Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Strangeness of the Raiders, Part II

Here’s the transcript from the second part of Al Davis’ news conference Tuesday, featuring the introduction of interim Raiders coach Tom Cable:

Al Davis: “Ladies and gentleman, this is Tom Cable, the new interim head coach of the Raiders. He’s been our offensive line coach for the Raiders, last year, first year, this year, and has a tremendous record as a coordinator and an offensive line coach at Atlanta. I think he was No. 1 rushing team in the league in Atlanta. At UCLA he really developed some outstanding Pac-10 teams as a coordinator. ... He can tell you about himself, tell you about our team, and I think he’ll do great. I know it’s tough on you listening to me saying someone’s going to do great, but I’ve watched him now, I didn’t him until last year when he came to us. I’ve watched him operate with the offensive line. I think anyone will tell you that if they’ve watched our offensive line work, he knows what he’s doing, schematic, he’s very good, trying to sell him on some things to do, but it’s tough with them today, the young ones. I’ll just introduce you to Tom Cable, and I’m proud to say that he’s an Oakland Raider head coach.”

Tom Cable: “Thank you all for coming. The first thing I want to say is this is in many ways a strange day, obviously. I have a friend who’s lost a job. It’s difficult in this business, but as we know this is a business. It’s time for us to move forward. It’s time for us to put the past behind us, what’s gone on up to this point, and that’s what we’ll do. We have a good coaching staff here. We’ve got a good football team here. Make no mistake about it, this is a good football team. There’s a process you go through as you learn how to achieve and succeed in this game, and we’re on that process. We’re right in the middle of it. That won’t change. As we move forward, we’ll sit down with the staff here shortly after this press conference and we’ll have some discussions. Probably a lot of questions you might have will be handled in those meetings. We’re going to move forward and we’re going to take this football team where it needs to go.”

Q: With Tom doing such a good job with the offensive line, are you concerned it will affect their play with him being the head coach?

Cable: “No, that won’t happen. That ain’t going to change. I’ll coach the line. That’s what I do. That’s what I am. Those guys in that group, I’m always very familiar and most familiar with in that group. And there’s a bond there, there’s a bond that won’t be broken and can’t be broken. We will move forward with that happening every day, when we go to work, do what we do. At the same time, we’re going to bring that work, and that commitment and that bond to the rest of this football team as the head coach now, and that’s really what this amounts to. There’s no reason to make any changes that way. This is a good coaching staff, we’ve got people in the right place, we’ve got good players, and the bottom line it’s up to us to go win football games because at the end of the day, that’s all this is about. This is a good football team.”

Davis: “I was concerned about it. I really was, but he knows how to sell, and he knows how to talk, and he’s very strong, very forceful, and I think it can be done. It has been done in the past, and I think if anyone can do it, he can do it. But I thought that this team needed him.”

Q: Will Greg Knapp call plays?

Cable: “Yes, Greg is going to call the plays. Greg and I will work side-by-side . I had the fortune of being with Greg in Atlanta in this system. We’re very familiar with each other. He’s very good at what he does. So there’s no issue there. I will have final say in how we do it, how we game plan, how we’re going to get after you, how we’re going to attack you, how we’re going to manage the game. But as the game goes in terms of his role in play calling, the right decision right now, is for Greg to do that and I’m very confident in him doing that well.”

Q: How difficult were the last three weeks?

Cable: “You know what you can control in this game? You can control how hard you work. You can control what kind of plan you give players to succeed. You can control how hard you play on Sunday. You can control, you can look around the room at the guys that are in there with you, whether it’s on offense or special teams, and you can look in their eyes and you can control, I got your back today, I’m going to play for you today. That’s what you can control. All that other stuff, it really doesn’t have a place in this game, it doesn’t have a place in what I believe and what I think of this organization, this organization is a championship organization, it’s been that way, there’s tradition, there’s history here. I grew up a Raider. I grew up loving this team from the time I was a little boy. So to me, you go out and you do your best. You don’t worry about all the other stuff. On every Sunday, you get back on a plane, you go back in the locker room, and you’re 1-0, then you did what you’re supposed to do.”

Q: Why will this team be better with you than with Kiffin, and with the title of interim coach, does that mean you’re a short-timer?

Cable: “No, it means to me I’ve been given a great responsibility. I’m thankful to Mr. Davis for this opportunity. What it means is this, we’ve got 12 games to play, starting in New Orleans, and all we’re going to do is go out and play each one as if it’s the most important thing on that day and try to be 1-0. You can’t address it or you can’t approach it any other way. I don’t think there’s any other way to do it. You’ve got to believe in who you are and what you do and the people around you. I have great conviction that way, and I feel good that we’ll go out and do what we need to do. It’s not up to me to worry about those kinds of things. What it’s up to me to worry about is tomorrow. It’s practice, tomorrow, and that game a week from Sunday in New Orleans. If I worry about those other things, I’m cheating every guy on this team and I’m not going to do that.”

Q: And why do you think you’ll do better than Lane Kiffin?

Cable: “Well, the way that we went out and did it, you have to look at it, I think, from a couple angles. One, this football team is better. This defense has gotten after people’s rear ends in the last couple weeks like nobody’s business. And what we gotta learn how to do is finish football games. Let’s call it what it is. Went to Kansas City and did what we needed to do, walked out of there with a win. It’s hard to do in that place. Hasn’t been done there very much. Ran for a bunch of yards, played great defense. Special teams, awesome. Then we go out to Buffalo. We got ’em right where we need to have ’em to finish ’em, to get it done. And we don’t finish it. For whatever reason, it doesn’t get done. Last week the same way. You’re leading 15-0, it’s 15-3. You get a sack, fumble, it’s 15-10. You’re still leading. What this team has to do is learn how to win football games at the end. It knows how to take the lead, that’s well documented. It knows how to compete, it knows how to grind, it knows how to throw its body around, it knows how to go out there and put it out there. But at the end of the day, the job’s not done till they say it’s done, the clock goes zero. So that’s what we have to learn to do, and we’ll do that. That’s where we’re gonna be different.”

Q: How was your relationship with Lane, and did you ever dream you’d be sitting here as head coach?

Cable: “Yeah, I had that dream. I had that dream like every young boy. I’ve had great teachers in my career, great coaches who taught me, great parents, all the things that I think are quality in life. So yeah, I’ve had that training. My relationship, to answer the first part of the question, with Lane is good. I respect Lane Kiffin, I love the guy. I think he worked his tail off. However, whatever that’s gone on here is between him and Mr. Davis, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Q: How do you instill the ability to win in this team?

Cable: “Well, I think you first gotta understand something. The spirit of the team is of utmost importance. All of these guys, to be professional football players, have been winners. They are winners. They didn’t get here because they were second hand or they couldn’t achieve or any of that. So you gotta draw that out of them. You gotta take them back and find that spirit, and then you gotta do it collectively as a team. And that’s what we’ll plan to do, that’s what we’ll work towards doing. How you finish games? You don’t let up. You don’t let up. You throw the football to score points in this game. You run the football to win it. And you gotta find a balance between those two. You gotta get your playmakers the ball in their hands, and you gotta be able to do that to finish. Defensively, you gotta be able to choke ’em out. You gotta be able to get out of drives. You gotta be able to intercept balls, cause fumbles. To me, you emphasize and talk about those things, but you know at sometimes it’s just better to go out and play, pull out the spirit of these men. They’re good football players, they’ve always been winners. That’s why they’re pros.”

Q: What’s the strength of this team, and have you had a chance to address your staff yet?

Cable: “I have not, will do so later this evening. As I mentioned earlier, I think the strength of the team is the character of this football team. I think you got great men on this team. I think you got guys who can fly around, and playmakers on defense. You’ve got a defensive coordinator that, I watch him daily, is gonna put everything he has into it. That’s his life, it’s all of our lives. Rob’s no different than any of us, and he’s done a great job. He’ll do a great job, even more so now. Uh, the rest of the staff, they’re a very, very, very solid group of guys. Good teachers, and I think fundamentally that’s the most important thing. This football team, its strength to me is its character. To me it’s we’ll run fast, hit you in the mouth, we can run the football at you, we got a quarterback that I think’s a special guy, and now it’s up to us to get him in a position to succeed. Obviously, we’ve been attempting to do that. We’ve gotta do it better.”

Q: Will you be hands-on with JaMarcus now?

Cable: “You know, Greg is his teacher. John DeFilippo, those are his two teachers. But understand this: I coach that offensive line, but I don’t just live in that little world. I don’t go down to my corner and disappear and just wait for them to call us up when we do that. I know who they are. I go in that locker room, I know who they are, I shake their hand, I talk to them about life, I talk to them about their families. Do I need to get to know some of them more? Yeah, I do. But I know who the guys on this football team. I’m proud to be sitting in this chair and to lead this football team.”

Davis: “One thing I said to Tom. I want him because he does have that personality to dominate that locker room, dominate those players. I’ve watched him with the players from other positions, and as I’ve told him, we don’t have to make an example of players publicly, we have to make those players want to be great. And they will be great. But we can’t bring them down publicly. And that’s an important thing, he has to dominate the locker room.”

Q: What can you tell Raiders fans to inspire confidence in you?

Cable: “Well, I think this. Everybody has a past, everybody has a journey in life, whether it’s professionally or personally. For me, it’s been a great journey. Not always successes, by the record I have at Idaho. At the same time, not too many people move the ball like I did in college football, whether it was at Colorado, Idaho or UCLA. So I’m very confident that way, very confident. My whole thing is you learn from your past, and I’ve done that. When I was head coach for the first time, I was in there, a young guy at 34 years old. So make some mistakes, you make those errors here and there, whether it’s how you handle people, whether it’s how you call the game, whatever that is. But you learn from it. The most important thing to me is, I was blessed to have those opportunities. Even more so, I’ve had the greatest teachers in this game. I’ve had Dennis Erickson as a college football coach, Keith Gilbertson was a line coach, Greg Smith was a line coach, Alex Gibbs has mentored me at this level. I have had great teachers: Steve Mariucci. Great teachers. So I’m well prepared to be sitting where I’m sitting, and I look forward obviously to the opportunity.”

Q: Did you consider Rob Ryan for the job, and have you talked to him about not getting it?

