Thursday, October 2, 2008

Losing Lane, Part 2 - The Aftermath (AKA Sick of it All)

So it has been almost 48 hours now since the Raiders fired yet another coach. Things seem to have settled down on the Raider boards and in the media. The expected has happened, the majority of sports writers and talking heads have crucified Al Davis. Lane Kiffin has wisely shut his mouth and is now doing household chores for his wife. And reigning Brickinthebox man of the year Tom Cable now sits on the hot seat as Raiders head coach.

If you have followed the Raiders for any length of time, you knew that Davis was in a no win situation here. Fire Lane and say nothing, and the media simply runs the same rumors that they have for the last year and a half, showing how dysfunctional Al is and praises Lane for lasting so long. Have the press conference and address the rumors that have come out, and Al is a vindictive old man.

Few, if any, writers or talking head will stick up for Davis in any manner. Davis has burned too many bridges in the media community. Davis didn’t help things any by referring to Mort as a professional liar in the press conference. Davis’s bunker mentality has allowed the media to run wild for years with disinformation when it comes to the Raiders. So when Al does emerge from his self imposed exiles to address issues, he ends up painting the reporters as liars and rumor mongers. Its no wonder that the media doesn’t like him.

That said, the media response is often comical. Mort went on Mike and Mike to address the Lane Kiffin firing and tried to strike back at Al. In trying to show that Lane wasn’t his source for his information, Mort claimed that he learned that Cable was the next head coach before the announcement. Congratulations Mort, we all did thanks to Adam Schefter. But that is typical ESPN, if someone else breaks a story, than ESPN just plugs in the standard phrase “ESPN has learned” rather than credit any other organization.

Mort went on to defend Lane in the same bumbling manner. He brought up Lane’s attempt to bring his father Monte as the new Raiders defensive coordinator. Mort questioned why the Raiders wouldn’t want perhaps the best defensive coordinator of the last 10+ years as their new DC. Lets keep it simple; Monte was under contract with the Bucs. Any attempt by any member of the Raiders organization to recruit Monte would be considered tampering. That tampering could result in the Raiders forfeiting draft picks. However Mort is willing to overlook this to defend his source in Lane, and his honor as a media member.

It doesn’t stop there with the media. Normally fair minded outlets like Pat Kirwan decided to blast Al and defend Lane. Dismissing the possibility that Lane did anything wrong in this matter, using the same old rumors and innuendo that have circulated around the Raiders for years and miss citing the letter sent to Lane after the Denver game. Why, because Lane is a family fried who regularly appears on his program.

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t this has become the story of Al’s later years.

Lane predictably has gone strangely quite now. He rewarded his media outlet of choice, ESPN, with an interview where he squirmed under softball questions and a fluff piece with Sirius NFL radio and his friend Pat Kirwan. After months of leaking information and blatantly calling out the organization in press conferences, Lane decided to choose the high road. You could smell the bullshit through the TV screen and over the radio. Lane publicly undermined the team for months, and now that he was called out he hid behind his boyish smirk.

There is no doubt in my mind that had Al not dressed Lane down in his press conference Lane would have gone forward with his planned press conference Wednesday and put his spin out there on the issues. Al beat him to the punch. Lane didn’t take the high road, he had the rug pulled out from under him by an old man. If Lane ever found himself on the high road he would be telling some balding hunter how he must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Then there is the final dance partner in this strange threesome. Brickinthebox’s 2007 man of the year; Tom Cable. Obviously I have allot of respect for Cable if I have plastered his face on every page of my website. So how will he fair as the interim head coach of the Raiders, well that is anybody’s guess, lets bore you with mine.

Cable is an ex-offensive lineman, and offensive line coach. Sure he has some experience as a head coach at Northwestern Idaho or something like that (no we don’t have a fact checker here) but the history of ex-offensive lineman dealing with Davis is promising. Offensive linemen generally are not ones to seek out attention and praise. It is a product of the position. If you are getting attention, chances are you fucked up. Working the thankless jobs becomes a way of life.

