264

Kiffin out of the loop on Lofton

Just because it’s been relatively quiet for a few days doesn’t mean all is well with Lane Kiffin and the Raiders.

It turns out that James Lofton has agreed to terms to join the Raiders as an unspecified assistant coach, most likely wide receivers, and although Kiffin conducted the interview, he had nothing to do with the hire.

That bit of news came Wednesday night from a team source I trust, and pretty much ruins my growing belief that things appeared to be working themselves out between Kiffin and owner Al Davis.

This remains a fluid situation.

Kiffin, I’m told, was first informed by a third party not affiliated with the Raiders that Lofton is on his staff.

This is new territory where Davis and Kiffin are concerned in that Davis overruled the coach on a matter pertaining to the offense.

When Kiffin was hired last year he gutted the entire offensive staff, bringing in coordinator Greg Knapp, line coach Tom Cable, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, wide receivers coach Charles Coe and running backs coach Tom Rathman, while getting Davis’ approval.

Lofton, however, was dropped in Kiffin’s lap, and while he is a Hall of Famer, an ex-Raider and probably a fine coach, this is no way to run a football team.

Things are precarious enough around Raiders headquarters with rumors rampant about Davis requesting a resignation, a letter which reportedly strips Kiffin of his power regarding staff and personnel, and the strange Raiders press release issued by someone other than Kiffin regarding the retention of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

I’ll call the resignation request and the emasculation letter rumors because I have heard stories but don’t have solid enough sources myself to consider them factual. The information on the Lofton situation comes from a team source who prefers to remain anonymous.

Kiffin can be forgiven for believing Davis is trying to force him out, for while Lofton is a Hall of Fame player and probably a fine coach, he also happened to interview twice for the job Kiffin currently calls his own.

Even if Davis wanted to hire Lofton whether Kiffin liked it or not, an environment in which Kiffin is not told by Davis or anyone in the front office, and instead hears it from someone not affiliated with the Raiders, means there is a serious communication issue between the boss and his most important employee.

None of Kiffin’s choices at this point are too appealing.

The wisest course of action could be to dig in his heels, deal with whatever surprises come and continue to coach his team to the best of his ability. People outside the Raiders’ universe have their own view of how the franchise operates, and if Kiffin gets to six or seven wins, he would be a hot commodity.

Kiffin is paying dearly for not only going 4-12, but for not squelching the Arkansas rumor as well as speculation he wanted to return to college coaching. Whether it was true or not, Davis must have wanted no part of another Jon Gruden scenario, wondering every day if his prodigy had turned ungrateful and was looking to get out of town.

Loyalty is huge with Davis.

If you believe in happily-ever-after, perhaps Kiffin could regain Davis’ trust and and serve out the last two years of his contract, with the Raiders holding options through 2010. That isn’t the way to bet, but if Kiffin gave Davis a winner and got JaMarcus Russell on the track to stardom, all would be forgiven and the boss would be only too happy to take credit for it.

The other option is to resign, forfeiting his salary, at a time where all the good college head coaching and coordinator jobs are already filled, with most NFL options as an assistant exhausted as well.

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527

Moss on Media Day

Caught some of Randy Moss speaking about his time with the Raiders Tuesday courtesy of NFL Network.

It reminded me of the time when I asked him about why he seemed to be dropping so many passes, and he responded it was because he wasn’t happy and was in a bad mood.

“Things weren’t really going like I expected them to go, both as an individual and collectively as a team,” Moss said. “People in that organization had high expectations. I got traded there, we had Derrick Burgess, Warren Sapp, so you had a lot of guys that had names . . . I think a lot of things got in the way where football wasn’t really the main priority around there any more.”

No excuse for Moss going in the tank because he was unhappy. None. Not as the highest paid player on the roster, one who was laughably called a “captain” by Art Shell.

But the end of that answer is remarkable when you consider who he is talking about. When Moss says organization, he is talking about Al Davis. Davis is the organization. He is the lone owner in the NFL _ hell, in professional sports _ who was once a coach. He is one of the pioneers of the game, a Hall of Famer.

