Raiders Coach, Tedford Connection, Bonds
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 24, 2007

LANE KIFFIN is a blank slate upon which Al Davis hopes to write. Anybody who interprets his hiring as the next Raiders coach differently is hopelessly naïve.

Davis reacted angrily at an often-hilarious news conference on Tuesday when San Jose Mercury columnist Ann Killion referred to the Raiders as a “black hole” for coaches, but it’s true.

Kiffin will be the Raiders seventh head coach in 13 seasons (counting 2007) since they returned to Oakland, and only Jon Gruden compiled a winning record here. Though Davis talked at the news conference of the Raiders being in the AFC championship game twice earlier in the decade, and in the Super Bowl four years ago, the most significant part of their recent history is the NFL-worst 15-49 over the last four seasons.

Davis himself was sometimes sharp, sometimes seemingly in danger of nodding off at Tuesday’s session. He twice referred to his time as an assistant coach in 1959, either unaware or uncaring that probably ¾ of his audience wasn’t even born then – and mistakenly referring to it as “30 years ago” at the first mention. It only seems like that, Al.

But there’s no question he’s still in charge, which is the bad news. At 77, an age when even the best executives have already handed off at least some of their responsibilities, Davis has expanded his. For this coaching hire, he conducted interviews alone, without anybody else in the organization.

It wasn’t like this originally, when Davis had Ron Wolf advising him and sometimes influencing his draft choices. It wasn’t like this even in the early stages of Gruden’s time, when he listened to Gruden and dumped Jeff George, the ultimate Davis model for what a quarterback should be, and signed Rich Gannon. Not coincidentally, the Raiders were successful when Davis listened to others.

Now, he listens to nobody, and the organization is in shambles. Everybody understands that but Davis and a handful of fanatical Raider fans. Last week, The Sporting News had a devastating appraisal of the Raiders as the worst organization in sports – devastating because it was factual.

With Davis in control, no successful pro coach would come here. Denny Green, who likes Davis, passed up a chance here and took the Arizona job three years ago, though that was hardly an appealing opportunity. Now that he’s been fired by the Cardinals, Green wouldn’t even interview with Davis this time around.

The top younger coaches won’t come here. Davis coveted Sean Payton, but Payton decided to wait and eventually took the job in New Orleans. He’ll probably win NFC Coach of the Year honors. Davis wanted Bobby Pitrino last year, but Pitrino decided to stay at Louisville, until he jumped to Atlanta this month. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was also on Davis’s wish list, but he’s now the head coach of the Cardinals.

Note that in all these cases, these coaches went to losing teams - but they all represented a better opportunity than working for Davis.

This time around, Davis clearly targeted Steve Sarkisian, who had been the Raiders quarterback coach before going back to USC. But Sarkisian was persuaded by Trojan head coach Pete Carroll to stay put, and alumni apparently chipped in to give him a salary hike, so Davis shifted his attention to Kiffin. It’s worth noting that Sarkisian, not Kiffin, was the coach Carroll preferred to keep.

Kiffin has some points in his favor. His dad, Monte Kiffin, is very well respected as a defensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Bucs. He worked with Jeff Tedford as a graduate assistant at Fresno State (see note below), and he mentioned Tedford as one of the coaches he consulted before taking this job.

Some have questioned how he’ll relate to players who are older than he is. That’s not really the issue because young coaches, including Don Shula, John Madden and Davis himself, had no trouble commanding respect from players, young and old.

The bigger issue is that, as with every Raider coach except Gruden in this last stretch in Oakland, Kiffin’s authority will be undercut because players know that Davis is calling all the shots.

Kiffin no doubt looks at the Gruden model and expects to be able to move on to another team in a relatively short span of time. But he won’t have even the limited authority that Gruden had, so he won’t get the same respect. My guess is that he’ll get an offensive coordinator’s job somewhere in the league – or maybe, just a job as a quarterbacks coach – after he gets fired by Davis.

And so, the beat goes on. Davis was right about one thing: It was important to get a younger man into the organization. But where the Raiders really need a fresh approach is at the top, and Davis is not ready to step back. Ever.

TEDFORD CONNECTION: Kiffin worked with Jeff Tedford, then the offensive coordinator at Fresno State, as a graduate assistant in 1997. I attempted to contact Tedford, but he’s hot on the recruiting trail now. But, he did release the following statement about Kiffin to the media:

“I am very happy for Lane. He’s always had a bright mind and has always been a very dedicated hard worker. I think this is a good decision by both sides; he will work tirelessly to make sure that he does everything in his power to make the Raiders successful.

“When Lane was a player for us at Fresno State, we always knew he wanted to be a coach, especially considering his great background of coaching with his dad. He opted not to play his senior year so he could become a graduate assistant, and he and I worked very closely together. At a young age, he put in the very long hours in coaching and still balanced his school work. It really became evident that he had the drive and passion to be successful in the coaching profession.”

WARRIORS MOVES: Since the big Warriors trade last week, there has been speculation that the Warriors will make still another trade, especially because Memphis owner Michael Heisley has taken Pau Gasol of the “no-trade” list. But Heisley also said that Gasol is their only “franchise player” and wouldn’t be traded unless the trade materially upgraded the Grizzlies. I doubt that the Warriors can offer anybody who would interest Memphis.

The Warriors do have some future possibilities with this year’s draft picks. No. 2 pick Kosta Perovic, a Gasol-type player at 7-2 with a great outside shot, is playing well for the Belgrade team. He may help the Warriors sooner than No. 1 pick, Patrick O’Bryant, who remains a project.

In the meantime, when I talked to Don Nelson, he chuckled and said, “Just more of the same,” referring to his earlier Warriors teams. Nelson, who is unexcelled at winning with smaller lineups, never had a dominant big man until he made a draft-day trade that netted him Chris Webber.

Given what happened after that, maybe it’s better to live with the current Warriors roster.

BONDS WATCH: Giants general manager Brian Sabean issued a statement on the team’s website on Monday, saying they’d sent a “letter of agreement” to Barry Bonds. If he signs it, that puts Bonds on the official roster.

That should make those who insist the Giants are looking for a way out re-think their position, but it won’t. So much of what’s been written has been fueled by a vicious anti-Bonds sentiment in the media. The deal may still fall apart because it’s a complicated one, but the Giants want to make it happen.

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