John Madden was an offensive lineman in his playing days, he may have been linebacker coach prior to taking over as the head coach of the Raiders, but doing the thankless jobs prepared him for working in Al’s shadow. Art Shell was a hall of famer, and say what you will about his last year as the Raider’s HC, his 1st tour of Duty was generally successful, even if he never guided the team to a ring. The key is for Cable to surround himself with coaches who can handle the X’s and O’s, and allow him to work with his lineman, and just take care of the head coach responsibilities of oversight, and clock management. Oh, and living in Al’s shadow.

If Cable can translate his ability to get the most out of offensive lineman, into the ability to get the most out of an entire team, the Raiders should be fine for this season. I’m not seeing playoffs, but respectable play. Will this mean he is retained at head coach at the end of the year, I don’t know. But I think it makes the most sense, as it gives the Raiders their best chance of retaining the offensive staff that has been working with JRuss to date. Which, since it makes the most sense, means it is the least likely outcome.

And finally, how has this affected me. Well we broke all of our traffic records here at Brickinthebox over the last 2 days. Which really excited me, who knows, the Raiders plight could lead to this site taking off. Until I took a closer look at the numbers, it seems that 90% of my hits came from people looking for pictures of Tom Cable, and most of them didn’t stick around long enough to get through one of my diatribes. Oh well, I guess it is back to the grind for me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Losing Lane, Part 2 - The Press Conference

I won’t lie to you, heading into yesterday’s press conference I was ready to damn Al. I am sick and tired of the revolving door of Raider head coaches. I wish my team had a clear vision for what they are trying to do. Would set a plan and stick to it. I had seen enough of Kiffin so far to say “lets give the kid a little more time and see if he can develop.”

Then I listen to Al as I drove home from work as he laid it all out there. Almost every rumor that we have been subjected to over the past year and a half was addressed. Now I may not take everything Al said at face value, but what he said struck me as being closer to the truth than the reports that we have gotten. I have to face it, when Al speaks, I listen.

So lets break it down.

Al confirmed that there was dissention over the #1 pick in the 2007 draft. This is no surprise, there should be a healthy amount of debate over any pick, let alone one that will receive that much money. As long as both parties agree to disagree and move on this shouldn’t be a problem.

Al confirmed that there was interest in Lane from Arkansas. Now I will leave it up for debate whether or not Lane was interested in them, and if he was upset that he didn’t get the job. Someone at Arkansas contacting Al, does not mean that Lane put his hat into the ring.

Al corrected the whole resignation letter issue from this past off-season. I never put much stock into Mort’s report that Al tried to have Lane resign, the story didn’t pass the smell test. Al and Lane’s lawyers coming up with language to terminate Lane’s contract in the case that Lane wanted to take another job, that jives with me.

Al confirmed that Lane wanted to fire Rob Ryan. Once again, the way Al claims this went down makes perfect sense to me. Lane wanted to bring in his father and the Tampa-2. Not making this move makes sense from a player personnel and contract standpoint. This should have been back burnered until this coming off-season when the elder Kiffin would have been out of his contract.

Al read his letter to Lane. I have written many letters of default, I recognize one when I see it. This was a bad example of writing one, but there is no doubt about what Al was trying to do. This was Lane’s last warning. Frankly too much has been put into this letter by Raider fans. This is not “proof” of any wrong doing by Lane, it is not proof that Lane wanted any of the players mentioned in the letter. A well-written letter of default would have sited chapter and verse the clauses in the contract violated, and how they were violated. This was an emotional warning letter from Al. If I ever sent out a letter like this I would have some serious questions to answer from my superiors.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I supported Kiffin fully this off-season until he called out Ryan in the media. At that point I felt that he had gone too far. I hoped that everything could still be mended, for the good of the team, but apparently that was the last straw for Al. Sure Al’s letter said that Lane could have rectified the situation, but any misstep, no matter how small would have meant the end of the Kiffin era.