Davis: “I talked to Rob this morning, and I’ve always considered Rob. I considered everyone on the staff. I went down the staff, took a look at the staff, and my thought as to what we needed right now was someone who can lead men. Rob can lead men. But I think he’s more important right now over there on the defense, handling that. They played, at the start of that game the other day and in Buffalo, like we’re supposed to play. Just like Tom said, they got after your ass. They’re a tough bunch over there on defense, and you need a tough guy. I don’t know if we could afford to let him get away from the domination of that defense. Tom knows him. They get along very well. And that’s what I think you’ll find, that collectively we’re gonna be much better right now, as a group. It might now show right away, but we will win.”

Q: When did you decide on Cable?

Davis: “During the summer, when I say summer up in training camp, Tom and I were discussing Tom's future here with the Raiders as a coach because the season ends this year, it was his last year on his contract. We were discussing the future and the more I talked to him, the more I felt there were some things there that I liked that I thought that the Raiders needed. As I talked to other coaches on the staff about the future, about contract in the future, I just got to feel and watch him, I watch him work. I watch him work with the players and he dominates that offensive line. They do like him and they do love him. Look, we gotta win and I think he can win, and that's what we gotta do."

Q: When were you offered the job, and what convinced you to take it?

Cable: “We talked this morning and what he had to convince me of really was it was the right thing at the right time and he believed in me. That was really all it took. It was a surprise to me, at the same time, it's a dream obviously. I think when I heard in his words that he believed that I could take his football team and his organization where he wants it to go, that's all I needed to hear. Because my passion, my love for the game, my love for the players and coaches that I worked with every day, it does not wane, it does not go back in any way, it just gets stronger. Once I heard it in his voice that he believed in me that way, this was the right thing to do."

Q: Will the offense look any different under you?

Cable: “The biggest thing I need to do is go back and sit down with the coaches and get some input and give them some input about the direction we're going in terms of specifics. It's no secret what we have to do. You need to protect the football, you need to score points. And on defense, you got to get the ball away, you got to knock people's heads off and you got to keep them scoring points. And at the end of the day, win. It doesn't matter if it's 49-48, it don't matter if it's 1-0, win. That's how the whole approach has to be. In terms of the details of that, we go back and sit down, we'll talk it out, but we'll have a nice plan.”

Q: What does Tom have to do to get rid of the interim tag?

Davis: “Look, he's got a chance and if he does it, I'll be happy as hell but I think he's got a good chance. And that's what interim means, he's got to win and it may not be right away because we go to New Orleans, that's tough. Then that bunch from New York comes in here, they're riding high and throwing the ball pretty well. But we can play with them. We were a little banged up this week but we can play with them, and we'll see. We'll see. And that young guy has to come along. We have to bring him along. He's good. So we'll see.”

Q: Does this seem like a no-win situation considering all the coaches who have been fired?

Cable: “Not at all. First of all, I think the most important thing to understand is what's done is done in the past. If I worried about that, you're right, I will fail. What I'm going to worry about is right now and right now I plan on succeeding. It's the only way I know.”

Strangeness of the Raiders, Part I

You’ve got to hand it to Al Davis and the Raiders. Just when you think things can’t get any stranger, that’s exactly what they get.

Davis fired coach Lane Kiffin on Tuesday and named offensive line coach Tom Cable as the interim coach. Davis firing a coach isn’t exactly a news flash. He fires coaches as often as most NFL owners order an expensive bottle of wine. Since the end of the 2003 season, he has canned Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell and now, Kiffin. I don’t think I left anyone out. It’s hard to keep track.

What took Raiders strangeness to a whole ’nother level, as Keegan-Michael Key would say, is the way Davis announced Kiffin’s firing. He turned Tuesday’s news conference into the Lane Kiffin Firing Palooza. He offered an exhaustive list of Kiffin’s transgressions. He called him a serial liar. He accused him of sabotaging the team. He blamed him for the trade of Randy Moss. He made sure we knew that Kiffin was fired “for cause,” not performance, and that Davis would not willingly pay him another dime.

But here’s what put this session over the top. Davis went power point on us and displayed a letter he had sent to Kiffin on Sept. 12, warning him that he’d be fired if he continued to publicly criticize him or the organization. Then he read the letter, line-by-line, offering periodic asides.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Oh yeah. Then there’s this. Davis actually held a two-part news conference with a 10-minute break in between. The first part was dedicated to Kiffin bashing. The second part was for introducing Cable as his interim coach.

I don’t want to leave any of the details out. So I thought I’d just give you the entire transcript. In this post, I’ll deal with the first session.

Opening statement by Al Davis:

“I start by saying that it is a regretful day, very much so ... It was January of ’07 when I was excited about the naming of a new head coach of the Raiders, a young guy who I thought was dynamic, I thought could carry the flag, carry the torch of the Raiders ... because I wanted to get young. I wanted to get young people into the organization. And we had our meeting here, I think it was in this room, and his family, I knew them, I knew them for about 30 years. His father once applied for a job with us when we were in Los Angeles, that was Monte Kiffin. I knew the father of Lane's wife. We were excited and I was excited. I knew it was a bold attempt, calculated, but I had always had great success -- at least I thought I did -- with young people, and even those that didn't stay with me long, I knew were qualified and quality and sometimes things just don't work out.

“It was after a short period of time that I realized I didn't hire the person I thought I was hiring. And there are reasons which I can go into. ... What I thought I would do is bring you up to right now. This morning I called Lane and told him that he no longer was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and I was dismissing him with cause. I just couldn't go on much longer with what I would call the propaganda, the lying that had been going on for weeks and months and a year and time.

“He had a few questions. He says, ‘Does that mean I don't get paid?’ I said, ‘That is what I am saying to you.’ I said, ‘I warned you,’ and I will go over with you people exactly how I warned him. He asked me, ‘Is anyone else going to get fired or dismissed?’ I said, ‘Not at this particular time.’ He wanted to know who the head coach would be. And I wouldn't tell him because I hadn't finalized ... this was about 9:30 in the morning ... with the gentleman I was going to offer the opportunity to be head coach. I wouldn't tell him who the head coach was going to be. No sooner that I got off the phone with him, within five minutes, (ESPN’s Chris) Mortensen had the story exactly the way it went down. It could have been no one else (except Kiffin) other than (Raiders public relations people) John Herrera and Mike Taylor to have given that story to Mortensen. And Mortensen had a couple other things in the story that got me to the point where I am that I wanted to talk to you about one of the things Mortensen had in the story was a Raider source said that Davis privately sent a letter to Kiffin after the season's opening game loss to the Broncos, attempting to document that the coach approved the off-season acquisition of all those great players we signed ... or we think have a chance to be great. A source close to Kiffin described the claim as fiction. Now, this is the first time that they admit to you that there was a letter, communication, after the Denver game between the Raiders and Kiffin. For weeks we have heard on television that there has been no commitment or no communication between Al Davis and Lane Kiffin except before the Denver game.

“Totally untrue. After the Buffalo game, someone said, ‘Have you talked to Al Davis yet?’ He said, ‘I have not talked to Al Davis personally.’ Went all over the country. But yet, the night of the Buffalo game at the airport, he did talk to me. And we talked on several subjects which I can tell you about if you are interested.

“So I wasn't going to do this, but I am going to give you the letter that was given to Lane on the Friday before we went to Kansas City. It was after his false accusations on a Wednesday night about the defense belonging to Al Davis and (Rob Ryan) and attacking Rob Ryan publicly which was unfair, unheard of in professional football that the head coach would attack one of his assistants. But I sent him a letter, gave it to him actually, on the Friday before we went to Kansas City and Federal Expressed that letter to him. And I would like to have John (Otten) put up the first page of that letter if you will bear with me -- it's about three pages.

(Davis' Letter to Kiffin)

‘"Over the past months you have made a number of public statements that were highly critical of and designed to embarrass and discredit the organization and players and coaches. I left you alone during training camp … in the hopes that you would cease your immature and destructive campaign.’ (“I wanted to make this work. I really did. I felt we had a chance. We had some great new young players, we DO have some great new young players. We have added some veteran players.) “However you continued to make public statements that are critical of the organization, its players as whole as well as individual players.

“‘Such statements constitute conduct detrimental to the Raiders. And I (will) no longer stand silently by while you continue to hurt this organization. Further, your contract is quite clear, that you work subject to the direction and supervision of the general partner, and that the general partner has the exclusive right to do all things which is in the sole discretion are necessary to maintain and improve the club, the football organization, and their activities.

“‘I realized when I hired you that you were young and inexperienced and that there would be a learning process for you. Your mistakes on player personnel and coaches were overlooked based on our patience with you. But I never dreamt that you would be untruthful in attempts and in statements in the press, as well, as so many other issues. Your actions are those of a coach looking to make excuses for not winning, rather than a coach focused on winning.

“‘For example, with the exception of Gibril Wilson, you were involved in recruiting all free agents and determining salaries for them and you were explicit about your desire to sign Javon Walker and DeAngelo Hall, amongst others. All were a must to sign in your eyes. Hall, in particular, because he played for Greg Knapp in Atlanta and that gave him high grades. Don't run from that now.

(“Coaches sometimes draft players, they make the pick and they run from it. I believe that there are players, we live with them, they got to play for us and no matter what you think of Al, we got to love them. That's the way this world is.”)

“‘I realize that you did not want to draft JaMarcus Russell. He is a great player. Get over it and coach this team on the field. That is what you were hired to do. We can win with this team.

(“Now, why did I say that? I said it because that was the battle at the draft, my first draft with him. About seven days before the draft, he came to me and he said he didn't think we should draft JaMarcus. And I told him we were going to draft JaMarcus. He had other ideas.”)

“‘In regards to your recent fabrications about the defense, during the final cuts, you made every cut on offense and every cut on defense, except for Wakefield on defense and Wand on offense. Furthermore, during the game Monday night, Rob played your Cover-2 defense, and we got killed on an approximately 50-yard touchdown pass and an approximately 70-yard gain that led to a field goal.

(“Now, he has never said to you people, at least he does individually, that I wrote this letter to him and there's no way he can hide from it because he got it.”)

“‘You meet every week with the defensive coaches to go over both the game plan and to get a general feel for what will happen during the week in practice. You have the ability and authority to provide your input during those meetings and preparation of the game plan. I do not have meetings with Rob at all. You do.

“‘During the week, no one has ever told you what to do either offense or defense. In addition, no one has ever told you during a game what to do on either offense or defense, and you still call every play.

