Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Inside Raiders HQ

The following article contains an apt and often overlooked observation of Amy Trask to accompany analysis of Raider HQ dysfunction.

People often think Amy Trask is somehow the softer voice in the organization because she is a woman. Not true. She is a Yes Woman in Al's world and as stated here from a voice who knows (Monte Poole has been covering local pro teams for a long while), she is also feared within the building.

Raiders are a team in need of a bridge
By Monte Poole
Staff columnist, Oakland Tribune

Though some in the Raider Nation believe their favorite team would be better off without Al Davis, others insist the solution is finding yet another coach.

It's OK to disagree on what's best for the Raiders, but they should all agree on this: Fixing this mess is less about a new face on the sideline than about having a smart, talented facilitator.

Best person for that role? General manager.

Despite the coverage and debate as Davis deliberates firing Lane Kiffin, we all know a coaching change is not the panacea. The Raiders can't become winners until someone can unify an organization that now exists as a collection of departments, each mostly unto itself.

There is one island for the players, another for assistant coaches, a third for the head coach. There is an island for player personnel, another for administration and the biggest, of course, belongs to Davis.

Missing in too many instances are bridges to connect these islands. Some are in disrepair. Most are neglected. A few have collapsed.

Organizations rarely succeed without unity, and the Raiders have been without it since Bruce Allen left to take a similar position in Tampa Bay.

When discussing the struggles of the franchise, employees past and present roll their eyes and point to a number of factors, such as the whimsical owner; the instability; the self-serving individuals; the misplaced priorities; the strained working relationships and those whose loyalty to Al has obscured what's in the best interest of the organization.

For nearly all, though, it comes back to Allen. He found clever and subtle ways to challenge Davis, reach the coaches and address the unease in the building. Allen was the antidote to chief executive Amy Trask, who has earned a reputation as a tough woman, fiercely loyal to Al, with the people skills of a chain saw.

Allen was the one man during the past 13 years whose credibility ensured his words would be considered by anyone in the organization.

With Allen holding the place together, young coach Jon Gruden could do his job. It was a successful formula. During the Allen-Gruden years (1998-2001), the Raiders were 38-26. Subtract those seasons, and the Raiders are 50-96 since their return to Oakland.

Allen's nominal replacement, Mike Lombardi, may have known more about football but he never had Al's trust to the degree Bruce had. Furthermore, Lombardi did not — or could not — assuage fractured relationships in the same easy manner as Allen.

Lombardi left before the 2007 season. His nominal replacement, Mark Jackson, came at Kiffin's request but without the NFL credentials of Allen or Lombardi. Jackson's role is more restrictive, confined mostly to managing Kiffin.

Truth be told, every Raiders Super Bowl appearance has followed direct contributions from someone who could influence the roster, the coaches and the owner. They had Ron Wolf from 1966-75, and again from 1978-90. Davis and Wolf, at their peak, may have been the most effective executive duo in the NFL. Davis and Allen were pretty good, too, once Gruden arrived.

Gruden melted some of the ice around the organization. That he achieved a bit of celebrity was not appreciated by Davis who, according to several sources, undermined contract negotiations to keep Gruden in town, then traded the coach to Tampa Bay.

Having witnessed the Joe Bugel debacle of 1997, Allen had hustled to keep Gruden in Oakland. When Al called an audible, the 2002 NFL Executive of the Year, feeling undermined, lost his Oakland mojo and left after the 2003 season to join Gruden in Tampa Bay.

Wolf and Allen were able to challenge Al, reason with him, influence him. Though Wolf kept mostly to football, Allen facilitated numerous aspects of the operation.

Nowadays, no one can effectively challenge or reason with the boss. Unstable are bridges between Al and his coach, between the head coach and the assistants, between Amy and those trying to avoid her wrath, between the world as the Raiders see it and the world as it really is.

Firing Kiffin doesn't fix the Raiders any more than a marijuana arrest wins the War on Drugs. It fails to address the larger problem.

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