Thursday, August 21, 2008

Playing Al's game won't win Kiff the battle of attrition

Knockdown slugfests between Al Davis and his head coaches is normal. It is to be expected actually. It's always been that way with the exception of Tom Flores and John Madden (though we can presume Madden was his own man more so than Tom). The public usually does not have visibility into the specifics of these types of disputes. However, as a result of Kiff speaking his mind to the media, Al now has the advantage.

Give Al credit for being so good at what he does (hiding the truth) that most of the Raider Nation (in addition to anyone else following the action) is still having a hard time digesting the fact that not only does the rift between Kiff and Al actually exist, it is a severe problem poised to embroil the franchise in even further turmoil.

"Oh no", say the Raider Nation and all of the random pundits, ignorant bloggers and forum participants, "how can this be? Kiff is doing good stuff. Why give the guy the boot after just two seasons? We're showing improvement"

The blind, obedient Raider Nation would rather try and come up with an alternative explanation or anticipated outcome to the drama.

Here's a reality check - a Raiders head coach has very little authority. Can it be stated any more clearly? It would take an exceptional situation for this pattern to change so drastically from the way Al has handled it to date.

So, Kiff does very little as head coach but not for lack of wanting to be a bigger part of orchestrating team affairs. It has been speculated by beat writers that he is actually alienated from Al's meetings with his coaching staff. Wow, can it get any more demeaning? That would be proof the rumors are true. Al is really his own head coach and always has been. Come on, does anyone really believe Tom Flores had the right stuff to guide the franchise to two super bowls? You know there's a good reason he's not in the Hall of Fame don't you? Everyone who votes for Hall of Fame candidates knows how things work in Raiderland. Tom is a great guy but he's not a great head coach. Kind of hard to disguise that fact, sorry to say. He's a minion and has been since 1963 (though Tom was a Raider before Al was).

The head coach in our case right now, Kiff, amounts to shouting on the field to his players and being a mouthpiece to the media. It's also obvious he is not handling the latter role too well. His frustrations are showing and when that happens, it's all over. Tom Flores and John Madden had exceptional diplomacy, patience and tact which is how they survived. The other coaches along the Raider head coaching treadmill were skilled at coachspeak as explained elsewhere on these pages.

You may think this is all Al bashing but I'm just looking at his personal playbook in reminding people, Al's strategy has been perfectly clear all along. He is a master at setting people up to fail if they don't toe the company line in his empire. People in positions of authority often have the option of either dismissing undesirable employees or keeping them around, "giving them enough rope" so to speak. Some authority figures have a unique knack for getting the most out of their employees. Al does have that skill so believe it or not, he is willing to let guys learn on the job, which is one reason why he hired Kiff. He was willing to let the guy grow into the role while accepting there would be a learning curve.

However, when a minion rebels or questions the state of affairs, Al turns nasty. But like any great cartoon villain, he chooses to gloat over his victim, making sure they know who the man is, selectively picking the right moment to strike back. It would not surprise me if Kiff was fired and saddled with a lawsuit of whatever variety. In this dreaded scenario, Kiff's salary may not be paid and he has to hire attorneys to do battle with Al's attorneys.

That is a worst case scenario. Is Al that mean? Oh hell yes. His hatred leaves no stone unturned in his desire to teach others the lengths he will go to preserve his mystique. There are countless examples of Al's legal wrath. Kiff may soon become an afterthought buried in bills if Al feels like doing that to him.

It's Kiff's fault of course for being impudent to begin with. He had no idea what he was getting himself into when he took the job. He really did not know how to play ball with a guy like Al. Kiff's too nice a guy and he may not have experienced a brush with this type of arrogance before. He'll come through this experience much wiser and hopefully, not poorer. If history is an indication, Al has already forged ahead with identifying loopholes to stall or eliminate Kiff's due salary. That is purely speculation. If it doesn't unfold that way it is because Al did not want a spotlight on the situation any more than there is already. He also knows Kiff is a much more likable personality than he is. Perhaps Al's intelligence will override his wrath in this case. A lawsuit pitting the evil old man against his fresh faced, bratty head coach stands a chance at rubbing the beleaguered Raider Nation the wrong way. Image means a lot to Al so there you go Raider Nation, another bone tossed in your general direction. Kiff may get to walk away with his dignity intact.

It is also likely Kiff and Al are not on speaking terms or if they are, the conversations don't last long. Al's patience wears thin with bratty minions. If Kiff was comfortable with his line of communication to the boss he would not have spouted off to the media about his frustrations with the roster and whatever else. Usually, a head coach will bring his concerns to the boss and they will review all of that in private. In this case, Kiff has nowhere to turn. His coaching staff are all guys installed by Al. Can you name a single member of the coaching staff that is in Kiff's camp? None exist. The man is alone, drifting and understandably, not enjoying himself.

The unfortunate aspects to this are Al watched and waited for Kiff to trip up. On hiring Kiff, he knew he would be able to control this type of situation should it occur. Like a well-written script, Al remains distant from the fray while his reluctant puppet twists in the wind.

The current situation perfectly illustrates how Al thrives on seeing others try to swim through the muck. Kiff would rather do what coaches are supposed to do, be a factor in developing game plans, developing the talent on your roster and so forth.

No such luck.

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