(“Now in the past two years, he has called every play on offense, but this past week he split it with another coach. And that's the reason, maybe, that the ball went up a little bit. But no one has bothered him. No one has interfered with him. He was hired to coach the team”).

“‘Although you continue to use the media to express your dissatisfaction with others, no one has publicly pointed out to them that in four preseason games and one regular-season game played this year, your offense has scored one first-half touchdown. That put tremendous pressure on the defense.

(“Now, we have played eight games, and we have two first-half touchdowns, one in the preseason and one in the regular season. It's pretty tough for any football team and to continuously blame the defense. You just can't get away with it”).

“‘I know that you wanted to bring your father in to run the defense, and Monte -- that's Monte Kiffin told me that he wanted to come here, even though he is under contract to Tampa. I did not want to tamper with another team.

(“We had our attorneys call Bruce Allen and tell him that Monte Kiffin, because otherwise it's a tampering charge, talked to me and all he talked to me was about Lane, how to handle Lane and things like that. What he really wanted to do was come here and coach.”)

“‘In any event, that was over seven months ago. Do not now, run from the defense and your responsibilities. The letter constitutes notice that if you violate any term of your contract in any manner whatsoever, you will be terminated for cause. I trust that this will not occur.’”

(End of Letter to Kiffin)

“This was a warning to him, that he’s got to be a coach, that he’s got to take care of the players. He’s got to do his job and stop complaining every day that he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have that.

“Now, admittedly, he didn’t think we could win with this team. This was in January, February. He didn’t think we could win with this team. As we started to sign the free agents, as we started to bring them in, and no matter what anybody says about the amount of money we spent because you don’t always win in a negotiation with a player, we don’t always win with a coach. The idea most of the time is to get the player, get the good players to try to win. He finally came to the point when he said, and he said it to some of you, that we look great on paper. Now we’ve got to put the pieces together and make them work, and that’s his job. But when we went to training camp, someone somewhere gave him the idea that he could get out of his job and still get paid. And that’s what he was doing. He was everyday harping, ‘We don’t do this, we don’t do that, and attacking players publicly. Agents calling me, ‘What’s going on?’ And one agent did call him and challenged him, that this can’t go on, what you’re doing to my client. Just can’t go on.

“We played the Buffalo game and after the game I met him at the airport and I asked him some questions, talked to him about it and didn’t think anything of it until the next day when he met with you people and someone asked him, ‘Have you talked to Al?’ He said, ‘I’ve never talked to Al since before the Denver game. It’s all documented that he had talked to me that night in front of the strength coach, in front of one of our publicists, and in front of one of our coaches about the game. And at that time I asked him a couple of questions. I said to him, ‘Tell me something, where’d those two timeouts go? Where’d they go? And his answer was beyond the wall. And the only thing I say to you when I say beyond the wall, that means beyond comprehension. I say to you, if we had 20 seconds left on the clock, and one timeout, they had kicked a field goal to go ahead by two points, and they kicked off to us, and we threw a pass and got to about their 40-yard line, after the run-back of the kickoff, now Janikowsk’s trying a what, a 57-yard field goal to win the game, not trying a 75-yard field goal to what, I don’t know. What I’m saying to you is there was no rhyme or reason to the clock management there. I understand that he’s young and the experience will come. I understand it. But see, he takes exception when you question him. I wanted to know why we went with five safeties in the game, three corners and we got a corner hurt in the game and we were in a little trouble, and he put down one of our players off the dressing roster because he was going to show me that he had some authority and he really didn’t have the authority to do it and I challenged him. He said, ‘Well, I talked to the defensive coaches.’ A defensive coach was standing right there and the defensive coach said, ‘And we told you not to do it. We didn’t want to do it.’ He put down C.J. Johnson, who played in this game because we some hurt.

“What I’m saying to you is it started to go where it was tough, tough to believe anything that was being said. Then yesterday, I think it was yesterday, someone of you asked him, ‘Have you talked to Al?’ And all of a sudden he said, I’m not going to tell you if I’ve talked to Al, after having denied talking to me, after having denied having communication, I’m not going to tell you what goes on between Al and I. But in the past, ho, ho, ho, he couldn’t wait to talk about what goes on between Al and I.

“I reached a point where I felt the whole staff, we were fractionalized, that the best thing to do to get this thing back was to make a change. It hurts because I picked the guy. I picked the wrong guy. There’s a lot more to this, a lot more to it. There’s this business of me sending him a resignation letter. That is not the truth at all. I never sent him a resignation letter. What happened was, after the season, he told me he didn’t want Rob Ryan. I said, ‘We’re going to keep him.’ You got 24 coaches - I think we got 24 coaches, now you can question it. Maybe we got 22 and they say someone’s not a real coach, but it’s almost unheard of, 24 coaches. I didn’t want … to change the entire staff and bring in his father. He said, ‘Well. I can’t win with this guy. I can’t win with this team.’ And we had had the problem with JaMarcus and someday, I don’t think it’s‘ important now because I love the guy, he had JaMarcus all wrong. He had him all wrong in his thinking about him and JaMarcus has proved a lot of you wrong, a lot of people wrong.

“He was going to be the overweight guy. He was going to be the uninterested guy, and he was never that way. We had a player here who played in Alabama, high school, the same high school as JaMarcus and was telling me about JaMarcus when JaMarcus was 12 years old. We had a player here who was a great player at Tennessee when they won the national championship, Tee Martin the quarterback. He played at the same high school as JaMarcus. So I knew JaMarcus wasn’t that kind of kid. But, he said, we can’t win. We got to get a rookie quarterback. We can’t win with this. So I said to him, ‘What do you mean you can’t win?’ And he said, ‘Well, we can’t win.’ And I said, ‘Then do the honorable thing. If you don’t think you can win, resign. If you don’t think you can win, resign. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ So, he was after a job in college that he didn’t get, and it’t amazing how Bobby Petrino took the job.

“They had called me. A friend of mine who is very big at the University of Arkansas called me and said, ‘They’re interested in Lane Kiffin. What do you think? I said, ‘Let him finish the season and do what you want, whatever he wants. Finish the season.’ They said, ‘OK, we’ll wait.’ However, Petrino had a chance to get the job, and that’s why he really left Atlanta sooner than the season was over because he wanted to beat Lane for the job. Lane was upset as hell about it and went after some other job. And Lane said to me this: ‘Will you let me go and not ask for any penalties if I leave and go to a college job or go to another job. I said, ‘Lane, if you say you’re not going to get paid, if you’re going to resign, I’ll certainly let you go right after the season.’ His attorney, Gary Uberstine, and our attorney, Jeff Birren, worked out the language and it was about a quarter of a page, and all it says was, ‘Lane Kiffin resigns his job with the Oakland Raiders, expecting no remuneration -- or is it renumeration? -- and the Raiders will take no action to stop him from taking another job based on his contract. That was the story of what he called, supposedly -- he’s got (Chris) Mortensen. Mortsensen comes in. He lies. He’s a professional liar. He got Mortensen to say that I sent him a letter, which I never did, and a lot of you carried the fact that I sent him a letter. So, what I’m saying to you is this is regretful but I thought it was best for the Raiders. And I wanted to make it work because I want the Raiders to do great. Someone said to me the other day, a newspaperman, ‘Why don’t you tell us your side of the story? Why don’t you tell us what’s happening? And I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to win in the press. I want to win on the field.’ But I’m telling you because I had to regretfully let him go. It’s based on cause, and it’s not based on, necessarily, performance, because I understand what we’re doing, although I think we can do better.

“I assume there’s a lot more. What I wanted to say is we signed DeAngelo Hall, Gibril Wilson, Kalimba Edwards, Tommy Kelly, Javon Walker, Kwame Harris, Justin Fargas, Dar ren McFadden. These were the high-priced people this year. Not every one has been a factor, but you’ve got to stick with players. I remember last year all during training camp -- and it was tough on me because I didn’t want to do it -- we traded Randy Moss for a fourth-round draft choice. Randy Moss for a fourth-round draft choice. And everyone here, the coaches look at the film. His foot was bothering him. (The belief) around the country (was) that he can’t run anymore. Well, I had seen him. I go to practice. I had seen him run. They talk now, ‘Boy, if we had a playmaker.’ Well, all he caught was over 20 touchdowns last year. If we had a playmaker. But, those are the facts of life. We’ve had some great players come through here. In 2003, 2004, Rich Gannon went down with knee injuries. We let Kerry Collins go. He’s driving Tennessee pretty good right now. And, we’ll get back, we’ll be back. The Raiders will be back. I have unshakeable confidence, the will to win, and I just know that the fire that burns brightest in this building is the will to win, and we will win. We will win.”

Q: Who will be the next head coach ?

A: “I thought what we would do was go through the question and answer, then take a little break and then we’ll bring him back.”

Q: At the end of last year, there were problems with Lane that went on February, March. Why not fire him in the offseason as opposed to this part of the year when it’s going to kind of disrupt the season?

A: “Because I wanted to make it work, to be real honest. It’s my belief that I would work and it could work. I wanted to make it work. Maybe I didn’t want to admit that I’d made a mistake. And to be quite frank with you, I’m firing him for cause right now. I’m not firing him for anything else other than cause.”

Q: Your motto is just win baby, one of your mottos. You’re saying you’re firing Lane more for cause than on-field performance. Do you feel the team has improved under his watch, and doesn’t that motto, just win, imply that you will overlook personality traits and past history if it can produce a winning team on the field?

A: “I don’t really follow. I want to win, if that’s what you’re asking me. I don’t know what you meant by the back part of the question, that I will follow personality traits. What did you mean by that?”

Q: Why would you fire Kiffin over a personality conflict?

A: “It’s not a personality conflict. It’s flat-out accusations of lying, bringing disgrace to the organization. He took a young coach who had criticized him and suspended him, didn’t tell me about it. Then actually, crazy like, said, ‘You’d better go to a doctor to get examined.’ And suspended him. He was the best worker (Lane) ever had. He told me that repeatedly. But the coach criticized him. But two days later, (Lane) goes out and criticizes Rob Ryan publicly. No, I don’t think I could lose necessarily with Lane. But I didn’t think I could win anymore, based on what he’s done to this staff and what he’s done to the defense and what he’s done to some of the assistants.

“If I thought so, I probably would have stayed with it. But it didn’t have to do with winning. It had to do with personality. It’s the first time I ever let anyone go based on what I call just a flat-out liar. I mean, let me ask you something: Did he tell you that for two weeks, other than prior to the Denver game, that he has not heard from me?”

