There's a lot of criticism in the press of last Wednesday's removal of Tom Cable's interim tag as coach of the Oakland Raiders, one writer going so far as to suggest that it's Joe Bugel redeux.
Other writers have called the hiring Al Davis' final and complete undermining of the head coach position, labeling Cable a figurehead and questioning whether he had a hand in hiring any of the assistant coaches.
Be that as it may, the press has under reported the positives of retaining Cable. Davis' relationship with coaches has severely limited his options, but Cable shouldn't be viewed as a last resort.
Not only was he the right choice, he also has the best chance to succeed of any Raider coach since the Gruden Era, and here's why.
While Lane Kiffin's recent foot tasting in Tennessee makes his firing by Davis suddenly seem more reasonable, it can't be denied that the over head projector business and the press conference dramas that preceded it were negative for the team.
It has fed the discontent of the veterans like Asomugha and Lechler and hampered the development of Russell. In order to have any chance at improving, a sense of normalcy has to be established.
The press encouraged Lane Kiffin somewhat because they found a kinship in his willingness to criticize Al Davis and call out players.
Say that Cable is a puppet for speaking the company line at press conferences if you like, but those press conferences are now appropriately boring and the players can shift their focus to what is happening on the field.
2. Momentum and Continuity
A. Both teams would have made the playoffs if only they had beaten the Raiders playing at home.
Bonus points if you said both fired their coaches (who both were also ex-Raiders coaches) because they failed make the playoffs. Add to that a solid victory against a very respectable Houston Texans team and you have the best stretch of Raiders Football since 2005, maybe since the Super Bowl loss.
The fact that blowout losses to the Chargers and Patriots and the fake punt debacle also fell in that stretch is countered somewhat by the fact that it was Oakland's youngest players- Higgins, Schillens, Miller, Bush, McFadden, Russell—leading the charge in those three wins, particularly in those last two games.
In order to build off of that momentum, they needed to have a sense of continuity rather than starting over yet again; and that means bringing back Cable.
Also on that note: While each firing may have been justified in and of itself, the constant firing of coaches has been a recipe for disaster. Giving a team of young players the same coach at the beginning of 2009 that they had at the end of 2008 has to be viewed as a positive.
There would be little point in denying that most coaches who are considered to be difference makers in the NFL would never come to the Raiders without a real change in attitude from Al Davis.
Cable has an advantage over all the mediocre and inexperienced candidates who would consider coming to Alameda in that he's already been in the building. While Davis can always surprise, his hands-on management style will come as no shock to Cable.
The Oakland Raiders were Tom Cable's childhood team, he doesn't have any immediate ambitions outside of this job. Given ANY measure of success as the interim, doesn't this outlook make Cable the man for the job?
He actually wants to be the head coach of the Raiders for its own sake. How refreshing.
From a January Glenn Dickey column: [John] Madden's strength was always his ability to bond with the players. They would jokingly refer to him as "Pinky" because his face would get red when he was angry, but they played their hearts out for him. They knew he truly cared about them.
Dickey was comparing Madden to Mike Singletary, but I think that Cable fits the bill just as well. Like Singletary and Madden, Cable isn't exactly an Xs and Os guy.
(In a way, that's an advantage in coexisting with Davis, he's less likely to clash with Davis than an offensive genius with strong ideas about what the system should be.)
But he's proven himself to be a good motivator of players, an underrated quality in a head coach.
After an extremely difficult first half including the bye week firing of Kiffin, why didn't the Raiders wave the white flag for the '08 season? Why didn't they just roll over after demoralizing thrashings by rivals the Chargers and Patriots, but instead finish off with back to back wins for the first time since 2002?
We've watched this team give up by mid season for the last five seasons. Cable is the x factor. The team had nothing to play for but pride and to bring back their coach.
Another factor to consider: Cable's four wins all came against .500 or better teams- including a win in Denver, always a litmus test for a Raiders coach. He has the Raiders believing they can win against NFL elite teams. Like Madden, Cable can get 'em to "play like hell on Sundays".
Expecting a super bowl out of Cable is a bit grandiose. But Cable's promise to improve the Raiders sounds more realistic to me than those at past head coach introductions for one simple reason: He already has improved the Raiders, even if only a little bit.
And despite what the press thinks of Davis and Cable, I think with continued progress from Russell, more touches for Bush, and a healthier McFadden, it would be foolish to think that Cable can't improve the Raiders even more.
And in this AFC West, a little improvement might be all it will take.