And here is this huge talent, the kind of player Davis salivates over, saying football wasn’t the main priority with the Raiders. It used to be the only priority.

Misunderstood stars thrived with the Raiders because all they had to worry about was football instead of the layers of miscommunication and confusion which currently emanates from Harbor Bay Parkway.

“Things started getting in the way with coaches and play-calling and stuff like that,” Moss said. “The team-concept was sort of screwed up in Oakland, and really not knowing, I would ever get on this stage, I had to stay positive.”

Moss was in no way “positive” in Oakland, but it has to gall Davis that another environment was more suitable than his own to bringing the best out of football’s most explosive receiver.

Fish to Atlanta

According to the Atlanta Falcons Web site, Jeff Fish was hired as the strength and conditioning coach on the staff of Mike Smith.

Fish has been the Raiders strength and conditioning coach for the past four seasons. Replacing him means they might need another training camp arm. Fish throws a nicer practice pass than some Raiders quarterbacks.

Williams on board

According to the NFLPA logs, Sam Williams is under contract to the Raiders for 2008 for $700,000. He was originally scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

No transactions have been announced by the club since the end of the season. Adimchobe Echemandu has been in the books for a $605,000 salary for a couple of weeks now and it hasn’t been acknowledged by the club.

According to the Raiders Web site, Fish is still the strength and conditioning coach.

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406

Lofton interview concludes

The Raiders finished a day-long interview with James Lofton for an undisclosed position and senior executive John Herrera had no announcements other than the interview went well and there could be a resolution in the next day or so.

Lofton, fired last week by the San Diego Chargers, twice interviewed for the head coaching job with Al Davis. His interview this time was with coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, according to Herrera, indicating Charles Coe could be on his way out as wide receivers coach.

Having Kiffin and Knapp involved in the hiring of an offensive assistant means any differences the head coach has with owner Al Davis regarding makeup of the defensive staff appear well short of Kiffin either resigning or being fired in the near future.

While stories run rampant of what has gone on behind closed doors since the end of the season, the one I’m certain of is that Kiffin wanted to change defensive coordinators and Davis did not.

I was told today Kiffin’s problem with Ryan is not of a personal nature but one of philosophy. The statement released by Raiders spokesman Mike Taylor was essentially a rebuke to Kiffin.

(Taylor disagrees with this. He called to say Kiffin’s later comments in Mobile about Ryan being under contract and being “excited” about Ryan’s return refute my contention. To me, the key part of that quote was “Rob is under contract.”)

In any event, the fact that Kiffin returned to work and is in the process of making staff changes is the second indication he wants to stay _ the other being his postgame response following the Senior Bowl.

When asked after the game if he would be coach of the Raiders in the fall, Kiffin said, “I hope so.”

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359

A Kiffin miscalculation?

Interesting sequence of events as reported by Ira Miller of The Sports Xchange, who said Lane Kiffin fired Rob Ryan before first consulting with Al Davis.

Ryan, Miller reported, went to Davis to thank him for the opportunity, with Davis telling Ryan Kiffin had no authority to fire him.

If true, it was a huge tactical error on Kiffin’s part _ the same error Mike Shanahan made when he attempted to fire Art Shell in 1989. Davis rehired Shell, and when Shanahan was fired during the season, Shell became the head coach.

(I’ve been told things didn’t necessarily transpire in this order, but it’s worth mentioning because I have a lot of respect for Miller).

People who say the Raiders don’t have a general manager are in error. They have a G.M., and his name is Al Davis. Davis doesn’t own a rubber stamp. He needs to be convinced a change should be made.

To make a change without his consent is to invite conflict.

Lofton in town

Former Chargers wide receivers coach James Lofton was visiting with Kiffin in his office Monday morning, according to senior executive John Herrera.

Herrera had no information regarding an interview with Al Saunders. The Raiders, Bay Area News Group beat writer Steve Corkran reported, have made contact with Saunders. Bob LaMonte, the agent for Saunders, confirmed the Raiders had talked to the Redskins about speaking with Saunders before he was fired but that to his knowledge no interview had been arranged.