“He did. Did he tell you after the Buffalo game that he has never talked to me since before the Denver game? It’s a flat-out lie. We talked several times. And the letters -- I sent him another letter; if you want, I’ll read the other letter to you. Because I had to caution him about lying to the press continuously. But you see, they know I won’t do much. I won’t talk. I never once, when he would lie, raise my hand and say, ‘He’s lying,’ or something like that. They know I don’t. I let it go. Like I said, I thought he was young and immature and that someone would grab him by the throat and tell him that he was doing the wrong thing. But his own father and Pete (Carroll), they’re the advisors, somewhere they got lost in this thing.”

Q: When did you realize he wasn’t the coach you thought you hired?

A: “Well, his attitude, to be real honest, toward people. When he took the job, if you remember his admonitions and statements were, ‘We’ve got great players, we have a great defensive coach in Rob Ryan, I’m excited, I looked at the defense, I’m excited about the offense.’ And I realized that what they were more interested in was cleaning out the locker room and getting their guys in there than winning. And I can only say to you, I have a different opinion on this thing. And you can talk to anyone who has won a lot of games in life that the locker room is a great locker room when you’re winning. And it’s not a great locker room when you’re losing. Sometimes you can hold it together when you’re losing. I just didn’t like his attitude toward people, toward coaches, toward everyone. If you look at the staff that he hired, he wanted to fire everyone, get rid of everyone.

“We had players who had played eight or nine years here, that I asked him to be careful with, just … give them a chance. I can’t let a guy go. I admit this. Take Zack Crockett. He played here eight or nine years, got touchdowns for us and all. And I just can’t let him go, like they can just close the door and get ’em out of here. And I just don’t operate that way. I couldn’t get him to feel toward ex-Raiders the way I wanted him to feel. But I thought he would because when he came here for the job, ‘Oh, I know about the history, I know about the organization, I know about the history, I know about this. Bull. We had a publicist and he didn’t want him at practice. I said to him, ‘Why don’t you want him at practice? ‘Well, we don’t need him out at practice.’ So he’s not at practice.”

Q: Do you feel you have enough of a case documented against your coach that if Kiffin and his representatives go to Roger Goodell for a grievance that you would prevail?

A: “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I was going to prevail. … That’s why I sent him the letter. I sent the letter and defined to him at the end of the letter … just coach the team. That’s what you are paid to do, that’s what you were hired to do. Coach the team. And any other accusations, any other step out of line and I’m going to fire you for cause. And that’s the only thing that I thought would get him. But he still kept on going. Why (did) Mortensen know about the letter and none of you people knew about it, and Mortensen just came with it today? It’s because (Lane) gave it to him. He feels that’s the way to go. Then Mortensen broke the story that I was interviewing three guys. … No sooner than the three guys left the office one, two, three, it was running on the wires. Unless there’s someone upstairs, our executive secretaries, I don’t know.’

Q: Four coaches have been fired since 2003. You said you made a mistake on this one. How much responsibility do you bear for what’s gone on?

A: “I bear the responsibility. Yeah, it takes a toll on me. It sure does.”

Q: Do you feel this organization is better and should they have more wins than just one this year?

A: “I don't want to get into that. I'm not here to discuss the team. I'm here to discuss my letting Lane go and why and the reasons for it. I love this team. I think this team can win. I think this team can win. Let me just say I see every team in the league, I look at the tapes. I see one or two that may be a little bit above the rest. For example, Buffalo is 4-0 and we can play with Buffalo. San Diego is 2-2, we're getting closer. We can play with San Diego. There's one or two that may be above. But other than that this league is starting to balance out. We'll get there. If we keep him alive, he's good. This kid from LSU, he's a good player and a good kid. We're going to make him great. We'll get there. McFadden is a hell of a player. We have some great players, we really do. Asomugha is a great player. We've gotten a little banged up and all but we'll see. It's not over yet.”

Q: What was last straw for Lance?

A: “I don't think it was any one thing. It was a cumulative thing. The pattern just disturbed me. The first question he asked me when I said you would be fired or was relieved for cause was, 'Are you going to pay me?' First question. There are a lot of people who believe in the organization that he wanted to be fired but he wanted to be paid.”

Q: Are you concerned that by building a case before acting you sabotaged the season?

A: “Yeah. But I thought we would do a little better in the season. I think it's together. I think it's together. I don't want to get in to football tactics or strategy. That's not why I'm here. I don't want to get into that. I could say for example three passes in the second half against Buffalo. Just beyond. We're not Woody Hayes. If this kid is going to be what I think he is we have to let him go. He can play. But I don't want to get into tactics or strategy. I did mention one, on the field goal, the time management, the clock management. Even in this game, we might have gotten 20 yards closer with a pass just before the 75-yard field goal with clock management.”

Q: Do you personally believe he was daring you to fire him?

A: “That's a good question. I don't know what he was doing but he got me to fire him.”

Q: Is the new coach interim?

A: “Excuse me, it's an interim coach. And he's not going to come in, he's here now. By that I mean he's on the staff.”

Q: Will he be here for a while?

A: “I haven't made that decision relative to how long he'll be here. I want to give him an opportunity. He has a love of the Raiders, he always has had, he wanted to come here. That's another thing, you hear about coaches, that it will be tough for him to get a coach because coaches don't want to get in over here and it will be tough to get a coach. Then the statement was made about two weeks ago that I had to recruit these coaches, a lot of them didn't want to come here. But go talk to them. He even listed Rob Ryan as some coach who didn't want to come here. It got to the point where I think he forgets who he's talking about. You talk to Greg Knapp, who coached for us, who's been here before. Talk to Tom Cable, talk to anyone. There are a lot of people who want to come here and there are a lot of guys out there who are doing TV who were on the phone this morning just wondering what I am going to do. And they all had pretty good names so we'll find out.”

Q: How much does it bother you personally that there has been so much upheaval these last few years?

A: “It bothers me. A great deal. Yeah it bothers me because I like to think that wherever you go in the world, you say Silver and Black, you say Raiders. We do have great fans and we have a lot of things coming up you know. We have three more years, '08, '09, '10 with the players associated and then there's a work stoppage possibly in '11. You have to be prepared for that. We have stadium. There's a lot of things. It bothers me. I want it to g in the right direction with youth and see if we can build something that way.”

Q: How much of a detriment are repeated coaching changes to your success?

A: “Not every season. Well obviously I don't think that a coach has to be more than four years because I think this thing is cycle, cyclical, cycle now. You got to remember one of the guys on TV the other day said the Raiders had been in the Super Bowl in 2002. Dallas hasn't been there since I don't know when, 1995 or something. No one in the West has been there in about 20 years, Kansas City, Denver about 10 years. We've been in 2000, 2001 and 2002. And we hit a thing that I admit that I didn't think we'd hit. I didn't think it possible that we'd hit these couple of years. But as I told you, we'll get it back. I do believe that it's good to have one guy for four or five years.”

Q: Who shared playcalling with Lane against Chargers and what's up with Mark Jackson?

A: “As far as I know he is. Why have you dismissed him? The one who shared the playcalling was Greg Knapp. But other than that in the past year and three games, Lane has called all the plays on offense.

Q: If you won these past two games would he still have been fired?

A: “Yes he would be if the same events took place.”

Cal's QB competition back in full swing

Cal quarterback Kevin Riley's hold on the starting job is getting looser by the hour. At least that's the way it seems after listening to coach Jeff Tedford at his weekly news conference Tuesday.

Tedford pulled Riley midway through the third quarter of Cal's victory over Colorado State and replaced him with Nate Longshore. After the game, he said he might make a change at quarterback.

During his weekly news conference, Tedford certainly didn't back away from that possibility.

Here's what Tedford had to say about a potential quarterback shuffle:

Q: You talked after the game that you might switch quarterbacks. Have you rethought that?

A: “Both of them are going to get equal reps this week, and then we’ll make a decision before the game.”

Q: Why the change of heart?

A: “Just because I think we need to start a little faster. I think offensively we started kind of slow in our games. We need a little boost there. We cannot afford to continue to wait and wait and wait for things to happen. We need to find out who’s the guy that puts is in the best situation to start a little bit faster.”

Q: Have you talked to Kevin directly about this, and what was his reaction?

A: “Yeah. He’s fine He understands. He understands that we’ve started a little bit slow and he’s missed a couple balls. I told him, you don’t get down about it. You compete and continue to do what you’re doing. He could be a starter or not. Like I said in the beginning, it may take both of them for us to get where we need to go. But we’ll evaluate it through the week of practice. It’s no different than any other position. It’s no different that the safety position or anything else that gets evaluated on a weekly basis.”

Q: Of the two, would you be concerned that Kevin would maybe lose his confidence a little more than Nate because has the experience, or not? Do you worry about that?

A: “That position is so, I don’t want to say mental, but there’s a lot with it, you know? Especially when you’re the starter there’s a little more pressure on you. And Kevin’s young. Nate’s an experienced guy. Nate’s had good, he’s had bad, back and forth. And Nate’s a very strong guy and puts it all in perspective and is very mature about it. Kevin’s a little bit younger and so, he’s going to have to learn that everything’s not always going to be good. At that position, there’s going to be some bad days, there’s going to be some rough days, and it’s important that you respond and you continue to compete. And so that’s something he needs to do.”

Q: Is it a little easier to do this when the backup is so experienced? Last year the roles were reversed.

A: “Absolutely it does.”

Q: Is there anything wrong with Riley’s arm?

A: “There’s nothing wrong with his arm. He’s fine.”

Q: Is confidence an issue with Kevin? Is that something you need to really work at to pump him up?

A: “I don’t know. We’ll see how it works this week. Obviously in this game it seemed like he was pressing a little bit and he was missing – we’ve missed a few open guys for the last few weeks, for whatever reason. Is it mechanical? Are we pressing a little bit? Those are the type of things that we have to evaluate with him and just make sure he gets through them. Absolutely, do you want to instill confidence in the guy, yes. There’s no question about it. You want him to get over the hump, you want him to overcome the bad times, and confidence is really a major issue with everybody. But he’s a strong competitor. So I don’t think that he’s going to have a confidence issue. He’s a very strong competitor, and he’ll get through it.”

Q: Is it tough to evaluate games just because of the way they’ve gone? At Washington State you were up so big early. At Maryland you had to throw so much late.