Here is the thing, when Al laid it all out on the table, I came to agree that it was time to fire Kiffin. It was clear that the working environment had deteriorated beyond repair. Why, through the actions of Lane Kiffin. The constant blabbing and leaking of information to the media could only have come from one source, Lane Kiffin.

All day I have heard about what a piece of garbage Al is for handling the press conference the way that he did. For airing the Raider’s dirty laundry in the media. The laundry was already out there, it had been hung by young Lane over the course of the last year. All Al did was put the Raider’s spin on it. For Lane to go on Sirius NFL radio and say he wouldn’t stoop to Al’s level was laughable, Lane dragged him down into the mud, Al just finally slung back.

There are times that I hate what the Raiders have become. I hate how they cannot put a competent team on the field the last 5 years. I hate how there is seemingly no coherent plan to build this team back up. I hate the lack of consistency in coaching. I hate how my team has become a laughing stock. And in the end all of these things trace back to the actions of one person, Al Davis. But for one day yesterday, I was back in Al’s camp. The old man still has it.

Losing Lane, Part 1 - Lane the Coach

First things first, happy Eid to everyone, hopefully the end of Ramadan will mean that I get back to feeling like a normal human being, and for my lucky readers, I get back to a semi-regular schedule of posting.

Now it seems like there is a 300lb elephant in the room, something that I should be writing about. Did something big happen? Wall Street Bailout, presidential debates, no, you don’t come here for any of that. Oh, Lane Kiffin got fired, I almost forgot about that.

My faith in Lane has waned since the start of the season. Calling out Rob Ryan did not sit well with me. The KC game did little for me, because, well it was KC. It was the Buffalo game and the San Diego game that really got me wondering if this guy had what it takes to be a successful head coach.

In Buffalo the offense was putrid. The Rob Ryan bashers loved to point out this as yet another case of Rob calling a prevent D and surrendering a big lead. 1st things 1st, if you believe that Ryan called a prevent D, do yourself a favor. Go learn what a prevent defense is, then watch the tape. Soft zones, go watch the tape, the players are in man the vast majority of the game. That cushion that Hall gives up, that is how he plays man, get used to it.

That game was lost for 2 reasons. One being that the offense failed to have a drive longer than 6 plays the entire game. The other being that the Raiders dressed only 6 defensive linemen for the game. You are going to let your defensive front go up against one of the biggest Offensive lines for almost 40 minutes, with 2 subs. completely asinine.

We then witnessed almost a play for play repeat performance the following week against San Diego. The Defense was brilliant, up until the time the wheels fell off since the Offense could not put together a drive of more than 3 plays.

Time and time again I have said that I don’t put the personnel problems on Lane, now according to Al, maybe I should. But truth be told, until I am hired by the Raiders and have 1st hand experience, you will never be able to tell me that anyone other than Al has the final say on personnel matters. So I will let Lane slide on the only having 6 defensive lineman.

It is the complete lack of anything resembling a competent offense that makes me question Lane. I understand the limitations of the Raider’s personnel. The wide receivers cannot get open. The tackles are suspect in pass blocking. The quarterback is basically a rookie. As a result opposing defenses are free to load up the box to shut down the run game.

However there are ways to overcome these limitations. Motion your receivers; give them some space coming off the ball. Run two tight end sets; chip the defensive ends before going out in pass patterns. Run some screens, not just on 3rd and long, but on normal downs as well. The play calling was so pathetically vanilla that a high school linebacker could read the tendencies.

So while I liked the way that Lane was seemingly a straight shooter (more on this later), how he seemed to have all the players on the same page, and how he seemed to finally bringing back some accountability to the players that had been missing since Gannon and Gruden. I was becoming disenchanted with the way Kiffin called a game, and the way he managed the clock and down and distance.

In the end, at this time Lane did not have what it takes to be a successful head coach at the NFL level. So I am not heartbroken that he is no longer the coach of the Oakland Raiders. There is something to be said for letting a coach grow with his team for continuities sake, but now we have to look at underling factors. Of course this is the Raiders we are talking about, so there is allot to look at. Meaning this column is long enough, and we will split this into two parts, because I need to get some real work done.