By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Saturday, January 26th, 2008 at 2:43 pm in Oakland Raiders.
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.