A: “Yeah. Like this last week, it’s a little bit difficult to get into a flow, because just when you’re to go on the field you have a blocked kick for a touchdown. And you’re going to go back on the field and you have an interception for a touchdown. Those are all series that you’re standing on the side – I’m not complaining about that, that’s great to put points on the board – but they’re taking away opportunities to evaluate and have plays. We only had 57 plays last week. You’re used to getting 80 plays. Now we’re getting 50 plays when that happens.”

On another issue, Tedford gave an update on running back Jahvid Best, who dislocated his left elbow on Saturday.

“Jahvid is coming along very well," Tedford said. "A lot of encouraging news with him. He did dislocate his left elbow. There’s no fracture there, as we knew on game day. After the MRI, they saw that there were some capsule issues of course, when you dislocate anything, but nothing is torn. There’s no surgical procedure that needs to be done. And so we feel that by the Arizona game, there’s a possibility he may be back for the Arizona game. No guarantee, but a possibility.”

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Raiders' Kiffin: Going, going ... ?

I’m going to miss Raiders coach Lane Kiffin when he’s gone. And you know he’s going, if not this week during the team’s bye – the odds-on favorite for his whacking -- then sometime in the not too distant future.

Kiffin’s team fell to 1-3 Sunday with a second straight come-from-ahead loss, this time 28-18 to the San Diego Chargers. He’s 5-15 overall. That losing record alone is reason enough for Al Davis, the Captain Hook of NFL owners, to fire Kiffin.

Sure, Davis could fool us all and anoint Kiffin as Raiders coach for life. But I have a feeling that Kiffin’s team could be 4-0 and he’d still get the ax. I have a feeling he’s been figuratively dead to Davis for weeks, if not months, and that Davis was just waiting until the bye week to fire him, making the coaching transition easier and giving him more time to build a case against Kiffin for insubordination.

Kiffin challenged Al’s supreme authority over all things Raiders. That’s a huge sin in Davis’ world.

Then when Al tried to crush him – he reportedly wanted Kiffin to resign after last season -- Kiffin fought back by publicly zinging his boss for everything from his player-personnel moves to his role in the team’s defense after a season-opening debacle against Denver.

Some have criticized Kiffin for taking this fight public and for disrespecting his boss. Yeah, maybe Kiffin took it a bit far when he kept referring to Davis as “the owner.” But what other means did Kiffin have to fight back?

If nothing else, it’s been fascinating to finally watch a coach stand up to Davis and pull back the curtain just a bit, offering us a better look at the strangeness of the Raiders.

After Sunday’s loss, Kiffin was asked if he expected to be the Raiders coach when they play their next game against New Orleans on Oct. 12.

“Once again, that’s not my call,” Kiffin said. “The question is, do I expect to. I don’t know what I expect. I’m not going to do anything different than what I’ve been doing, keep this team together the best that we can, keep this staff together and just prepare and figure out a way to win these games at the end of the game, figure out a way to hold onto these fourth-quarter leads.”

Kiffin is the fourth Raiders coach since Jon Gruden basically forced Davis to “trade” him to Tampa Bay after the 2001 season. He followed Bill Callahan, Norv Turner and Art Shell – each one fired.

At what point do you start blaming the man who does the hiring and firing instead of the coaches he hires and fires? I think we’re well beyond that point.

Kiffin deserves praise for what he’s trying to accomplish amid the dysfunction. During pre-game introductions Sunday, Kiffin had his team come out in groups – position by position -- instead of as individuals.

“When I was talking to the team I said, ‘Guys, you’re never going to win if you play as individuals. I don’t care how much money you make. I don’t care how good you look on paper. You’ve got to play as a team and you’ve got to pick each other up. To have one player introduced and dancing around, we’re not doing that anymore. That’s not who we are. We’re going to play together as a team,’ ” Kiffin said. “So that’s why we did that.”

Kiffin’s players certainly haven’t quit on him, something you couldn’t say in the final throes of past coaching regimes. They’re certainly not the “dumbest team in America” as Callahan called his Raiders team during its 2003 meltdown.

“I’m not discouraged,” Kiffin said. “When you get discouraged, for me, when I would get discouraged is when your team doesn’t play with effort and they don’t play smart football. I thought our guys played smart football. They made good decisions. There weren’t a lot of dumb penalties. Our effort was great. I thought our guys came out electric. Some bad things happened in the second half. We lost our juice for a little bit.”

Kiffin talked for over 15 minutes in his formal post-game news conference, primarily about the game. Then he talked some more in the locker room about his own situation. Here are some of those questions and answers:

Q: How are you dealing with all this, this circus? Is that distracting you from being able to do your job? And is that affecting the way you approach your job from week to week?

A: “I’m trying the best for it not, and I don’t think I’m letting our players see it. Once again, I’m really proud of them, and our coaching staff did a great job. The way they came out and played today, they played together as a team. They really battled but unfortunately weren’t able to pull it off again.”

Q: Have you had any communication with (Al Davis) at all?

A: “There’s not been many conversations lately. I’m not going to go into the timeframes of that. Once again, I’m just trying to do the best I can each day. I think our players played well today. I sound like a broken record, but we’ve got to find a better way to finish. That’s my job.”

Q: Have you talked to your dad (Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) about how to handle this situation?

A: “You talk to people that you trust and know, but I don’t think that anybody would understand it. I take their advice as much as I can. Staying positive and find a way to hold this team together and go down to New Orleans and get a win. We let one get away today that would put us 2-1 in the division. Can’t look back now. We just have to plug away, get some guys healthy. We had a number of guys injured today and a lot of guys stepped up and played really well today.”

Q: Do you feel like you’re coaching for your job?

A: “I don’t really understand what that means. What do you do when you’re coaching for your job? Do you try harder? I don’t understand that. I don’t do anything different from the way I’ve done it from the day that I got here. That’s be the best that I can to motivate our coaches every day and our players every day to have a good practice and prepare to have a really good game. We haven’t been able to finish it off in the fourth quarter the last couple weeks.”

Q: Have you received any feedback from the organization on your coaching performances or your job status or the media speculation that you’re going to be let go?

A: “No, I have not. Like I’ve said before, until I’m told something different by Al, not by other people, we’re going to keep trying to find a way to win.”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cal's 42-7 win not a feel-good football story

Not all 42-7 victories feel the same.

If you’re a Cal football fan, you know what I mean. You had to feel as if you had eaten some bad nachos Saturday during the Bears’ 35-point win over Colorado State at Memorial Stadium.

You had to feel sick watching running back Jahvid Best land hard on the artificial turf early in the third quarter, dislocating his left elbow. You had to feel nauseous seeing Best writhe on the ground in pain and grimace as team trainers popped his elbow back into place.

Then there was Cal’s stomach-turning passing attack, which was so bad that coach Jeff Tedford yanked starting quarterback Kevin Riley with 7:15 left in the third quarter and replaced him with Nate Longshore. After the game, Tedford said a quarterback switch is possible next week when the Bears face Arizona State.

Good times. Good times.

First things first, which means Best, the Bears’ best hope for a great season, thunder and lightning wrapped into one explosive package.

The bad news for Cal is that he dislocated his elbow. The good news, Tedford said, is that X-rays revealed no fracture. Cal won’t know how long they’ll be without Best until after he has an MRI today. But you get the sense that he’ll miss at least a week and maybe longer. At least that’s what the Bears and backup running back Shane Vereen seem to be bracing for.

Now for the potential quarterback shuffle. Tedford was asked whether he pulled Riley because the game was safely in hand at 28-0. Let’s just say he shot down that theory in a hurry.

“Nate played because Kevin was missing too many open receivers,” Tedford said.

Riley was 6 of 13 for 59 yards and one touchdown, a 17-yard strike to Nyan Boateng. Longshore was 9 of 13 for 100 yards and two touchdowns.

When asked about Riley’s job security, Tedford made it clear that nothing’s set in stone.

“We’re always evaluating that,” Tedford said. “We’ll see what happens. We’ll talk about it, see the tape and things like that.”

Tedford said that if “if a guy’s not playing well” at any position, “you have to look at making adjustments. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it’s always being evaluated.”

Tedford gave Longshore a good review, especially compared to the two thumbs down he gave Riley.

“Nate did fine,” Tedford said. “Nate, he wasn’t asked to do a lot because of the game situation. At that time we ran the ball quite a bit. But I thought he was pretty smart with the ball. He didn’t force the ball. He threw a couple nice balls. … For the most part, I thought Nate did fine. He ran the show and he ran the huddle.”

After the game, a despondent Riley took responsibility for missing those open receivers.

“Those are easy throws,” Riley said. “I’ve got to hit them. I just rushed it.”

Riley said he understood why Tedford yanked him from the game.

“I wasn’t performing,” Riley said. “Nate went in and did the job. I just need to play better, plain and simple. I need to hit open guys. … I was over-thinking a little too much.”

Cal definitely needs to get its passing game on track for Arizona State and the rest of its Pac-10 schedule. The Bears can’t rely so heavily on its defense, special teams and running game, the way they did against Colorado State.

Cal was never in danger of losing this game. You could tell early in the first quarter by the way Cal’s defense was having its way with Colorado State’s overmatched offense. The Bears were just too quick, too fast and too strong for the Rams.

Rams quarterback Billy Farris was under siege, particularly from Cal’s strong push up the middle. Farris didn’t help his cause with a slow release and little zip. Cal had no trouble with the Rams’ one-two running punch of Gartrell Johnson and Kyle Bell. They were big and strong but slow.

Cal’s Bryant Nnabuife returned a blocked punt for their the Bears' first touchdown. Brett Johnson returned an interception 43 yards for Cal’s second score.

But Cal’s offense lost two first-half fumbles -- one by Best and one by Vereen – and didn’t produce a touchdown until late in the second quarter when Riley hit Boateng.

“The offense didn’t play very well,” Tedford said. “I thought we ran the ball pretty well. We were having pretty good success on first down most of the time, but we weren’t sharp in the passing game. We fumbled the ball twice. … I didn’t think we threw the ball very well. I thought we had some open guys and missed them.”

After Cal’s loss to Maryland, Tedford pinned some of the blame on his inexperienced wide receivers. Not this time.

“I didn’t see any issues today with inexperience at receiver or them running the wrong routes or the wrong depth or anything like that,” Tedford said.

If Tedford wanted to send a message to Riley, consider it sent. And if he wanted to lay the groundwork for a quarterback switch, consider it done.

