Much of Raider Nation is abuzz with the latest installment in the Lane Kiffin vs. Al Davis soap opera. We have not progressed much since Lane was rumored to be on the chopping block and didn’t wear Raider apparel at the Senior Bowl. It is the same old shit, just a different day.
So why has the latest installment drawn much of my, and the rest of Raider Nation’s attention? Well for those who follow the media’s spin job, it’s just the latest example of the Raiders internal dysfunction, and a sure sign that Lane is angling for his release. For me it’s something different. It is a sign of a young coach finding his voice, and for better or worse it warrants comment.
The momentum has been building on this issue since the start of preseason as Kiffin has been quoted saying the following:
Day 1 of training camp: "When you take this job you realize who the owner is and you realize most guys don't last really long, so that is what it is." (He added that he and Davis have a "working relationship" and a shared desire to win.)
Day 3 of camp: After praising defensive lineman Tommy Kelly's potential, Kiffin noted: "He's got a lot to prove now with that contract."
Last Monday, Aug. 11: Disappointed by the team's depth, Kiffin said: "It's been a situation that, unfortunately, we haven't brought guys in. I control what I can control. We come out every day and get our guys as good as we can. I'm pleased with the top of our roster, but we need to add to the bottom of our roster. We need more competition."
"You've got to be willing to release 'em and live with it, and pick other people up for more competition."
Friday night, after losing at Tennessee: In terms of who might supplant punt returner Johnnie Lee Higgins, Kiffin said: "I really don't have anybody to look at, that's the problem. There isn't anybody there that's very dynamic with the ball."
Saturday media conference call: Rightfully irked by wide receiver Javon Walker missing two catch-able passes Friday, Kiffin said: "... That's discouraging because he was paid an awful lot of money, paid like one of the top five receivers in the NFL. We need him to make those plays."
When you read through those quotes can you find one that you disagree with? Davis changes coaches like he changes his underwear. Kelly and Walker both got paid before proving anything. There are problems with the depth on the Raider’s roster. And if Higgins continues with the constant brain farts, do you see anyone on the roster that can replace him (Hall or McFadden, but they are too valuable elsewhere).
Lets start with the Kelly and Walker comments. If this were any other coach, he would be commended for the honesty. The media loves Bill Parcels, despite his disdain for them, due to his frank nature and how he holds the players publicly accountable. The players who bust ass for Parcels love him, because the loyalty is returned. You know who you don’t hear complaining about Lane’s comments? The players, they demand to be treated like men, and Lane is giving them that. He is demanding accountability from the players; in return he will get it. For those who think he is trying to distance himself from these signing, why would he bother? Lane seems to be a smart individual; he knows that no one puts the Raiders roster on the coach. IMO, this is a coach using the media to put pressure on the players, look at the top coaches in the league, and you will see them all use this technique in varying manners.
The depth question does speak to his relationship with Davis, and I believe goes back much further than this preseason. Davis has become so paranoid that a player he releases will become a superstar elsewhere, that he has become almost paralyzed when it comes to roster movement. Lets face it; Davis has seen a lot of talent blossom elsewhere in recent years. Le’roy Glover and Rod Coleman became household names after leaving the Raiders. Randy Moss returned to superstar status as a Patriot. The only player whom I can think of who has come to the Raiders and became a superstar in recent years is Rich Gannon.
Think back to last season, Lane was forced to keep the worthless husk of Lamont Jordan on the Roster, and IR Michael Bush so that Jordan wouldn’t rediscover himself elsewhere. The Raiders waited weeks to release Coop when he was injured in preseason, why, its not like he was going to latch on elsewhere, as proved by how long the Raiders were able to wait before bringing him back.
Kiffin needed to call out Davis on this one, as nobody else would. The place you will truly see the depth of a team is on special teams, a unit that plays 1/3 of the game, but is made up of all the borderline roster players. The Raiders special teams have been abysmal in recent years. The back end of the roster needs to be upgraded. Those who think “why bother, if the guy was going to contribute he would be on a roster” are flat out wrong. There are plenty of players out there who could upgrade the back end of the roster. Why hold on to an injured 3rd string lineman for a week, rather than reach an injury settlement and get some fresh legs in to compete.
Once again, look at the guys who are the best at building a team right now, hardly a day goes by without some waiver wire work from the New England’s of the league. They realize the importance of the backend of the roster, not just the big names.
Which brings us back to quote #1, "When you take this job you realize who the owner is and you realize most guys don't last really long, so that is what it is."
Lane is approaching this differently than other recent Raiders coaches. Which is why I think he has a chance to endear himself to Davis. Davis reportedly loves a good debate on football, and loves the people who tell it like it is, but he also has a habit of surrounding himself with yes men. Shell and Turner spring to mind as coaches who would just take whatever they were given, and never risk tipping the apple cart. Kiffin is proving that he is not going to be the pushover coach that has lead the Raiders into their recent malaise. He has found his voice, and is proving that he will stand up to Davis in ways that few coaches will.
Lane is demanding accountability from everyone, whether it be coach, player or Managing General Partner. Since the days of Gannon, there has been no one in the organization with the balls to demand the accountability, combined with the self-discipline to be accountable themselves. Sapp was verbal in demanding that the other players show up, while he was putting forth little effort on the field. Lamont Jordan loved to call out the team… from the trainer’s table. Jarrod Cooper calls out the team, while making mental mistakes every time he actually set foot on the field.
Kiffin has found his voice; I for one encourage the members of Raider Nation to back his play. I believe that he should be applauded for his honesty, and his demands for accountability, since, as Lane so astutely pointed out:
"The other way hasn't worked around here for the last five years."