve casually run out the clock trying to score once.

But really, what do I know? I’m just a fan, after all.

Thankfully, Lane Kiffin has restored order to my football universe. No longer do I fear that incompetence and illogic will intrude upon my gameday experience. If we lose, I know it won’t be at the expense of intellectual or professional dignity, at least on the coaching side of things.

So why write about this now? First off, I just want to celebrate the fact that the plague of incoherent coaching has been purged from Oakland, thanks to Lane Kiffin. Additionally, on the eve of the new season, I want to ratify our right to have takes, no matter what the football elites have to say about it.

This is Raider Take, and we are Raiders fans, and win or lose, we will have takes.