Cal fans can only hope that if Tedford makes that switch, Longshore plays the same type of calm, cool, turnover-free football against ASU as he did coming off the bench with a 28-0 lead Saturday.

The alternative is enough to make an Old Blue sick.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Warriors captain Stephen Jackson talks a good game on eve of camp

The Warriors held their annual media day Friday at team headquarters on the eve of training camp. Not surprisingly, captain Stephen Jackson drew the largest crowd of the day. The irrepressible and entertaining Jackson didn’t disappoint. He had plenty to say on a wide array of topics, from his team’s revamped roster, the loss of Baron Davis, his push for a contract extension and Monta Ellis’ moped accident:

Q: What were you thinking as all the roster stuff was happening with your team?

A: “Uh. What was I thinking? What are we doing? But at the same time, I knew that we had to get better. I definitely think we’re better. Losing B.D. is always going to hurt. Can’t explain that. We did the best that we could with losing B.D., and I think we did a great job. We have a deeper team, a bigger team. Our size was a big problem last year. We made some good adjustments. I’m happy about it. I can’t complain.”

Q: Are you the only captain now?

A: “I don’t know. We haven’t even discussed that yet. I’m sure somebody else will get promoted to captain.”

Q: Can you talk about losing Baron? You sound like that’s really tough on you.

A: “It hurt because me and Baron were close friends off the court as we were on the court. Everyone knows Baron is one of the best players in this league. He was a big part of what we did. He was a big part of our success since I got traded here. I mean, it hurt. Anybody who says it didn’t hurt, they’re lying. It definitely hurt. But at the same time, you all know I’m not the guy to sit there and ponder on things and just sit there and let it linger. Baron’s gone. We’ve got to move on. I wish him the best. He got his contract. He’s back at home. He can take better care of his grandmother. So it worked out for him. We still got a job to do. We’re going to do the best we can.”

Q: How difficult will it be to replace him and start the season without Monta?

A: “You can’t replace Baron Davis. It’s a lot of things we have to address, but I think as a team we’re going to have to really sit down and understand what’s at stake and what we have to do with losing Monta and losing B.D. There’s some major adjustments we have to make. It’s not going to be easy. But at the same time we’re going to approach it with confidence. We’re still a team, we’re still a family, we still have to get the job done regardless who is here. Last year they had to try to win games (without) me. It didn’t happen, but… So we’re going to have to try to find ways to win without Monta and continue to move on.”

Q: What do you think about the Monta situation? Have you talked to him at all?

A: “Yeah. I talk to him every day. I talk to Monta all the time. One thing about it is Monta has good spirits. That’s the good thing about it. Things happen in life. I know I’ve had my own incidents. I got hit by a car at 28 and survived it. So I’m pretty sure he’s going to be fine.”

Q: Have you ever driven a moped and would you ever drive a moped?

A: “Never rode a moped. That’s not my thing. If I ride anything, it’s going to have four wheels.”

Q: What do you think about potential punishment for Monta? Would you be bothered if they hit him with a pretty big punch?

A: “You know what? I’m going to leave that in their hands. I think my job is to be his teammate and support him through what he’s going through and when he comes back just support him until he gets healthy. I can’t handle that. My opinion don’t even matter, so I’m not going to even make one.”

Q: Some people think that he, because he was given the contract and obviously a huge role on this team, he maybe let his teammates down. What do you think about that?

A: “Well, things happen, man. I think Monta, it’s an unfortunate incident. He might feel like he let us down, but at the same time, he’s going to bounce back. You know what I mean? Things happen, man. I don’t feel like he let me down. We all make poor choices in our life, and he made a bad decision. He got to deal with it, really. … At the end of the day, he’s the one who wakes up every morning and realizes he made a big mistake. The good thing about it is he’s got a chance to get healthy and come back. And that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Q: What do you know about your new teammates like Corey Maggette and Marcus Williams?

A: “Well, I don’t know too much about Marcus, but the last couple days me and Marcus – we stay in the same building, for now – me and Marcus, we hung out … Marcus, he’s a good kid. I see he has a good work ethic and he wants to play, he wants to help this team. Me and Corey go back because Corey has some family members from my home town. And a good friend of mine, who’s from my home town, was living with him in L.A. So we have a little history. Corey’s a great guy. I know his family. I know he plays hard. One thing about Corey, he wants to win. That’s all I can expect from guys.”

Q: Ronny Turiaf?

A: “Turiaf, he called me this summer. I think he’s going to be another M.P. (Mickael Pietrus) because, M.P.’s one of those guys from France that really wanted to be Americanized so bad. I think Turiaf is one of those guys. I think he’s going to fit in well. I think if we would have had him last year, we would have definitely made the playoffs. He is something we definitely need because now I don’t have to guard Amare Stoudemire and Chris Bosh. So I’m definitely happy he’s here.”

Q: You mentioned over the summer that you were seeking a contract extension. What’s the state of that?

A: “I had some talks with Bobby (Rowell) and them. I have a good feeling things are going to be taken care of. I’m not one of those guys who’s going to sit around and not play my hardest … and be a locker room cancer because it’s not done. I’m just going to leave it in God’s hands, and I’m pretty sure -- I have a good relationship with Bobby -- it’s going to get taken care of.”

Q: If you do play this contract out, is that OK to you?

A: “That’s fine. Because at the end of the day, I’m still taking care of my family, I’m still playing basketball. So I’m happy with that.”

Q: Is there any question in your mind about (the team’s) financial commitment to the players, letting Baron go, and other things that have happened?

A: “Letting Baron go hurt everybody, like I said. Even with J-Rich (Jason Richardson). I can’t put myself in their shoes because I’m a totally different person, and my situation is totally different. Like I said, I have enough confidence Bobby and (Chris) Cohan that they’ll get it taken care of. I’ll let B.D. and J-Rich speak on their situations.”

Q: A year and a half ago, this team was flying so high. It seems like this has been a pretty tumultuous offseason. Where do you gauge where the franchise is right now?

A: “Well, I can say that we’re younger, they’re going in a younger direction, which I understand. From the year I got trade here to losing J-Rich to losing Baron, it’s definitely been a doozey. At the same time, we can’t cry over spilt milk. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to keep moving. We all got a job to do. … We talk about it still. I was talking to Rico (Hines) last night about how I miss B.D. I wish he was here. But at the same time we got to get it done. You can’t complain about it.”

Q: They say your role is going to change. They’re going to need some ball-handling now.

A: “I’m going to have to be more of a playmaker. I made plays last year, but I didn’t have to make as much with Baron. He made a lot of plays for guys. I’m definitely going to have to be more of a playmaker. I never thought I’d be in my ninth year the oldest player on the team. I’ll tell you that. I know me. I embrace every role. I really don’t complain about nothing. I take the punches and roll with it. I think the young guys are going to have to learn quicker. That’s definitely a must. And us older guys are going to have to support them more. We’re going to have to be more focused as far as supporting the young guys and being ready to play because we’ve got a whole bunch of young guys, and we don’t know how long it’s going to take them to get ready and when they’re going to be ready to play. I think guys like me, Corey, Al (Harrington), when Monta comes back, Turiaf, even Andris (Biedrins), have to be ready to play from the beginning of the season.”

Q: Are you looking at it like you’re pretty much the vocal guy now?

A: “I was the vocal guy even with B.D. here.”

Q: I mean the only one now.

A: “Corey, you all going to see a different side of Corey. Corey’s a guy, he’s really a talker. He really supports his teammates, and he really gets in guys’ faces when he needs to. I think he’ll definitely help me in that situation. B.D. didn’t really talk that much, anyway. If B.D. was talking, it was jokes. It’s something that we all embrace. I think we’re going to have to accept criticism, even me, and be able to give it at the same time.”

Q: Of the young guys that you know on the team, who do you think … is ready to step up?

A: “I don’t really know any of them. But as far as seeing them play, I think Marcus (Williams), and I’ve seen Anthony (Morrow) play. He’s really been the talk of preseason camp and rookie draft camps actually. He played real well in Utah. I’ve seen him play a couple days here. I think that kid can really help us out. Marcus is definitely a must have, especially with Monta being out. He’s somebody we’re going to need to definitely come in and give us a lot of work. Those two guys, I’m really high on. I haven’t seen Randolph play yet, but a lot of guys speak on him, so I’m ready to see what he can do.”

Q: When you say playoffs, is it a realistic goal?

A: “I come into the season saying championship. My expectations are always high for us. I never say we come in and settle for just the playoffs or settle for just winning a certain amount of games. You’ve got to come into every season feeling like you can win a championship. Now realistically, with our team, no one probably would think that, but that’s how I have to be as far as being a captain of the team and supporting all these young guys. I think the biggest thing for us, what we’re going to have to do realistically, is take it game by game. We don’t know where we’re going to go and we don’t know how good we’re going to be because we have so many new players. I think we’ve just got to take it game by game and see where we go.”

Q: You’ve been on a bunch of teams. You have two more years left. You say you want an extension. Do you want to retire a Warrior?

A: “I would love to. I would love to. I bounced around a lot, and a lot of times where I got relocated I felt it wasn’t fair. But at the same time I dealt with it. If it happened where I could retire here, I would love to. I would love to.”

Q: Even if they went through a transition period in the last part of your open window?

A: “Yes. I’m willing to do it. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be making this money, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing nowhere else. I’ve been overseas. I’ve been in situations where I was down and out. I’m happy. I’m happy. So I have no reason to complain. I have no reason to whine about anything. Everybody wants their money. Everybody wants their contract. But one thing about me, I just let it take care of itself. I let my play take care of it. I have enough confidence it’s going to happen.”

Q: Does it add to the uncertainty that (Chris) Mullin and (Don Nelson) are on their last years, too?

A: “I can’t really speak on their situation because they’re different from mine. I’m a player, he’s a coach, he’s a GM. I don’t know what goes on in their meetings. I know what goes on in my meetings that I feel confident that mine’s going to get taken care of. I wish everybody the best, but I can’t speak on their issues.”

Q: Would you want negotiations cut off at a certain point, like when the season starts no more talking? Or would you think this could go on?

A: “Talking will stop when it’s done. That’s just only right. I don’t think no one wants to stop talking about it. When it’s done, that’s when talking stops. I’m being as real with you as possible. When things are taken care of, that’s when everything will be fine.”

Q: Marcus (Williams) is a different point guard, he’s a true point guard. How does that change how this team operates?

