Anyone who thought Raiders owner/architect Al Davis had mellowed over the years was greatly mistaken. The volatile Raiders head man finally decided that he had seen enough of the Lane Kiffin era as he fired the 33-year old coach on Tuesday just four games into his second season and one day after the St. Louis Rams let go of Scott Linehan. The firing marked the second time Davis got rid of coach after 4 weeks (Mike Shanahan after four games in 1989). Kiffin finishes his very short 20-game tenure with a record of 5-15.
Tuesday’s firing finally ended a situation that had been simmering since January 2008 at the Senior Bowl, when there were rampant rumors that Davis had written a resignation letter that Kiffin refused to sign. After that moment Davis seemed to relish in the fact that he had the upper hand over Kiffin and did everything within his power to make the young coach quit. To his credit, Kiffin continued preparing his team despite Davis’ placing confidants on his staff in form of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and receivers coach James Lofton. However Kiffin did voice his opinion through the critical session with the media where he sniped at Davis and Ryan often, causing a “When is the firing going to happen atmosphere?”
After looking embarrassing unprepared for their 2008 debut on Monday Night Football where the Raiders were shellacked 41-14 at home by the Broncos, the team responded in an uncertain environment. Kiffin led the Raiders to a 23-8 dismantling of the Chiefs in week 2 followed by a game effort against the undefeated Bills in week 3 losing by a whisker 24-23. Those efforts and Sunday’s 28-18 loss to Chargers, where the Raiders led 15-0 at the half, were not enough to quell Davis from chopping Kiffin. The writing was on the wall as the Davis held clandestine meetings with team officials on Monday as Kiffin went about his business of his usual press conference and film preparation. The end came during the Raiders’ bye week as Kiffin probably said to Davis, “Fire me, because I will not quit”.
Now, “Where do the Raiders go from here?” unfortunately there is nowhere to go but up as one of the NFL’s greatest franchises has come apart in recent years – 7 coaches since 1995 and a record of 20-64 since losing in Super Bowl XXXV -mostly due to ineptness at the top many sources have said. The Raiders still owe Kiffin $2 million dollars this season and there was a team option for 2009 from his two-year deal from last year. It will be interesting to see if the young coach stays on the sidelines collecting guaranteed money or if he will latch on somewhere else – maybe Kiffin can follow in the footsteps of two coaches that went on to greatness after leaving the Raiders madhouse — Shanahan (won two Super Bowls) and Norv Turner (Led Chargers to AFC Title Game)
The Raiders did not immediately announce a replacement for Kiffin, but Davis has a short list compiled including in-house candidates Ryan, Lofton, Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, running backs coach Tom Rathman, offensive line coach Tom Cable and scout/retread coach Paul Hackett. My guess is that Lofton, who Davis interviewed several times in ’07 before hiring Kiffin, will get the job. Lofton is well respected around the NFL as a receivers coach and is a former Hall of Fame player, but the key issue is he ready to be in Davis’ crosshairs daily.
Stay tuned, as we know “As the Raiders Turns” will have more drama to come.