By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Wednesday, January 30th, 2008 at 11:40 pm in Oakland Raiders.
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.