Long Live Al Davis and Long Live Raiders Futility
The man who coined the phrase, "Just win, baby!," and made "Commitment to excellence" synonymous with the once proud Oakland Raiders pro-football organization may have finally succeeded in leading his moribund franchise to rock bottom on Tuesday, firing Head Coach Lane Kiffin.
Rumors of Coach K's demise, which have been circulating around the Interweb since the beginning of the season, were finally confirmed today when Raiders' owner, Al Davis, broke up with his youthful, dimple-chinned manager over the phone.
C'mon, Al. I thought older gentlemen such as yourself had more tact than that.
To make matters much worse, Davis exposed himself as the worst kind of owner in professional sports, one who commits slander and attempts to publicly humiliate his former employees, as he did by calling Kiffin a liar and saying that the coach had "disgraced" the team in an embarrassing press conference, in which he erringly cited just cause for firing Kiffin.
Kiffin Should Have Signed A Pre-Nup
Evidence that the honeymoon was over for the 33-year old head coach—the league's youngest—began even before the Raiders suited up for their first game of the season against the Denver Broncos, when rumors of the coach's imminent firing were first reported. I wrote about the topic here.
To his credit, Kiffin handled the media speculation and questions about his stability as the Raiders coach with dignity and aplomb throughout the first quarter of the 2008 NFL season, repeatedly deflecting comments and questions regarding then-uncited criticism from the Raiders' brass and maintaining that his focus was on coaching the Oakland Raiders.
Kiffin continued to show humility and grace in a post-firing interview with ESPN's Trey Wingo, in which he said he felt sadness for Al Davis.
Now Davis doesn't want to pay Kiffin the money owed to him on the remainder of his three-year, $6 million contract.
Raiders On-Field Performance Improved Under Kiffin
When Davis hired Kiffin in 2007, he did so knowing the young coach would inherit a 2-14 Raiders group, and a team that compiled an NFL-worst 15-49 record in the four years (2003-2006) following its most recent Super Bowl appearance, which they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and another former Raiders coach, Jon Gruden, 48-21.
Kiffin only slightly improved Oakland's winning percentage (.250) in his first year with a 4-12 record, but signs of improvement were beginning to show with an impressive 34-20 triumph over their bitter AFC West rival, the Denver Broncos, in Week 13.
The defeat of the Broncos followed a 20-17 victory over the Chiefs at Kansas City in Week 12 and signified back-to-back divisional wins for a Raiders team that had lost its previous 17 matchups against AFC West opponents.
Despite a 1-3 start to the 2008 campaign, Kiffin's Raiders displayed continued signs of progress behind a rejuvenated offensive attack, led by a talented young quarterback in JaMarcus Russell and a potent rushing attack, spearheaded by rookie running back Darren McFadden and his backfield mate, Justin Fargas.
The team's 23-8 victory over Herm Edward's Kansas City Chiefs in Week Two, and fourth-quarter leads over the surprising Buffalo Bills and perennial AFC power San Diego Chargers were encouraging signs of a team headed in the right direction.
Though the Raiders are still clearly a far cry from rejoining the NFL elite, even the casual observer can see they were slowly gaining on the middle-of-the-pack under Kiffin's tutelage.
And while average is not acceptable in today's "What have you done for me lately?" world of college and professional sports, it is a step in the right direction away from mediocrity.
A Petite Disclosure and a Plea to Pat Bowlen
Finally, in the name of editorial integrity, I should point out that as a lifelong Denver Broncos supporter, my opinions presented here are not completely unbiased, though I have attempted to present the facts of this case with both accuracy and truthiness.
I honestly believe that the finest days of Al Davis' Hall of Fame tenure as Captain of the Silver & Black are behind him, and his performance as the team's GM over the past five years have been no better, if not worse, than the recently fired Detroit Lions' GM, Matt Millen.
On the upside, Lane Kiffin is a talented, young NFL coach who comes with an impressive pedigree as the son of defensive guru and current Bucs defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, and he has brighter coaching days ahead.
So, Pat Bowlen, if you happen to read this article, consider doing something you did in the early '90s and extend an olive branch to a former Raiders coach who was similarly fired by the H.P.I.C.—Head Pirate In Charge—after compiling a losing record in just 20 games.
Perhaps some of that Kiffin ingenuity could help restore the Broncos' struggling defense as one of the league's best.
And you never know; when future HOF'er Mike Shanahan's run as the greatest coach in Denver sports history finally sets into the Colorado sunset, you just may have his successor waiting in tow.