Raiders, Zito/Schmidt, Walt Harris
by Glenn Dickey
Dec 06, 2006

WHEN THE Raiders set a franchise record in holding the Houston Texans to a minus two in passing yardage last Sunday, it brought back memories for me. The previous record, seven yards by the Denver Broncos, was set in the first regular season game I covered as a beat writer for The Chronicle, in September, 1967.

There was just this one tiny difference: The 1967 Raiders beat the Broncos, 51-0. The 2006 Raiders, of course, lost, 23-14.

At the moment, those memories are all that’s left for those of us who have followed the Raiders over the years. There were great games – remember the “Heidi game”? – and great players like Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler, Jim Otto, Bob Brown, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, the current coach.

It was a great time to be covering the team, too, because writers and players were close in a way completely different from the current relationship. I’m still friends with some players from that era, most notably Tom Keating. When he was living in the area, Tom and I had lunch at Tadich’s Grill once a month. He’s in Washington, D.C. now but we still talk on the phone – we had a conversation yesterday, as a matter of fact – and visit when he’s in the area.

The other key element at that time was Al Davis, who was on top of his game. Even then, Davis had his idiosyncracies, and we often laughed about them, but he knew how to put a team together. Sadly, he’s lost that skill.

Now, the Raiders are the model of a dysfunctional organization. Shell has fallen into a Captain Queeg mode, railing last week about a “mole,” easily identifiable as personnel man Michael Lombardi, who was leaking secrets about the Raider “family.” They aren’t really secrets. The unraveling of the Raiders is obvious to everybody but that rapidly shrinking minority within the fan base that has drunk the Kool-Aid.

Shell himself is a significant part of the problem. His season-long feud with Jerry Porter has robbed the team of a productive playmaker. Bringing in his friend, Tom Walsh, as the offensive coordinator was an unmitigated disaster. Walsh was hopelessly behind the times with his offensive schemes.

The other significant problem is Davis, who has brought in name players who do little or nothing to help the team win now and retard the development of younger players. It never made any sense to bring in Aaron Brooks, for instance. If the Raiders were going to bring in a veteran free agent quarterback, they should have brought in Drew Brees, who is much better than Brooks and also younger. Brooks has some ability, but having him means that Andrew Walter is back on the bench. The Raiders have said Walter is their quarterback of the future, which is why they passed on a better quarterback, Matt Leinart, in this year’s draft, but he’s now behind Brooks with a 2-10 team, which makes no sense at all.

And Randy Moss, brought in with great fanfare in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings, has reverted to type, playing well only in short spurts. Most of the time, Moss hasn’t bothered to run out routes if he’s not the primary receiver and often drops or short-arms passes. That kind of play is exactly why the Vikings were ready to virtually give him away, but Davis will always bite for the star quality players.

The one bright spot has been the defense. Under coordinator Rob Ryan, the defense has been aggressive, adaptable and successful, all of which the offense has not been.

There are some moves the Raiders could make in the offseason to get themselves off the bottom of the NFL. Letting Moss go and resisting the impulse to sign other big names who have become unproductive would be a start. Replacing Shell with a young coach (under 40) would be a start. I mentioned offensive coordinator John Shoop as a possibility last week. Ryan is another, possibly better, possibility. My only reservation on Ryan is his genes. His father was a great defensive coordinator who failed as a head coach. A young coach would probably be willing to challenge Davis, as Jon Gruden did, because he’d know that he’ll have other chances later. Neither Shell nor Norv Turner could, or would, do that.

The bottom line, though, is that none of this happens unless Davis finally realizes that his way isn’t working. A 15-45 record over 3 ¾ seasons would be proof for anybody else, but it probably won’t be for Davis.

FREE AGENCY: If you want proof that the free agency market is out of control, you need look only at Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, who will get contracts far exceeding their true value.

The Giants got the best of Schmidt, who hasn’t been the same pitcher since he tied the franchise record with 16 strikeouts in a midseason game. They were quite right not to try to re-sign him. Apparently, the Dodgers are going to pay him $47 million for three years, but they’re paying those big bucks for a guy who will probably be little more than a .500 pitcher over the length of his contract.

Zito is relatively young, 28, and durable, never having missed a start. But realistically, on a championship staff, he’s your No. 3 pitcher. Yet, he’ll get the kind of money usually paid to a staff leader. Most likely, it will be the New York Mets who pay him that money, because they’ve got the money to pay him and they’re hungry for at least a World Series appearance.

WALT HARRIS: The firing of Walt Harris as Stanford coach showed the sad state of sports journalism in the Bay Area.

I wasn’t following Stanford football closely this season, for obvious reasons, but when Michael Okwo refused to attend postgame media sessions, it set off an alarm bell because Stanford athletes have always been cooperative with the media, win or lose. That should have been a tipoff that Harris was on his way out. Yet, beat writers didn’t follow up on it.

In the two weeks before the Big Game, I heard from my Stanford friends that Harris had offended key alumni, and that he would be fired. I knew first-hand from attending the Arizona game that actual attendance in the new stadium was very low. Coupled with the athletes’ revolt – and a 1-10 season to that point – it was clear Harris couldn’t survive. So, I wrote in last Friday’s Examiner that he would be fired. I repeated that when I appeared on the Fox Bay Area postgame show after the Big Game.

Yet,I read nothing that weekend but stories on the pros and cons of firing him. On Monday morning, a Contra Costa Times columnist wrote that Stanford’s strong showing in the Big Game might have saved Harris’s job; in fact, if that were true, Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby would simply have announced it after the Big Game.

When Bowlsby announced the firing on Monday, he said he had a two-week time frame to pick a new coach, an indication that he had made the Harris decision much earlier and was already preparing a very short list of replacements. Yet, on Tuesday morning, a Chronicle columnist said that the Harris firing had caught “Stanford insiders” by surprise.

Maybe they should have read the Examiner.


Tickets are available for the Holiday Bowl on this link, as well as tickets for 49ers, Raiders, Warriors and Sharks games.

Tickers are available for these holiday events in the Bay Area:
--Live 105 Not So Silent Night, With the Killers, Dec. 8
--Dancing With the Stars, Dec. 27

During the holiday season, tickets will be available for bowl games. There are also popular holiday programs, including Radio City Christmas, Wicked and Jersey Boys. Tickets are also available for the Bill Cosby concert in Phoenix on January 13.

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