Eric Gilmore's inside look at sports in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond
Friday, September 12, 2008
Raiders' football circus worthy of the big top
When your football team is more interesting and entertaining off the field than on, you’ve got serious problems.
Welcome to Raiders boss Al Davis’ wacky three-ring-circus of a world, the one he shares with coach Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
I keep waiting for the elephants, clowns and Flying Wallendas to arrive and for the big top to go up at team headquarters in Alameda.
I mean, can you believe what’s happened so far just this week? And we still have a few days to go, including Sunday’s road game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
On Monday night, the Raiders had their pants pulled down by the Denver Broncos and coach Mike Shanahan in an embarrassing 41-14 season-opening loss on national TV.
To make matters worse, cornerbackDeAngelo Hall, one of Davis’ big-money acquisitions, was torched by rookie wide receiver Eddie Royal. And strong safety Gibril Wilson, another expensive addition, got roasted, too.
That was nothing. Because on Wednesday, Kiffin dropped this little bomb while talking to reporters. Asked about the lack of blitzing against Denver, Kiffin said he had no real say over the defensive calls. Then he basically threw Ryan AND Davis under the bus together.
“We talk about it early in the week,” Kiffin said of the defensive plan. “Rob and the owner are in communication. For the most part, I let Rob do his thing over there. He has a belief in certain things, and he has a conversation with the owner about that.”
Then there was this nugget:
“I’m not going to get really into if I was the defensive coordinator what I would do because that really doesn’t matter,” Kiffin said. “I’m the head coach, I oversee everything and I control what I can control. Do I have the exact belief we do on defense? No, but it’s hard to have the exact belief that we do. So it is what it is.”
Kiffin, of course, wanted to get rid of Ryan after last season and hire a new defensive coordinator, but Davis vetoed that move. And in the past, Kiffin has made it clear he favors the “Tampa 2” defense – the one his father, Monte, runs as Bucs defensive coordinator – over the predominantly man-to-man scheme that Davis prefers.
In a nutshell, Ryan took full responsibility for the defensive scheme and said Davis has no part in the weekly game-planning.
“I put the game plan in,” Ryan said. “I run the defense, and it’s all on me. The meeting with the owner, during the week -- I meet with Mr. Davis in the offseason, guys. That thing is just (BS) and I want to make sure you got it right. I meet with the owner in the offseason. He’s the boss, he’s the man that hired me, and that’s been well-documented. I don’t meet with him on game plans or come up with all this. Hell, it’s amazing when things like this come out when we have a bad week.”
These “things’ came out of Kiffin’s mouth. That’s what makes this story so juicy. He’s the one who mentioned Ryan’s chats with “the owner.”
You have to wonder if Ryan’s rant was a command performance, if Davis ordered him to publicly dispute Kiffin’s story. We barely hear from the guy since he came to the Raiders in 2004 then he goes off for 18 minutes? During that spiel, he made sure to point out that “the three worst plays we had last week, we were in” the Tampa 2. Strange. Very strange.
You know this is all going to end ugly. Kiffin sounds like a man who’s trying to talk his way into getting fired so he can escape Davis and get paid the rest of his contract. He’s been firing barbs at Davis for months now, questioning his free-agent signings and personnel decisions. Now he has talked publicly about Davis’ involvement with the defense in the wake of an utter defensive disaster against Denver.
When was the last time you heard a Raiders coach refer to his boss as “the owner” instead of “Mr. Davis”? I can’t remember that happening. That only points to the rift between Kiffin and Davis and Kiffin’s increasing brazenness.
There has been growing speculation that Davis will fire Kiffin in Week 5 when the Raiders have a bye.
I’m not sure Kiffin will last that long. Of course you never know with Davis. He might just decide out of spite to keep Kiffin chained to the Raiders for the rest of the season.
For now, this wacky football show will go on. Send in the clowns.
After nearly 30 years as a sports writer and columnist for the Contra Costa Times, Eric is now a freelance writer, editor and blogger. He was a 49ers beat writer for 10 years, including three Super Bowl seasons, and spent time on the Cal football and basketball beats. He has covered multiple Super Bowls, U.S. Opens and Masters, as well as the NBA, NHL and major-league playoffs.