The Oakland Raiders' offense improved in yardage, scoring, and turnovers under head coach Lane Kiffin in 2007. But Kiffin will stand up to Raiders owner Al Davis; that's the criterion for a firing in Oakland.
If the dispute between Davis and Kiffin wasn't already enough, it seems there is even more to the clash.
The year-long rift between Davis, 78, and Kiffin, 32, has become one between two entirely different parties. With reports constantly being updated, it's becoming clear who the main players on each side are.
There's the Rob Ryan camp; which includes defensive line coach Keith Millard, linebackers coach Don Martindale, defensive backs coach Darren Perry, and, most importantly, Davis.
It seems if Kiffin got his way, each of those guys would be gone (except, of course, Davis), linking each of the four coaches' interests together. They'd like to keep their jobs.
Then, there's the Kiffin camp. Up to this point, nobody in particular has spoken out in favor of Kiffin. However, it's likely that newer offensive assistants such as O-line coach Tom Cable and coordinator Greg Knapp would have no problem understanding Kiffin's unease. For anyone within the Raiders' organization, though, it's not worth questioning Davis, a no-nonsense boss who has no problem firing people.
According to both the Sacramento Bee and a Fox 31 Sports report in Colorado, assistants Millard, Martindale and Perry are each targets whom Kiffin would like to cut loose.
Fox 31 talked with "a former Raiders coach" at last Saturday's Senior Bowl. Here's what that anonymous coach had to say: "They (the Raiders' coaches) get down to Mobile at the Senior Bowl, he (Kiffin) tells Keith Millard that he needs to look for a job while he's down there at the Senior Bowl cause he wants to let him go ... Current coaches on the Raiders staff told me that."
That report clearly indicates Kiffin's intent. In essence, if it's true, it's not an intent, but Kiffin already unofficially fired Millard.
Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee takes things a step further, saying: "What's the common thread among them [three assistants]? They're all popular with the players. It makes Kiffin look as if he's running off anyone that might have more influence than he does. And now players have begun calling Davis to express their displeasure with Kiffin."
Sure, that's one way of looking at things.
Here's another: Ryan, Millard, Martindale, and Perry did nothing in 2007 to show they deserve to stay with the Raiders. Actually, each did more to deserve they should be fired.
The 45-year-old Ryan headed up a defense that finished 22nd overall in total yardage allowed and 26th in points against last season. Since Ryan began coaching the defense in 2004, he has failed to successfully implement a 3-4 scheme, has had very little success in running zone coverage, and has never seen his 'D' rank better than 22nd against the run.
Millard and Martindale are each products of the Ryan era. Millard joined the team in 2005; Martindale came aboard in '04. Neither did anything to boost their résumés in 2007.
Giving direction to the seven guys up front for the Raider 'D', Millard and Martindale built a unit that gave up 145.9 rushing yards against each game (31st in the NFL), let in 10 100-plus yard rushers, and allowed a league-worst 4.8 yards per carry and 24 rushing TDs.
Perry, responsible for all the other players on the field (the defensive backs), headed up a unit that wasn't too bad on paper, but not so good at second glance. The Raiders ranked eighth in yardage against the pass, but they were thrown at just 27.4 times per game. Only the Miami Dolphins were thrown at fewer times each game; not surprisingly, they ranked fourth against the pass.
Yet, surprisingly, the two outside assistants Davis has shown interest in thus far this offseason have been offensive guys.
One, Al Saunders, has spent 14 years in the NFL with experience as a head coach, assistant head coach, wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator. The other, James Lofton, spent the last six years as the San Diego Chargers' wide receivers coach. Both have interviewed for head coaching jobs with the Raiders within the past two years.
On the flip side, Oakland's offense moved up the NFL's total yardage rankings by seven slots under Kiffin, gained 48.6 yards more each contest, scored 14 more touchdowns and turned the ball over nine fewer times than it did in 2006.
But Lane Kiffin will stand up to Al Davis. That's the criterion for a firing in Oakland.
Anthony Carroll can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org