There is a chance Saunders could be hired by the St. Louis Rams as offensive coordinator before anything transpires in Oakland.

There are no press conferences scheduled.

Millard an issue?
One of the rumors making the rounds at the Senior Bowl is that defensive line coach Keith Millard was told by Kiffin he should explore job opportunities during the week.

The Raiders had a story on Millard on their Web site Sunday which detailed his unique perspective as having been involved in the Senior Bowl as both a player and coach.

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527

Taking the offensive

The Raiders made strides with their offense and regressed on defense in 2007, but in terms of addressing it with regard to the coaching staff, they’re starting out moving in the other direction.

On offense in 2007, the Raiders went from 12 touchdowns to 28, from 1,519 yards rushing to 2,086 yards, and from 32nd in time of possession to fifth in the NFL.

On defense in 2007, with less time spent on the field, the Raiders gave up 5,446 yards as opposed to 4,557, 5.7 yards per play as opposed to 4.8 and surrendered 46 touchdowns compared to 34.

The response?

The Raiders issue a statement saying Rob Ryan is still the defensive coordinator, and their first two interview subjects for the coaching staff are on offense _ James Lofton and Al Saunders.

The Raiders have confirmed Lofton’s interview. Bay Area News Group beat writer Steve Corkran and others have reported Saunders’ impending visit.

Lofton has interviewed with Al Davis on two occasions for the head coaching job, but senior executive John Herrera said it is for an assistant’s position and that interview will be with Kiffin.

Lofton coached wide receivers for the Chargers until being fired last week and has more NFL experience than Charles Coe, a veteran college coach who had his first NFL season with the Raiders last season.

The Saunders interview is another story. There are only two positions Saunders would be intereviewing for _ head coach and offensive coordinator.

Saunders, like Lofton, has a history with Davis, having interviewed for the Raiders head coaching job twice before removing his name from consideration.

But if Saunders isn’t coming in to talk about Kiffin’s job, then it means offensive coordinator Greg Knapp could be on his way out.

Saunders, as an offensive coordinator with the Rams, Chiefs and Redskins, called all the plays. Kiffin called plays for the Raiders, with Knapp, a play-caller with the both the Falcons and 49ers, taking the Raiders job only after deciding he and Kiffin were comptabile in terms of philosophy.

ESPN is reporting Saunders is also a candidate to be offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, where he would be the play-caller.

There is almost no way to interpret the interest in Saunders as anything other than an acknowledgement that Davis is preparing for the possibility that Kiffin either won’t call the plays or won’t be the head coach.

And if you take Davis at his word last year when he stressed the importance of having a play-caller as the head coach, it would most likely be the latter.

“One of the attributes was he had to have was the ability to call the plays,” Davis said when Kiffin was hired. “To call the plays, to me, that’s vital in professional football today. Some has to be accountable for calling the plays.”

Bringing Saunders aboard would also mean changes in the offensive system. A radical change would be a setback to JaMarcus Russell, who is only the most important person in the franchise who isn’t named Al Davis.

Raiders and PFT
Interesting to note that the Raiders are sending adverstising dollars to ProFootballTalk.com, the hugely popular rumor and information site which makes its living posting the very stories which the organization spends time trying to refute.

Stripped down the left side of the site is a “Raiders Image” ad, noting the stores are “owned and operated by the Oakland Raiders.

Under-Armour-gate

Yes, Mike Nolan wore the same coat Lane Kiffin did in the Senior Bowl. Nolan also wore a 49ers hat before replacing it with an Under-Armour skull cap in the fourth quarter when the sun went down and the temperature dipped.

Nolan was also wearing 49ers gear all week at practice and in interviews.

At no time when Kiffin was shown on television was he ever wearing a Raiders shirt or visor. According to PFT, the NFL Network’s Adam Schefter and Albert Breer of the Dallas Morning News reported Kiffin didn’t wear anything with a Raiders logo all week.