A: “I think the difference between him and Monta is Monta’s faster. Marcus is more of a passer. So I think with Monta being out, it’s going to help us because it gives Al (Harrington) a chance to get in a good groove from the jump. … We still can get out and with work get some easy baskets. Not having B.D., we need someone to make plays. I think he’ll come in and fill that role of making plays and definitely help our offense with Monta being out.”

Q: Does the contract uncertainty of players and the coach and the GM take a toll?

A: “I think it was more of a toll last year because all the contract (uncertainty) was in the locker room. You had Matt (Barnes), you had B.D., you had Monta, you had Andris. This year it’s not like that. Ninety percent of the guys are taken care of. And I’m not going to hear me talk about my contract every day in the meeting. You all know I’m trying to get it done. That’s the end of it. It’s going to get done. Coaches, they don’t bring there stuff to the locker room. It stays in the coaches’ office and it stays upstairs. Coaches are barely even in the locker room. All that stuff goes on in the locker room with the players, that’s fine. …”

Q: Do players look at coaches differently if … they’re potentially leaving?

A: “I don’t think anybody on this team can really think about if coach is leaving or not because a lot of these guys are still trying to get jobs. None of us is guaranteed to still be here. And I think the situation where we worry about the coach’s contract, we can’t worry about that. Because guys are worrying about playing time, guys are worrying about getting some security in the league. And you can see a lot of guys still trying to get jobs. So I think that’s their main focus, not worrying about whether the coach will be here next year.”

Q: With all those guys with their contracts coming up, was that a distraction last year?

A: “I’m going to be real with you. It was talked about a little too much. Considering the year we had before, all the success we had, I think that took away from our focus. Matt was worried about his contract, B.D. Everybody was talking about it too much instead of talking about what we needed to do to win games. It was a cancer last year, and that’s the good thing about this year. We’re better on paper and we won’t have to worry about no one talking about that in the locker room. Because than can become a cancer if guys start worrying more about their issues than the team issues. That’s why you can’t win.”

Q: Did it get more and more as the season went on?

A: “Yes. Definitely, definitely.”

Q: You’re better on paper than you were last year or with the contract situation?

A: “Paper, as far as down the line, as far as our roster.”

Q: You think this year’s team is better right now?

A: “I know we are. Yes. Yes. You know I ain’t going to shoot you no bull… I’m going to tell you what’s real. I think we’re definitely better.”

Q: Why?

A: “Because we’re bigger. I think we’re younger. Last year we played with six guys. By the end of the season, me and B.D. didn’t have no gas. We were tired. This year we can go deeper on the bench. If these young guys catch on quicker, we can go deeper on the bench and play less minutes. You know I don’t want to come out of the game anyway. But at the same time, we’re a deeper team. We’ve got a lot of young guys that have a lot of energy, so we might as well let them use it.”

Q: The best amount of minutes for you would be what?

A: “The whole game.”

Q: Realistically?

A: “Realistically I play the whole game.”

Q: At your best?

A: “At my best, I would say 38 minutes, 38 or 40 minutes.”

Q: Is this your team?

A: “Definitely. I’m coming here saying it’s my team because I have the most experience as far as from playoffs to regular season. I’m the only one with a championship. Even when I come in here, I have guys on the team saying it’s my team. I have to embrace it like that. At the same time, I’m still a team player. But I’m going to be the guy that if we go on a five-game losing streak – you guys all know me – I’m going to be the guy to take the blame. And I don’t mind doing that because I’d do it for my team any day.”

Q: Have you given Monta any advice? He’s kind of being hammered for lying, for maybe not being as forward as maybe you’d expect a leader on the team to be. Have you given him advice?

A: “I just told him that, just take my situation. I got fined $3 million, 30 games for helping my teammate. I got almost killed outside a strip club for helping my teammate. And I bounced back. He can bounce back. He’s 22 years old. At the end of the day, he got to wake up and think about the mistakes that he made and deal with it. A lot of people can say, ‘He messed up, he shouldn’t have done that, he hurt his team.’ But at the end of the day, no one knows how he feels sitting there knowing he didn’t tell the truth, knowing what he has to deal with, knowing he has to come here and face you all and these questions. No one knows what he has to go through. So the advice I told him is that we’re going to support him to deal with it the best he can and just deal with it so he can move on. But the good thing I’m proud of him about, even though how it came out, he still made a made a call … and told Bobby what happened. So I appreciate him standing up and being a man. After the way it happened from the beginning, he came out and still told the truth. He’s young, but he still handled it with maturity. Like I said, we all make mistakes. I’m over it. I’m over it.”

Q: How did you find out about it?

A: “He called me.”

Q: Right away?

A: “Yeah.”

Q: Do you think he was a bit afraid at the moment?

A: “Yeah. Because any time you make a mistake, you don’t know what the consequences are going to be. Like when I got into that incident, I didn’t know if I was going to go to jail. I didn’t know if I was going to lose my job. So I was scared, too. And sitting there. Nobody’s calling you, nobody’s really telling you what they’re talking about, what’s going on. You’re hearing everything in the media. Of course you’re going to be scared. This is his job. This is how he takes care of his family. This is how he takes care of himself. Sitting at home thinking all this is at stake, you might lose all of this, of course you’re scared. Anybody would be. But at the same time, we’ve got to be here to support him because he’s going to deal with a lot of stuff from the media, from the NBA, from … coaches, everybody. And I think as a teammate, I’ve got to be there to support him, to tell him there’s still people that love him, that’s not making him feel guilty about what he’s done. And I’m going to continue to be that way with him.”

Q: You were bouncing around, couldn’t get a chance, and now you’re a frontline NBA player. How does that make you feel?

A: “It’s a blessing. Everybody knows what I’ve been through, from the CBA to overseas to here. To have this opportunity, I’m ready to take advantage of it. I’ve never been at the point where I’m the guy on the team. This is a blessing. I’m going to approach it with confidence and just do the best I can.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Replacing Baron Davis an "impossible" job for Warriors

Warriors coach Don Nelson and executive vice president Chris Mullin held back-to-back chats with the press Thursday at team headquarters in Oakland. Much of the conversation centered on guard Monta Ellis, his severe ankle injury and the whole intrigue surrounding Moped-Gate as training camp nears.

No one knows for sure when Ellis will return or if he’ll ever be the player he was before his two-wheeled accident in Mississippi and embarrassing attempts at a cover up. No one yet knows what, if any, financial price he’ll pay for what appears to be a violation of his contract, which bans all forms of dangerous off-court activities.

You know what? I was actually more interested in what Nelson and Mullin had to say about another guard who is definitely gone for good, one Baron Davis.

The Warriors front office received a lot of credit from many quarters for letting Davis leave as a free agent rather than giving him a fat contract extension. I was actually on the other side of that argument. Two seasons ago, in fact, when Davis led the Warriors to the playoffs, I wrote that they should extend his contract and never let him even consider voiding the final season of his deal.

Of course it’s not my money. And I suppose letting Davis walk away was the fiscally responsible move regarding a player with such an extensive medical chart and somewhat checkered past.

But now what are the Warriors going to do without Davis? Even if Ellis hadn’t suffered such a serious injury and had been able to take over Davis’ point guard job, I thought the Warriors were in deep trouble.

Here’s what Nelson had to say about the challenge of replacing Davis.

“Well, that’s impossible,” Nelson said. “I’ve always considered him one of the top 15 players in the league. So I don’t think you replace a top-15 player in the league when you lose him. But somebody will get an opportunity to step in. That’s a tough load. Forget about replacing Monta, who, you know we were going to try to fill that position with as a point guard. And now we have to replace both of them for some period of time.”

Impossible to replace? Wow. That’s got to make Warriors fans feel good about the upcoming season.

Here’s what Mullin said when he was asked how the Warriors could replace Davis, a player they relied on so heavily on both ends of the court and particularly in the final minutes and seconds of tight games.

“That’s a lot,” Mullin said. “You guys know. I’m as big a fan of Baron as anybody. You don’t plug in a guy in that spot. There’s only a few guys like him in the league, top 10, 15 player probably in the league. That’s probably what this month’s all about is figuring out how – we are going to be different – how we’re going to do it. We didn’t rely solely on him, but he was a catalyst for a lot.

“Other guys stepped up and did tremendous things, but a lot because of him, because of the attention he drew, because of his play-making ability. Without that there, I don’t know, that’s going to be probably evident early on. How to go about still getting production out of guys, that’s going to be a tough one. But that’s probably what this month’s all about, doing things a different way and trying to get a better result.

“A lot of times you could just give Baron the ball and just get out of his way. Quite frankly, that’s the way he liked it. And a lot of times he made good things happen. And you mentioned, too, at the end of the game. At the end of games, it’s usually not so much the play you run as the player running it. But again, that’s part of the whole change that has gone on. We’re going to have to do it a little more as a group. I don’t think we really know where that’s going to come from.”

Maybe the Warriors should change their slogan from “We Believe” to “We Have No Good Reason to Believe.”

The top two point guards on the roster are Marcus Williams and C.J. Watson. Talk about under whelming. Mullin might want to keep working the phones until he finds a point guard who is at least Baron-Lite.

Nelson’s teams live and die by the fastbreak. Who’s going to lead the charge? Who’s going to push the pace and either finish or get the ball to someone else for an open shot? I just don’t see that person on the Warriors’ roster.

It wasn’t just that Davis led the Warriors in scoring and assists last year. Or that he was a captain and a leader. But he also gave them the flexibility to let Ellis play shooting guard, despite his lack of size.

“The beauty of that combination we had for the last two years was that Baron always guarded the bigger guy, and so that afforded Monta to guard the smaller guy,” Nelson said. “You’re not always blessed to have a point guard like Baron Davis that has that kind of body and capabilities defensively to guard more than a point guard.”

Even before Ellis was injured, Mullin said he thought the Warriors would have to find more scoring from their bigger players this season, players such as Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette, to name three.

Then Ellis was injured.

“So it went probably from a thought to a fact pretty quickly,” Mullin said.

Here’s a thought that’s surely going through your mind: the Warriors, as presently constituted, don’t have a prayer of making the playoffs this season in the ridiculously powerful Western Conference.

Of course neither Nelson nor Mullin would admit that.

“We’re going to have to wait and see, really more now than ever,” Mullin said. “There has been a lot of change. We like a lot of the guys that we have, but how they actually play together, I don’t know. I really don’t.”

