Monday, July 21, 2008

Why Kiff won't be back

This topic has been talked to death and rehashed in so many different forms but STILL, the Raider Nation is divided. There are believers in Al. There are those who cannot fathom why Lane Kiffin would be jettisoned as head coach should the team pull out a respectable win-loss ratio in the upcoming season. Then there is the reality crowd who simply say, "the writing is on the wall." The mountain of evidence all points to Kid Kiff being the unfortunate lame duck as were many other coaches before him.

Realistically, this was a two year stint to turn things around. Had Kiff been more subservient, he would have stood a chance at staying on should the team show improvement on last year's 4 win tally.

You've all read or heard by now about the famous letter that sparked media feeding frenzy in January 2008. News leaked about a letter allegedly sent by Al to Lane's agent that significantly reduced Kiff's authority as head coach. It went so far as specify Kiff would not have input on personnel and coaching staff decisions. That's heavy duty stuff. It's the stuff that smacks of Al's fingerprints. Though actual proof of this letter was never revealed, the scenario just made too much sense. It would have been hard for the media to not react. This was a pattern Al had been using for some time in dealing with people (not just head coaches, anyone) who he feels has failed him. He can be a magnanimous man (look at how he has taken care of many former players and their various situations) but Al can also be a ruthless man. Remember, this is a guy who fired Mike White on Christmas Eve in 1996. Christmas Eve man, come on! I mean if that does not spell out what's really going on back there at HQ I have no idea what would.

A few writers came down real hard on Al when this occurred. In particular, Ray Ratto who is one of the most hilarious, insightful and talented sports writers in the business. The last thing you want to do as a sports team owner in the bay area is get on Ray's radar, giving him ammunition to meet his column deadlines. If Al is going to clang an iron fist then he has to expect that opens himself up to criticism. Plain and simple. Al is his own worst enemy as far as setting himself up for scrutiny with the press.

Lane was no angel in the process. He accelerated his own demise by raising the prospect of Rob Ryan's services being better served elsewhere. I like Rob Ryan as much as the next guy. Never met him but he looks like a good dude. BUT he has done what any company Yes Man would do. He has denied the incident took place at all.

When Lane presented his idea to Al about moving on without Rob Ryan, Al mulled the options and decided not only was Ryan staying, he had enough of Lane as head coach. There was some other rumblings that Lane allegedly instigated the trade of Randy Moss, getting a lower draft pick in return. Al was displeased at Randy's success with New England. Gee Al, that's never happened before you know, a player going to another team and finding new life. It's not like Randy was interested in being a Raider and giving it his all anyway.

Regardless, we know the Ryan incident ticked off Al who then allegedly sent Kiff's agent the famous letter. At this point, the gist of the contents - but not the letter itself - had made it's way to print nationally.

Raider HQ went into defensive mode immediately and denied the incident as valid. It must be myth! Al's legion of Raider fans rally to his defense, alleging the sports writers are hacks or stretching the truth to get a good story. The media hates Al! Down with sports writers who say anything bad about Al!

We all know everything's peachy at Raiders HQ. Ahhhhh...serenity!

This gets embarrassing for everyone. The Raiders are obviously embarrassed. The only thing worse would be a photo of Al sitting on the can appearing in The Onion.

Well, the incident must have occurred. As Lane verified when asked, "...where there's smoke there's fire. Obviously, there was something. Everything wasn't made up".

One thing to keep in mind, Kiff really has very limited experience dealing with the press. He did not do a whole lot of that up to his appointment as Raider head coach. He's not polished when it comes to coachspeak, which former Raider coaches were fluent in. Art Shell, Norv Turner, Bill Callahan, Jon Gruden, Joe Bugel, etc all were skilled at deflecting questions without revealing too much. Kid Kiff will learn but he's not there in year 1 or 2.

Still, Al's defenders believe:

1) The problem doesn't exist because some Al hating sports writer must have fabricated the whole story.

2) If a sports writer is not complimentary in their analysis then they are automatically Al haters, even though they are pointing things out Raider fans should be aware of but may not necessarily want to believe.

The only defense Al has and that his defenders have is to discredit the writer and then hope the incident blows over. What choice is there? Lose face by revealing Al is a dictator? We already know that he is of course but we're not supposed to call attention to it, especially the media (which I am not). That would be sacrilege! Surprise, 6 months later we're still talking about this incident because we know it's true. By denying reality it just makes a mockery of the franchise and its fans. It paints us as blind followers, loyal meatheads and banner wavers - the ignorant elements of the Raider Nation. You know, the target of the rest of the league's heaping abuse for not seeing what everyone else sees.

OR, do people actually read the criticism and notice that despite the blatent Al bashing, it was really nothing new. Everyone always wonders how long it will take for Al to get frustrated with his coaches and make changes. He has already started working on Kiff's replacement staff. James Loften has quietly been on staff as a receivers coach (replacing the iconic Freddy Biletnikoff) and Paul Hackett has now joined as a "consultant" or "Offensive Assistant." Hackett is an experienced offensive mind and is in good graces with Al as a result of his recommendation of Rich Gannon several years ago. Loften and Hackett are Al's new Yes Men to join Rob Ryan (who has no reason to leave if Kiff goes).

Here's the startling facts; experienced observers - like sports writers - have become cynical about Al because they have seen all this before, quite a few times. We all have. The biggest rumor is true - The emperor wears no clothes. Meaning, we're all supposed to just follow the company line and protect the boss. It's a political problem for Raiders management and they don't deal with it properly as a result of Al's temperament, effectively shutting down those lines of communication with fans.

Oh and excuse me, as a Raider fan I'm not supposed to raise these issues. I should be an ignorant banner waver and fork over my credit card for season tickets, shut my mouth and keep buying new merch to feed the silver and black marketing machine. Raider fever, catch it!

Let's cut through all the nonsense and look at the reality:

1. Al wants Lane out - or at least he did following last season. Something tells me nothing less than a Super bowl win will see him be invited back as Raider head coach in 2009.

2. Kiff has shown he's not comfortable with Al's management style. BUT, he's in a good spot. He is head coach of an NFL team that is primed for better things in the upcoming season. He is due 4 million for the experience. If he gets fired, he still collects. Most importantly, he is highly employable with this under his belt. There are better jobs out there that have supportive management for his services.

There has been speculation Kiff is under a 3 year contract but thankfully, Raider HQ has grown a set on this issue and admitted Kiff is under a 2 year deal with a third season contingent on meeting certain goals.

So all derisive media opinions aside, it sure looks like Kiff will leave on his own terms sometime after this season, before the next. Unless of course Al is insistent on making that call and fires Kiff beforehand.

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