Kiffin normally coaches wearing a Raiders visor, although not always. He didn’t wear one Saturday.

I was also told Mark Jackson, Kiffin’s administrative assistant who would follow him out the door should he leave, was not wearing Raiders gear in Mobile and spent a lot of time with USC coach Pete Carroll.

Hard evidence that Kiffin is on his way out? Of course not. Just a subtle message that there are some problems to be worked out between the owner and the coach.

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769

Where Lane and Al went wrong

Update: Talking to reporters on the field following the Senior Bowl, Lane Kiffin sidestepped questions regarding his status with the Raiders.

“I’m not going to comment on that. That’s got nothing to do with this game, these guys’ last game here, and I’m real proud of the way they played and competed,” Kiffin said. “It was a fun week.”

Asked if he will be coaching the Raiders in the fall, Kiffin said, “I hope so.”

There are a lot of different ways Lane Kiffin could have shot down reports regarding his demise in the eyes of Al Davis, and reasonable people can agree that saying “I’m not going to comment on anything that transpired in the last three weeks” is not one of them.

Nor is coaching the Senior Bowl in a black Under Armour windbreaker, with the name “Raiders” nowhere in sight. The rest of the staff is adorned in Raiders gear.

It reminds me of the time Jon Gruden showed up to his season-ending press conference the day after a playoff loss to New England in a maroon polo shirt instead of his usual Raiders garb.

Not long afterward, he was on his way to Tampa Bay.

During Saturday’s Senior Bowl broadcast, field reporter Charles Davis said Kiffin told him he didn’t want to comment on rumors that Davis asked for his resignation, essentially the same thing he said the day before.

“He said he didn’t want to comment on anything that happened in the last three weeks to a month, but what I do want to focus on is this game today,” Davis reported Kiffin as saying. “We focused on these kids all week long and coaching them, we’re going to focus on them today in this game. We don’t want to cheat them at all.”

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he believed the Raiders and Kiffin were negotiating a settlement of his contract, the end result being Oakland would be the first team since the Minnesota Vikings in 1984 (Les Steckel) and 1985 (Bud Grant) to have consecutive coaches who lasted a single season.

A year ago, Kiffin was hailed by Davis as superior to Jon Gruden, glossing over the fact that his first choice was actually Steve Sarkisian, the co-offensive coordinator along with Kiffin at USC. Davis raved about Kiffin’s grasp of the total game and his value as a personnel man because of his background as recruiting coordinator.

It wasn’t just Davis’ refusal to part with Rob Ryan that fractured the relationship, although that was part of it.

The fact is, it became apparent as the season went on that Kiffin and Davis differ philsophically, and many of the things Kiffin did and said no doubt rubbed the boss the wrong way.

Davis believes he has stocked the Raiders with enough talent to be consistent winners.

“We’ve got good players. What I worry about is injuries,” Davis said during a training camp press conference.

Kiffin, looking at the 15-49 record upon his arrival, never bought it. He admitted making final cuts wasn’t all that difficult because the Raiders didn’t have enough good players to make it difficult.

When the Raiders finished the season by facing Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Denver, Kiffin, when assessing how his team had held together, said, it was difficult “when you’re not playing anybody like yourself.”

While perhaps not meant as a jab at Davis’ acquisition of talent, go ahead and assume Davis felt that way.

The week the Raiders played the Colts, Kiffin talked with admiration about a roster stocked with the type of players Davis wouldn’t want.

“Their linebackers are 5-11. They’ve got a 5-9 safety, a 6-foot defensive end,” Kiffin said. “They get a lot of people later in rounds that other people don’t take because of size or because of what they evaluate. They see what other people don’t. In that system, tackling is one of the first things you evaluate, and you can see it. They take people, because they’re really good players, and they tackle real well.”

Davis made it clear during training camp that dealing Randy Moss was Kiffin’s idea.

“If Lane felt that was best for the team I was going to do it,” Davis said. “And we did it. We didn’t get near what we should have. Randy Moss, if he’s well, can still play, in my opinion. Our coaches didn’t think so.”

