The off season is officially under way for the Oakland Raiders. What lies ahead, and what should be the goal of the off season?
The first step is resolving the coaching situation. Will Tom Cable stay or go? Has he done enough to warrant staying? Is he the right coach to get the team on a winning track? With the strong ownership in place, is Tom Cable the correct guy to work with them?
First question: Has he done enough to warrant staying?
This question is a matter of perspective. Look at the Raiders roster: If you believe they fell short of their potential, part of that falls on the coaches. The Raiders are very young with a lot of raw, undeveloped talent. Developing the talent falls on the coaches. Deciding if the talent is developed enough to perform on the field also falls on the coaches. If a player is not ready, and someone else on the roster is, the coach is responsible for making the change.
This is the biggest area that Cable can be criticized. Cable, like the team, is young. He did finish the 2008 season as the head coach, but the circumstances were different. The coaching staff was different in 2008. Almost the entire staff was turned over. Cable was given the responsibilities of not only being the head coach, but also being the play caller. Yes, there are a lot of coaches across the league that do, it but that doesn’t make it easy.
Cable learned on the job how to be responsible. He was not given total control of the organization, so he can’t be criticized for all moves the team makes.
Cable and the staff have made many positive strides this year. They seemed to get the bulk of the team on the same page. The team really seems to play hard, unlike years past. There’s not a lot of negative sentiment coming from the locker room (the exception is JaMarcus Russell).
In 2009, the Raiders once again won 5 games beating Denver, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. Two of those teams were playoff teams, and all but Kansas City had winning records. Pittsburgh won last year's Super Bowl. Oakland's defeat of the Steelers kept Pittsburgh out of the playoffs this year.
Second question: Is he the right coach to get the team on the winning track?
Tom Cable does not make excuses. He doesn’t publicly criticize the organization, the players, or the ownership. Previous coaches seemed incapable of doing that.
Prior to Tom Cable taking over, Lane Kiffin was brought in as an offensive genius to lead the team back to the promise land. He was young, arrogant, and unproven. He was fired from the organization because he couldn’t do two things: He couldn’t win, and he seemed unable to get along with members of his staff and the organization. After Oakland, he was hired to be the University of Tennessee Coach where he seemingly stirred things up into a bit of a hornet's nest only to bolt for the greener pastures of USC. The jury is still out on how good or bad Lane Kiffin is as a coach. He has yet to prove anything except that he can talk when a microphone’s in front of him.
Art Shell ran the team for a year prior to Lane Kiffin. This was the worst performing Raider team in recent memory. There was constant infighting in the locker room, and it was impossible to tell what the strategy was on, or off, the field.
Norval Turner came before Art Shell. Looking back, this was probably the biggest miss of them all. Not because Norv was a bad coach, but because Norv took over at the wrong time and was not given ample opportunity to do what he was hired to do. The team was old, and the talent cupboards were bare. Norv was tasked with turning over the roster (he waived Tim Brown) and was still asked to win. Sure Randy Moss and Lamont Jordan were brought in, but that wasn’t nearly enough to do the job.
Third question: With the strong ownership in place is Tom Cable the right guy to work with them?
Unlike a number of people that have come and gone from the organization and others around the NFL, Tom Cable can work with the ownership in Oakland.
Mr. Davis is much maligned and often criticized as being out of touch and out of time with football today. People say the old man has lost it when it comes to all things football. People say he strong arms all of the decisions in Oakland.
In any organization, there are bosses and owners. In a lot of cases, they are the same person. Mr. Davis is that. He has years of experience and knows a heck-of-a-lot more than most. He wants to give his team a chance to win, and that includes making decisions and drawing on his experience. There are plenty of other owners in the same boat but aren’t nearly as criticized.
People can say what they want but, Mr. Davis still has "it." There have been a few misses in the draft, but all teams have misses. There have been some reaches, but there have a lot been a lot of genuine stars found in the depths of the draft by Mr. Davis. Nnamdi Asomugha comes to mind. Louis Murphy, Zach Miller, Trevor Scott, and Matt Shaughnessy are players that most people outside Oakland never heard of. In the not to distant future, everyone will know about them.
Working with and for Mr. Davis, if nothing else, is complicated. It’s clearly not for everyone. He seems to know what he wants and will not take excuses. Above all, winning is the most important thing.
Based on what happened this year, it’s clear the potential to win is there. Will they win their division and the Super Bowl next year? It’s possible—unlikely—but possible. The Raiders taking a big step in the right direction is more likely. They can build on the successes of this year.
There were many off the field distractions talked about this year. It was a proverbial mine field through which Tom Cable and the Raiders had to navigate. There was a lot of speculation, but most don’t know what really went on.
Tom Cable does have things in his past of which he's not proud. Like most other humans, he’s done things that he regrets. If I met someone that doesn't have regrets, that person would be the first.
Right now no one is sure what is going to happen with the Raiders.
Tom Cable wants to be the coach. He has the backing of the locker room. He has cleaned up a lot of lingering negative perceptions about the team. He tows the company line and seems to have figured out how to work with Mr. Davis effectively. He learned a lot this season he didn’t know before this year.
Here’s a potential recipe for success for next year:
- Keep Tom Cable.
- Hire an offensive coordinator to call plays.
- Wave JaMarcus Russell (he is the one remaining distraction). Don't re-negotiate his contract. He and his monster deal bring nothing positive.
- Draft or acquire some more players on the offensive line.
- Draft, get Linebacker help, or consider a shift to the 3-4 with the personnel in Oakland.
- Continue developing the young players.
A lot of people are calling for Mr. Davis to fire Tom Cable. A head coach represents the father figure on a team. If a family constantly had a new father, it would be dysfunctional at best. Tom Cable seems to be consistent and stable. He has earned a second chance along with the opportunity to make some changes. With the same direction and some additional resources, this team will be in the hunt in 2010.