By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Friday, May 23rd, 2008 at 2:59 pm in Oakland Raiders.
It was about 30 minutes or so into the Raiders’ practice Thursday at the so-called organized team activity when someone asked, “Where’s Kiffin?”
I had no idea. Hadn’t heard him, seen him or even looked for him while checking off roster numbers to get an idea of who showed up and who didn’t to the voluntary workout.
I looked harder, and there he was, standing alone, taking it all in, no more noticeable than than a member of the support staff charged with making sure there was a constant supply of footballs.
Which brings us to the column in today’s Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times written by Gary Peterson (misidentified initially on the Internet as having been authored by Steve Corkran).
As you probably already know, Peterson came to practice Thursday, watched low-key Lane’s act and surmised the coach knows he is on the clock and is simply awaiting the offer of a cigarette and blindfold.
Bringing up much of the tumultuous offseason as a backdrop _ the non-firing of Rob Ryan, the hiring of James Lofton, the wardrobe selection at the Senior Bowl, etc., etc., etc. _ Peterson used his license as a columnist to reach his conclusions.
I can state with certainty that less than three months ago, Kiffin really didn’t know if he would be the Raiders coach in 2008. As to what Al Davis was thinking, I would be far less certain, but can give at least an educated guess.
The owner probably thought the kid coach was being pretty ungrateful for having been given the opportunity of a lifetime, responding with a 4-12 record, and then telling the boss the best way to go about fixing his sorry franchise.
Probably not Kiffin’s best move, in retrospect.
But Kiffin, rather than quit in anger, dug in his heels and kept coming to work. He accepted his medicine, gave his input, and watched as Davis went on a spending spree to remake a roster Kiffin has said publicly was short on talent.
How much Davis listened to Kiffin, only he knows. And he’s not saying. Whether Kiffin agreed with every move, only he knows. And he’s not saying.
But there is no denying Kiffin has much more talent at his disposal, not to mention a far less daunting schedule.
He is continuing to run the offense he wants, a zone-blocking running game combined with rollouts and safe passes designed to build passing percentage, before layering in the deep strikes Davis loves.
Kiffin’s on-field demeanor has been a topic of discussion among those of us who have been at the rookie minicamp and OTAs. I’m not ready to think it’s overly significant for a few reasons.
First, Kiffin wasn’t exactly a fireball last season until training camp hit. He was similar to what we’ve seen so far _ wandering from position group to position group, supervising rather than dominating, allowing his assistants to do their work. The practice tempo hasn’t changed.
Whether Kiffin will appear more authoritative when the Raiders adjourn to Napa is anybody’s guess. He might not feel he needs to come on as strong with a program already in place. And while I may be in the minority here, I thought at times last year his enthusiasm looked forced, almost contrived, as if he were trying to resurrect Jon Gruden.
Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian used to journey to Tampa each year to study offense with Gruden, and there were times it seemed as if Lane was operating straight out of the Chucky handbook.
The problem is, Kiffin is not Gruden in terms of personality. Having done extensive background on Kiffin when he was hired, talking to old high school coaches, former teammates, coaching colleagues and family members, he is more to the Tony Dungy or Bill Belichick side of the scale than Gruden.
What Peterson sees as Kiffin “marking time” could be the coach simply showing more of his true self.
I didn’t even notice Kiffin wasn’t wearing a Raiders emblem Thursday, and while I have no doubt he was sending a message not wearing the shield during the Senior Bowl, he has worn Raiders gear publicly in recent weeks.
For now, the worst is over and everyone seems to have moved on and is concentrating on 2008.
It is going to be all about how the Raiders perform, whether they can stop the run and at the same time get an efficient performance from a quarterback in his first full season as a starter.
A poor start, and Kiffin could be shown the door before midseason, because the players will be out for themselves, knowing the coach is a short-timer. Kiffin is the only Raiders coach under Davis to survive a 12-loss season. He won’t do it a second time.
A good start and a winning season, and Davis will at some point make a public appearance and tell everyone how good he is at identifying young coaching talent.