It couldn’t have set well with Davis when Kiffin blamed him for breeding the culture which Moss wanted no part of.

“Randy had made it very clear to me, his statement was, ‘Coach, this has nothing to do with you. I have already heard great things about what you are doing there already, but I am not going to play for that organization, and I don’t want any part of it. I don’t like the way I have been treated there,’ ” Kiffin told Minnesota writers on a conference call.

“It was out of my control. Randy wasn’t going to play here and he made it very clear, so it was a direction that this organization needed to go because he wasn’t happy and he wasn’t going to play here for whatever reason, the things that happened before I got here.”

Getting rid of Moss was a big part in another Kiffin belief not held by Davis _ team chemistry.

Kiffin made repeated references over the course of the season to “cleaning out the locker room” and ridding it of bad influences.

Davis is on record as saying he doesn’t believe in team chemistry.

Where Kiffin stood on the drafting of JaMarcus Russell is not clear. Leading up to the draft, I was told Kiffin preferred Brady Quinn, but I never heard it from Kiffin himself and misinformation is rampant where the draft is concerned.

When the season was over, Kiffin was no longer a Davis prodigy. He was a 4-12 coach, the same as Bill Callahan and Norv Turner in their final seasons. Kiffin was just two games better than Art Shell who had no right to ask for his own choice as defensive coordinator.

To make matters worse in Davis’ eyes, Kiffin did little to refute rumors which connected him to college jobs at Arkansas, Michigan and UCLA.

A Contra Costa Times poll asked readers “As a Raiders fan who would you rather get rid of, Al Davis or Lane Kiffin?

At last check, Davis had 1,112 votes to be shown the door and Kiffin 31.

When Kiffin accepted the job, he made it clear on several occasions it was on the condition that certain things were in place. He never specified what those things were, but implied it had to do with the makeup of the roster and coaching staff.

Hope he got that in writing.

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381

Kiffin comment

Lane Kiffin’s comment from Mobile, Ala., site of the Senior Bowl, according to ESPN.com:

“I’m not going to comment on anything that has transpired in the past three weeks,” Kiffin said.

The last three weeks.

Just about the time Kiffin wanted to make a change at defensive coordiantor and the Raiders sent out a release saying Rob Ryan would stay.

It all sounds pretty plausible from here.

At the season-ending press conference, Kiffin was resolute in changes he said were forthcoming with the Raiders. It was also clear he believed he had the power to make those changes happen.

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383

The Dublin Raiders?

Update: A Raiders spokesman called to say the club was continuing to negotiate in good faith with Oakland and Alameda County regarding a stadium lease extension and that the Dublin visit was purely educational in nature.

In a revised version of the story in the East Bay Business Times, director of finance and technology Tom Blanda said his comments regarding Dublin were “hypothetical and not based on any desire to move the club.”

Dublin Mayor Janet Lockhart told the East Bay Business Times Friday that the Raiders are interested in building a stadium on the 180 acres of Camp Parks, currently by the U.S. Army Reserve and NASA.

Mark Davis, the son of Al Davis, and Tom Blanda, the Raiders director of finance and technology, made the pitch Thursday.

To say Lockhart isn’t interested is an understatement.

“My personal opinion is it would destroy the city of Dublin if we even considered it,” Lockhart told the Times.

According to Lockhart, Davis and Blanda said:

“‘We think the Raiders belong out here. We think we should put a stadium on this land.”

On the bright side, it presents a scenario where the Raiders are looking to stay in the East Bay when their lease expires in 2010.

(On a purely selfish note, being a Dublin resident, it would make it possible for me to ride my bike to work on game day).

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541

Taylor: Ryan to stay

Statement released by the Raiders by spokesperson Mike Taylor to the Associated Press:

“The recent conjecture regarding the removal of Rob Ryan is incorrect and the constant barrage of rumors is irresponsible. The Raiders organization stated that the speculation that Rob Ryan will be relieve of his duties should stop.”

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