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.”

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