John Madden,/Al Davis/Tom Cable/Mike Tomlin; Jed York; 49ers Stadium Plans
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 04, 2009

I HAD TO chuckle when John Madden said during the Super Bowl telecast that all NFL teams are looking for another Mike Tomlin. Not his old team, the Raiders, who have gone back to Tom Cable.

It was their only choice. Al Davis has been able to identify top young coaches but he can no longer convince any of them to take the job. When you look at the young coaches Davis has hired in the last 20 years, there’s no mystery why he can’t. Here’s the list:

--Mike Shanahan, fired after four games in his second season. Shanahan has gone on to have a fine career, winning two Super Bowls, though he got fired by Denver after his 14th season last year.

--Jon Gruden. It took two years for Davis to hire Gruden. First, he hired Joe Bugel, a 4-12 disaster in his one year before realizing he needed somebody better. Gruden changed the attitude of the underachieving team he inherited, convinced Davis to dump Jeff George and bring in Rich Gannon and built a team which got to the Super Bowl the year after he left. But there was constant irritation; it took Gruden’s profanity-laced diatribes to get Davis to make the right moves.

Gruden also got too much attention. As I wrote at the time, as soon as Gruden’s face started appearing on billboards around the Bay Area, he was gone. There can be only one face of the franchise. When Tampa Bay offered money and a bunch of draft picks to spring Gruden, Davis jumped at the chance. Gruden then led his new team to a Super Bowl win over the Raiders, who then started the decline which has led to an NFL record six straight seasons with at least 11 losses. Those draft picks> Of course, all were turned into Pro Bowl players. Not!

--Lane Kiffin. By the time he made this pick, Davis had already run out of options with young coaches. His preferred choice was Steve Sarkisian, but USC coach Pete Carroll gave Sarkisian a big raise to keep him. That probably wasn’t necessary; Sarkisian had been a Raiders assistant so he knew first-hand what it was like to coach under Davis.

After Sarkisian rejected the job, Davis selected Kiffin. That relationship turned very sour after one year. Davis tried to get Kiffin to sign a letter of resignation. When Kiffin declined, Davis stripped him of the right to select assistants, and Kiffin’s only participation in the draft was announcing the selections Davis had made. Kiffin then did everything in his power to get fired with statements to the media which criticized Davis’s decisions, and he succeeded. He’s landed on his feet with the head coaching job at the University of Tennessee. He will probably do well there; I think he’s better suited to college coaching.

This year, Davis had his eye on Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley. I doubt he really had a shot at Haley, whose boss, Ken Whisenhunt, had declined an interview in Oakland after former Steelers coach Bill Cowher advised him publicly not to take the job. Any chance Haley would come here disappeared when Herman Edwards was fired at Kansas City. The Chiefs are down but they’ve hired the super competent Scott Pioli to run the front office and they have an ownership which will spend – and stay out of the way. In every possible way, it’s a better opportunity than in Oakland.

Under those circumstances, there was only one possible candidate: Cable. He fit the two reqirements for the job: He wanted it and knows how to say, “Yes, sir, Mr. Davis.”

Let’s not pretend that Cable has anything else to recommend him. He is a very good offensive line coach – as Bugel was – but doesn’t have the intelligence or knowledge to be the head coach.

But, what does it matter? We all know who the real Raider head coach is. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

49ERS CHOICE: I’ve heard from several 49er fans who are distressed with the firing of Mike Martz and the hiring of Jimmy Raye as offensive coordinator but in a far-ranging interview I had yesterday with Jed York, he offered a sensible reason for the changes.

“We didn’t want a coordinator who really wanted to be a head coach and wanted everything to revolve around him,” York told me. “In 1994, when Mike Shanahan was brought in as coordinator, he was obviously wanting to return to head coaching but we had players like Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, so it wasn’t a distraction. We’re not in that situation now. We needed stability, and Jimmy Raye gives us that.”

There is no question that the constant turnover in offensive coordinators has been very damaging to the 49ers. Significantly, the only year in which they seemed to be heading in the right direction was when Norv Turner was the OC. Nobody would claim Raye is the equal of Turner, but he does run the same system.

Not incidentally, I’ve been critical of the 49ers unwillingness to hire an experienced NFL hand for the front office, but I was very impressed with Jed in what was our first face-to-face meeting. Certainly, I’ve agreed with the decisions he and Scot McCloughan have made, to fire Mike Nolan and first elevate Mike Singletary and then remove his interim tag. York is decisive and knows what he can and can’t to; he has no intention of meddling in the football decisions, including the draft. I’m much more confident now that the 49eers are in good hands.

STADIUM FUTURE: Despite all the talk about a shared stadium with the Raiders, it’s much more likely that the 49ers will continue to play at Candlestick Park for several years yet.

The 49ers contract with San Francisco contained three five-year options to continue it. They’ve exercised the first one, so the contract is now extended to May 31, 2013. Lisa Lang, who’s heading up the Santa Clara stadium project, has already said they can’t meet the 2012 date in which they had planned to open that stadium so it’s likely they’ll activate the second option on Candlestick, too.

Meanwhile, they’ve been trying to improve Candlestick to make it more pleasant for fans, with such things as TV monitors through the concourse, so fans can watch the game while they’re at concession stands, and escalators from the parking lot. They will also be exploring the option of club seats – which would improve their bottom line because teams don’t share those revenues with the visiting team – but that wouldn’t be before the 2010 season at the earliest.

Money has always been the issue with the Santa Clara project and, with the economy in the tank, it’s even more of a problem because Santa Clara wouldn’t be able to provide the amount that was previously promised – and that money, largely from increased tax on the hotels in the area – wasn’t as much as the 49ers wanted. And the NFL’s G-3 program, which provided money to teams building new stadiums, is exhausted. The NFL will no doubt put that program back but not until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached with the players.

The economy will probably also sink the Lennar plan for the Bay View/Hunter’s Point area, which included room for a new stadium. The Navy’s removal of toxic waste from the area will be speeded up because, with a Democratic administration, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have more clout. But the 49ers have said they don’t want any part of that project until the infrastructure – mostly roads into the project – is completed, and San Francisco doesn’t have the money for that.

The project also is dependent on building 10,000 homes in the Bay View. Good luck with that in this economy. Even the usually ubullient Carmen Policy, Lennar’s spokesman, says they’ll take a look at the project in a year and make a decision. Almost certainly, the decision will be to stop the project.

As for the shared stadium, the 49ers are working on an economic impact report (EIR) which includes two teams occupying the stadium, strictly as a precaution. They don’t want to get into a situation where an EIR is approved for a one-team stadium and then have to do a completely new EIR for a two-team stadium. But privately, they doubt it will ever happen.

The big problem is the uncertainty surrounding the Raiders, whose contract with Oakland and Alameda County expires after the 2010 season. What happens then? Will the Raiders try to leave? No politician would stand in their way, but what other city would want them? There’s talk of a new stadium being built in the Los Angeles basin, but the Chargers are more likely to fill that, if it’s built.

There is no animosity between the 49ers and Raiders but it would be a lopsided cooperation because the business part of the Raiders operation is skeletal. It’s all about football for Davis, even if the football isn’t very good. So, the 49ers would have to do all the work.

And, by the time a new stadium is built, who’s going to be in charge for the Raiders? Davis will be 80 in July and his health is failing. If he’s not there, who would be in charge? Nobody knows.

A shared stadium would be a good idea from an economic standpoint, but I don’t think it has a prayer here.


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