Davis Vs. Kiffin; Tedford And His QBs
by Glenn Dickey
Oct 01, 2008

HOW GOOD a coach is Lane Kiffin? I haven’t seen enough to do a thorough evaluation, but I can say this: Those in the media who have trashed him because he was only 5-15 before being fired by Al Davis are unrealistic.

The fact is, coaches often inherit bad teams and they don’t turn them around immediately. Jimmy Johnson was 1-15 in his first season in Dallas, Chuck Knoll was 1-13 in his first season in Pittsburgh. Bill Parcells was 3-12-1 in his first season with the Giants.

Kiffin came to a team which had been 2-14 the previous season. So did Bill Walsh. Know what Walsh’s record was for his first 20 games? Right, 5-15. In his second season, Walsh’s team got off to a 3-0 start and then lost 10 games in a row, at which point there were many media voices saying he was a failure. Good thing Eddie DeBartolo didn’t listen to them.

Some of the media criticism of Kiffin has also been misguided. Sacramento columnist Mark Kreider, writing for ESPN.com, wrote last week that Kiffin wasn’t doing things the way they’re done in the NFL by speaking out, a criticism echoed by Bob Fitzgerald on KNBR yesterday afternoon. News flash to Mark and Bob: Davis isn’t doing things the way they’re done in the NFL, either.

A much better perspective was offered by Michael Silver on Yahoo.com as he noted that Davis was more interested in winning the power struggle with Kiffin than he was in actually winning games.

I have no warm and fuzzy feelings for Kiffin. I didn’t bother to get to know him well because I knew he wouldn’t be around long. Jon Gruden is the only coach since the Raiders returned to Oakland who has lasted longer than two years. Joe Bugel and Art Shell only lasted one year.

But I thought Kiffin did a good job in changing the attitude of the team, so players don’t just accept defeat as inevitable. I thought the Raiders played hard all the way in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers, and they also played as well as they could possibly play. It still wasn’t good enough. The Raiders have some very good players but they don’t have enough of them to beat the quality teams in the league. That’s not Kiffin’s fault; he’s had no input in the draft or free agent signings.

Now, Tom Cable is the head coach – and also will still be responsible for coaching the offensive line. Good luck with that. NFL teams hire specialists for position coaches, and Cable has done an excellent job with the offensive line. Now, though, he has two jobs, and his only previous experience as a head coach was four years at Idaho, where he had an 11-35 record.

Davis says now he wanted to fire Kiffin in December, when he learned Kiffin was interested in the Arkansas job which eventually went to Bobby Petrino. That was after Kiffin had learned what it was really like to coach under Davis, with the constant interference and pressure to win, even though he wasn’t given the players he needed to do that.

But if that’s when Davis decided he had to make a move, he should have done it right after the season. Unfortunately, he had no options except his own coaching staff, because nobody with an ounce of reputation will come to the Raiders now.

The days when a young coach could think he could use the Raiders job as a stepping stone are gone. Kiffin’s experience sealed that. Those who think he hurt his own chances with his actions don’t realize that nobody in the NFL has any respect for Davis now. They’re more likely to think, “I’m sure glad I’m not in that situation.”

Kiffin certainly made some mistakes in his handling of the situation. He made no attempt to make friends with anybody in the building who was not directly involved with football. He created a division on the football staff with his criticisms of the defensive strategy, though he was right when he criticized the lack of blitzing in the opening night trouncing by the Denver Broncos.

But, he’s a young man and should learn from his mistakes.

Unfortunately, Davis won’t.

THE WHOLE GAME COUNTS: When LaDanian Tomlinson ran 41 yards for the clinching touchdown in Sunday’s game, radio play-by-play man Greg Papa went ballistic.

“People are going to look at this line, 20 carries for 106 yards and say that L. T. did it to the Raiders again, but the Raiders stopped him cold for most of the game.’

Well, yes, Greg, but all four quarters count. Of course, that’s a lesson the Raiders don’t seem to have learned, either.

SHIFTING TACKLES: In the offseason, he Raiders and 49ers in a sense traded offensive tackles. Kwame Harris was released by the 49ers and signed with the Raiders, while Barry Sims was released by the Raiders and signed by the 49ers. But changing uniforms didn’t change the players.

Harris was a bust with the 49ers because, though he’s a good run blocker, he lacks the quick feet to be good in pass protection. That’s the reason he gets so many false start penalties: He’s trying to hurry to get in position to block.

Sims played all over the Raiders offensive line with consistently mediocre results. The Niners thought of him as a reserve, but when Jason Jennings was injured (surprise!), they made him a starter, and his “look out” blocks threaten to end J. T. O’Sullivan’s career almost before it gets started.

There is a solution for the 49ers: Move Adam Snyder to tackle and bench Sims. There is no solution for the Raiders because they have nobody better than Harris. Better practice more rollouts with quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

SELLOUTS: Once again, the Raiders had one of those sellouts which really aren’t against the Chargers. I would estimate that there were probably 15,000 empty seats.

Both the Raiders and 49ers are buying up the cheaper tickets – the more expensive seats always sell – and giving them away to youth organizations so they can get the games on home television.

It’s good strategy because television is a great marketing tool. But both teams should be concerned that, even when they can get in for free, so many of those with the tickets still don’t come to the game.

JEFF TEDFORD has postponed his decision on his quarterbacks. At the media luncheon yesterday, he said Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore will split the snaps in practice this week and he’ll make a game day decision on the starter.

One of the problems is that there hasn’t been much of a chance to evaluate Riley because of the way the games have gone. Washington State was a complete blowout, so Riley threw only 14 times, completing six. The Bears fell behind Maryland early and Riley had to throw a school record 58 times, completing 33 for 428 yards and three touchdowns. In last week’s romp over Colorado State, the offense was hardly on the field in the first half, as the Bears scored their first three touchdowns on a blocked punt, an interception return and a punt retturn.

Tedford acknowledged that, though a team obviously likes to get the touchdowns, it can disrupt the offensive continuity when the defense or special teams score that way. “You’re on the sidelines waiting to go in and then you have to sit down again,” he said.

Yet, he is concerned about the Bears’ lack of productivity in the first quarter, only 24 points in four games and no offensive touchdowns in the first quarter in the last two games. So, he’s going to go with the quarterback he thinks gives the team the best chance at a faster start.

Longshore, who’s a fifth-year senior, has been through it all, with highs and lows, so Tedford isn’t worried about his confidence. It’s a different situation with the younger Riley.

Tedford said he has talked to Riley about the situation. “He understands that we have started a little bit slow and he has missed a couple of balls. But, I told him that you don’t get down about it, you compete and continue to do what you’re doing.”

He admitted there’s always a question of hurting the confidence of a young quarterback. “That position is so, I don’t want to say mental, but there is a lot with it. Especially when you’re the starter, there is a little more pressure on you. Kevin is going to have to learn that things don’t always go as well as they should, and you have to deal with it.”

Riley’s performance was so erratic against Colorado State that I wondered if he was having problems with his arm, but when I asked Tedford if that were true, he said, “Absolutely not.”

LETTERS: I updated this section yesterday. I probably won’t do another update until the Oct. 11-12 weekend.


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