RAIDERS, CAL. . . AND MORE
by Glenn Dickey
Sep 13, 2006

A READER, David Krone, caught this passage on page 553 of Thomas Friedman’s book, “The World Is Flat”:

“One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. . . When memory exceeds dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.”

“My first thought was ‘Raiders’!”, writes Krone.

Indeed.

The Raiders like to talk of their glorious history, but it’s been 23 years since they won a Super Bowl. They remained a contender for two years after that, but since 1985, they’re six games under. 500 in regular season play. The last three years, they tied with the 49ers for the worst record in the NFL, but the 49ers are building for future success while the Raiders are still focused on the past.

Owner Al Davis reached back into the past to select Art Shell as the team’s head coach for this season, and there were sound reasons to do that. The Raiders’ biggest problem the last three seasons was a lack of discipline, and Shell seems like a good choice to bring back some discipline. So far, the players – with the notable exception of Jerry Porter – seem to be buying into his program. Shell has inactivated Porter, in what seems to be a season-long pattern, and Davis has given his support for that, which is good.

But Shell also brought along his offensive coordinator from Art’s first stint as Raiders coach, Tom Walsh, though Walsh had been out of the NFL since 1994. Not a good idea.

Walsh’s system emphasizes the deep pass system which Davis loves – and which was the system when the Raiders had their greatest success. But those Raider teams had great offensive lines; at one point, Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto and Bob Brown, now all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, were playing side-by-side. The current Raider offensive line falls a tad short of that.

The NFL has also changed since Walsh was last a coordinator. Most of the innovation has been on the defensive side, with teams bringing elaborate blitz packages to disrupt offenses. No team can afford to let its quarterback just sit in the pocket and wait for deep patterns to develop, as Jim Plunkett, Ken Stabler and Daryle Lamonica once did for the Raiders.

Yet, there were the Raiders in their Monday night opener, with that same system, Aaron Brooks taking a seven-step drop – and, usually, getting harried or slammed to the ground.

Even with this offensive line, there are strategies to at least mitigate the damage. Three-step drops and quick outlet passes are one option but, though Brooks occasionally just took the snap from center and threw immediately, three-step drops were not called. Screen passes are another option which wasn’t used.

Maybe Walsh will catch on and change his strategy, but he has a huge learning curve ahead. In today’s NFL, coordinators do the coaching, with the head coach usually acting as the chairman of the board. With an offensive coordinator so rooted in the past, the Raiders’ chances for success are slim indeed.

TOO MUCH? Cal coach Jeff Tedford was amused by new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar’s comment after the season-opening debacle in Knoxville that maybe the coaches had thrown too much at the players, with the addition of spread formation plays.

“Maybe it seemed that way to Mike,” said Tedford, “but we really didn’t have any more in our playbook than we’ve had before.” In fact, Tedford has always had an extensive playbook, with gadget plays included along with the basics.

More than anything, the Cal-Tennessee game showed how difficult it is to evaluate college teams off their opening games, because they don’t have a chance to practice, as the pros do. The Bears certainly seemed more themselves in the 42-17 win over Minnesota, while Tennessee narrowly averted an upset loss to Air Force in its second game. Most likely, Cal will end the season higher in the polls than the Vols.

QUESTION: If Barry Bonds returns, which seems much more likely now than it did earlier, how many stories will The Chronicle run next year saying that his run at Hank Aaron’s record is fueled by steroids?

Try multiplying 162 games by three. Of course, there are also off days in there, so it’s probably best to round the number off to 500.

DODGERS RUN: I’ve had readers who tell me I should commend Ned Colletti for his work this year, but I think it’s best to look at this with some perspective: The Dodgers have the worst record of any division leaders in baseball, and they barely make it into the top third of all clubs, with the 10th best record among 30 teams.

The best decision Colletti has made was to go to a team in the NL West.

STADIUM TALK: Some writers have criticized Cal for being slow with its football stadium project when Stanford has completed its new stadium in 10 months, but new Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby, who came from a public university at Iowa, put it into perspective when he called Stanford’s project “nothing short of a miracle.”

At Iowa, Bowlsby oversaw a remodel of a stadium, so he was speaking with authority when he said. “I can tell you without any hesitation whatsoever that if this project was undertaken at a public university, that it wouldn’t have gotten done in 10 months and it would have been $300 million, if it was a penny.”

Because Stanford is a private university, it could turn over the project to John Arrillaga. As a public university, Cal could never give control to somebody outside the university, so the project has to deal with the formidable Berkeley and state bureaucracies.

There is one big consolation for Cal fans, though: They have the big-time team. Given the internal restrictions, Stanford may never again be a football power.

GOLF TOURNAMENT: The 47th annual “Tee Off for Youth” golf tournament, benefiting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oakland, will be held Oct. 9 at the Claremont Country Club, 5295 Broadway Terrace, in Oakland. The A’s Mark Kotsay is the honorary chairman. This tournament is a major source of revenue for the clubs. For more information, call Karin Seid at (510) 444-8211.

PARTING SHOT: “The Giants last won a World Series in 1954,” notes Janice Hough. “How long ago was that? Most guys on the current roster were still in Little League.”

The readers have all the best lines.


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