Nelson was asked if a playoff berth was an unreasonable expectation right now.

“I don’t know that,” Nelson said. “Probably the consensus around the league would be it probably is. But I always have faith in being able to win a game and going out there and approach them one at a time. I think anytime you go out there you have a chance to win.

“I think if you look at the whole season, you might look at it a little differently. But I’ve always approached it one game at a time. I think if we played tomorrow, we would have a chance to win that game against anybody. And that’s the way I’m going to approach it.”

With Ellis injured and Davis playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, what else can Nelson do?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

49ers' Martz makes Lions pay for firing him

I’m going to make a wild guess and say revenge was sweet Sunday for 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

If you want confirmation from the offensive wizard himself, you’ll have to wait until later in the week. He left Candlestick Park after the 49ers’ 31-13 victory over the Detroit Lions without talking to reporters, despite numerous interview requests.

No doubt Martz is keeping a low post-game profile in an effort to deflect attention and give coach Mike Nolan the spotlight. Nice try. Too bad it won’t work.

This was Martz’s day. He beat the team that kicked him out the door after last season, his second as Detroit’s offensive coordinator. During and immediately after Martz’s final season with the Lions, he was crucified for multiple crimes. He didn’t run the ball enough, his critics said. He exposed his quarterback to too many sacks. He forced Detroit’s defense to spend too much time on the field.

Martz was the perfect scapegoat for a franchise that has been historically bad during the reign of president and CEO Matt Millen. And it must have felt great for Martz to beat the Lions with a balanced attack featuring running back Frank Gore.

Martz doesn’t run the ball enough? Gore carried 27 times for 130 yards and a touchdown. In the first half alone, he ran 10 times for 53 yards and a score. Martz will run when he has a good running back – remember Marshall Faulk? – and isn’t forced to play catch-up.

Last year the Lions typically fell behind fast and far. On Sunday, the 49ers built a 21-3 halftime lead. What beautiful irony.

The 49ers’ balanced attack rolled up 370 net yards, 188 passing and 182 rushing.

“We’re starting to move the ball, making it easy,” Gore said. “We’re making it easy. We still have a ways to go. We’re still learning. If everybody gets on the right page, it’s going to be crazy.”

Scoring 64 points in the past two games already qualifies as crazy for the 49ers. Last year they scored 63 points in their first five games.

Quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan played for Martz last season in Detroit. When it comes to understanding Martz’s playbook and methods, he’s still well ahead of his teammates. But they’re starting to catch up.

“They’re understanding that if they do exactly what coach Martz is asking us to do that we’re going to be successful,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s a matter of us just getting on the details and getting on exactly what he wants every single play vs. every single coverage, vs. every single front in the run game, protections, understanding that the more we know, the more we understand why, the more successful we’re going to be.”

Martz attacked his old team from all angles, no doubt exposing the defensive weaknesses he came to know all too well the last two seasons. Early in the game, Martz called a reverse to wide receiver Arnaz Battle that gashed the Lions for 18 yards. He dialed up a screen to tight end Vernon Davis for 17 yards. Martz hit the Lions with draws, screens and the usual array of deep ins and seam routes.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to him,” Lions quarterback Jon Kitna said. “He knows what he’s doing. He takes full advantage of his weapons. He picks a starting quarterback and sticks with him. With Mike, you don’t have to look over your shoulder.”

Lions wide receiver Roy Williams refused to answer when asked to “discuss both offenses” that were on display Sunday.

“You can’t compare our offense to their offense,” Williams. “They’ve got the passing mind calling the plays. So you can’t compare our offense to their offense. It makes no sense.”

Linebacker Ernie Sims said the Lions were prepared for Martz’s scheme. Well, sort of.

“We knew what he did in the past couple years he was with us,” Sims said. “Some of that he did, and some of that he didn’t. He put in a little wrinkle. He put in a little wrinkle here and there. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have done our job.”

Martz unveiled one final in-your-face wrinkle in the fourth quarter, facing fourth-and-goal at the Lions’ 1.

At first, the 49ers sent their field-goal unit onto the field. But Nolan called timeout to further assess the situation and see exactly how far the 49ers had to go for a touchdown. Nolan said that when he found out it just a yard and not two, as he initially had heard someone on the sidelines yell, he switched gears.

Asked whether Martz made the decision, Nolan quickly said, “No, that’s my decision. Just like when we don’t make it, that’s my decision, too.”

The actual play call was all Martz, and it was a gem.

Martz sent kick returner Allen Rossum into the game and had him line up in the right slot as part of a three-receiver set. The sight of Rossum -- a return man and backup corner -- lining up on offense should have been a bright red flag for the Lions’ defense. They didn’t see it. Martz must have known they were colorblind.

Rossum took a took a handoff from O’Sullivan, shot around left end and dove into the end zone, just inside the front left pylon. Rossum’s touchdown gave the 49ers a 28-3 lead with 9:31 left and, no doubt, gave Martz a little more satisfaction.

Rossum said he had practiced the play “once or twice, if that” and was surprised when Martz told him to go in the game. He said he was “shocked” when he heard the play call.

“It was a great, aggressive call,” O’Sullivan said. “And it worked its way out. Allen made a great play.”

A year ago, Nolan would likely have kicked the field goal in that situation. But a year ago, he didn’t have Martz as his offensive coordinator. Then there’s the fact that the 49ers defense was putting together its best game of the season Sunday.

The Lions came into the game a passing attack ranked No. 8 in the NFL and with two big, talented receivers -- Williams and the 6-foot-5, 239-pound Calvin Johnson. Neither one scored a touchdown. Williams grabbed two passes for 18. Johnson, with cornerback Nate Clements shadowing him much of the day, caught four passes for 40 yards.

“I just wanted to disrupt them and just try to be like a little gnat, not let them get going, try to be as disruptive as I could,” Clements said.

Even if the 49ers hadn’t scored on that fourth-down play, there’s little chance the Lions, pinned deep in their territory, would have done any damage. Besides, this was Martz’s day, whether he ever acknowledges it or not.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sharks coach lays down the law

PA: Detroit Red Wings v Philadelphia Flyers

You can say this about new Sharks coach Todd McLellan. He doesn’t waste time. He brought his players together before their first training camp practice Saturday and took, oh, less than a minute, to take full control and lay down the law.

No, he didn’t say there’s a new sheriff in town, a la Denny Green. But he told his players that he had a plan and that they two choices, either buy in or move over.

Let’s let Sharks winger Jody Shelley give his recap: “‘It’s going to be black or white. We’re going to make it as clear as we can. Let’s go. And do it or get out of the way.’”

“That’s the message,” Shelley said. “That’s what he did from the first second we were in the room. He knows our weaknesses from seeing us, and he knows where we can be better. He was direct in proving that point right from the first minute.”

McLellan brought a new system to the Sharks from Detroit, where he was a Red Wings assistant and won a Stanley Cup last year. In this case, change is good. Because McLellan’s plan should create a more aggressive offense and lead to more goals for a Sharks team that was, putting it kindly, offensively challenged last year.

“I think you’re going to see more drive the net, more shots, more puck control,” Sharks center Joe Thornton said. “I think those three things are going to be what becomes Shark hockey.”

What’s more, defensemen are no longer going to be spectators when the Sharks get the puck and attack. They’re going to be active participants and join in the rush. That was clear during practice when the Sharks began putting McLellan’s plan into action.

“He wants a four-man rush and that defenseman coming up,” Thornton said. “We didn’t score a lot of goals last year, so I think that’s going to add to our total this year.”

“I want them to be active,” McLellan said of his defensemen. “I want them to know that they’re required to go and be part of the play. We may as well start right off the bat and get them going. They responded well today.”

In the past, critics have accused the Sharks have being soft, unwilling to pay the physical price it costs to get bodies in front of the net. If McLellan has his way – and I’m betting he will – that should change this year, too.

“If you look at the game, that’s where all the goals are scored,” center Joe Pavelski said. “So why not get there? It’s tough to get there. It’s really easy to play on the outside, but to penetrate and get in there, that’s the tough thing. That’s where the work’s going to come into play.”

The Sharks were working extremely hard Saturday with three groups of players rotating between two rinks. They even had a scrimmage between the “B” and “C” groups, and the pace, at most times, was furious for the first day of practice.

No doubt that had something to do with having a new coach in the house.

“Everyone wants to show what they’ve got,” Pavelski said. “It’s a new coaching staff. They’re excited. It’s kind of a fresh start for a lot of people.”

A fresh start and, as Sharks general manager Doug Wilson put it earlier in the year, a new voice to listen to.

“Ears and eyes are wide open,” Shelley said. “We kind of left here last year thinking we deserved better. Some of us left maybe not knowing why we didn’t win in some situations. I think there were some clear points made about why and what happened. There was an underlying message as to, ‘Hey, this is who we’re going to be. Our identity is going to be a hard working team, and this is the system we’re going to be. That’s it. So listen and do it.’ That’s good.”

Thornton said changing coaches from Ron Wilson to McLellan was like “putting a fresh coach of paint over some old paint. It’s nice to hear a different voice, and I think some of the guys needed to hear a different voice. And I think it’s going to be good. I know I enjoyed having Ronnie as coach. He’s a very smart coach. But it’s good to have a change. Change never hurts.”

Most coaches consider themselves to be teachers. And in a sense, McLellan was acting like any smart teacher on the first day of school, establishing his authority and discipline. There may be times later in the season where he’ll loosen the reigns.

“In camp, that’s our job,” McLellan said. “A coach has to provide leadership. If I’m out there wavering and not following with my plan, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. Yes, early in the year we want to accomplish a lot of things. It’s black and white. There aren’t many gray areas. We’re going to do it that way.

“They’re smart people. They’re very good, high-intelligence players. So they’re going to have something to offer as well, and I’d be an idiot not to listen to them sometimes. … I want us to have a relationship.”

So far, Jeremy Roenick likes what he’s seen and heard from his new coach.

“He’s definitely a players’ coach,” Roenick said. “He definitely communicates with the players a lot. That’s very important I think for a coach. He’s a no-excuse kind of guy. It’s going to be his way and the coaches’ way in there or you’re not going to play. That’s exactly how it should be. … It’s all about the team. It’s all about doing the same thing, line after line and wave after wave. And if we commit to it and do it the right way and do it with hard work, we’re going to be very, very hard to beat, no question.”