Davis wants to win … just not on the field
By Michael Silver, Yahoo Sports
September 19, 2008
Just win, baby.
As Al Davis prepares to fire another coach – today, at halftime of the Oakland Raiders' game Sunday against the Bills, or whenever his lawyers tell him he's suitably positioned to try to withhold the money he contractually owes – the loyal denizens of Raider Nation are being asked to believe, as always, that this is about an owner's obsession with victory.
It is, kind of, only the winning that Davis wants so desperately has nothing to do with what happens on the football field. He wants to beat Lane Kiffin, the young man he unearthed 20 months ago as some sort of boy-wonder-savior, in a game of wills. He wants to beat down all his enemies: The city of Oakland, the county of Alameda, the NFL establishment that conspires against him, the officials, the media and the employees who dare do anything but kiss his aging butt.
He wants to win a never-ending game of Feel My Power; in this case, even if he has to sacrifice an entire football season to do it.
We know this because Davis, 79, has a different way of doing business than everyone in professional sports. That used to be a good thing, at least in terms of the bottom line, as Davis' teams had consistent success for nearly four decades. But since Oakland got plastered in Super Bowl XXXVII by the Buccaneers and Jon Gruden, another coach with whom he couldn't coexist, the Raiders have been the least victorious team in the NFL.
Over the last five-plus seasons, Oakland is a league-worst 20-62. That's six defeats more than the next two most futile franchises during that stretch: the 49ers and Lions.
It's not being a "hater" to point this out; it's stating the obvious.
The Raiders are awful. The way they do business is laughable. Their corporate culture is cancerous. And all of this can be traced to one man and his never-ending mission to show everyone who's boss.
This is not a new thing. Twelve years ago, I wrote an article for Sports Illustrated that detailed Davis' destructive leadership approach, right down to his practice of dropping a towel and making a team employee wipe his shoes.
How would you like to work in such an environment?
Davis has already had five head coaches this decade.
Bringing this back to the present: How would you like to be the head coach of an NFL team, having just completed your first season – one in which most of your players felt there had been signs of progress despite a 4-12 record – and one day you show up to work and, on your desk, there is a letter drafted by your boss: "I, Lane Kiffin, hereby resign … "
That's what happened to Kiffin back in January. He had two years left on his contract, and by resigning he would have forfeited $4 million. So he decided not to quit, figuring that if Davis wanted him gone that badly, the owner could cut him a check and move on to the next victim. He acted out by spending a week as the coach of the North team in the Senior Bowl without wearing any clothes containing the Raiders' logo and waited for the axe to fall.
At the time, I tried to give Davis the benefit of the doubt in terms of his evaluation of Kiffin. From my vantage point, things had improved considerably from the previous year, when Art Shell's second stint as the Raiders' coach proceeded in disastrous fashion. I also found it odd that Davis, the only person in the world who viewed Kiffin as a viable NFL head coaching candidate at the time the hire was made, had reversed his opinion so abruptly.
But hey, I figured, it's his team, and if he wants to cut his losses, so be it.
Sources said Davis blamed Kiffin for impelling him to trade wideout Randy Moss to the Patriots for a fourth-round draft pick, chafing as the Raider washout set an NFL record with 23 touchdown receptions. The owner groused about Kiffin's decision to start Josh McCown over Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. He was also angered by reports that Kiffin had sought the Arkansas job before it was filled in December.
The final sin came when Kiffin told Davis he wanted to replace defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. At that moment the owner apparently decided he'd rather replace Kiffin. Yet he didn't have the foresight or guts to do it the traditional way.
It was around that time that Kiffin got his predrafted resignation letter, as well as a directive from Davis stating that the owner would have control over Kiffin's staff and over all personnel decisions. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Kiffin was also informed that he and his closest ally in the organization, director of football development Mark Jackson, wouldn't be involved in the scouting, planning or selecting of players in the draft.
Shortly thereafter Davis hired James Lofton as receivers coach without having Kiffin speak to the former Hall of Fame wideout.
Yet Davis still wouldn't fire his coach. A source told me Kiffin could have been bought out for as little as $1.7 million. But even if he'd had to pay the full $4 million, that shouldn't have caused Davis to pause. Having sold 20 percent of the team to a group of venture capitalists a few months earlier, he had all the cash he needed.
This was obvious as Davis doled out serious helpings of guaranteed money to free agents Gibril Wilson ($16 million), Javon Walker ($16 million) and Tommy Kelly ($18.125 million) and trade acquisition DeAngelo Hall ($24.55 million), among others.
Of course, Davis' reluctance to fire Kiffin had nothing to do with money. It was about not giving the insolent employee the satisfaction of leaving on his own terms. It was about torturing him until he caved and reminding him and everyone else that Davis rules the Raider Universe.
In other words, it was about everything but winning football games
How did Davis suppose his franchise would perform under such an arrangement? The owner wanted to fire the coach, who wanted to fire the defensive coordinator – yet here they were after a toxic offseason, and everyone was supposed to pretend it was all good?
Apply this model to any business, and imagine what it might do to workplace morale. The players aren't stupid – if they know that the head coach has been emasculated, that the owner's pets will enjoy what amounts to unquestioned job security, some of them will have a very different reaction to the coach's authority (or lack thereof) than they would in a more conventional situation.
That's why Davis' bitterness over Moss' departure is so ludicrous, for the owner completely misses the point: In a dysfunctional situation like the one in Oakland, he would always have been a checked-out underachiever. Only in a stable situation like New England's, with a culture of professionalism and veteran leaders (and a strong head coach) to enforce it, could Moss maximize his potential.
The fact that Davis allowed a coach he wanted gone to stay on the job through September is absurd enough. Even worse, Davis and his minions are now hell-bent on undermining what's left of Kiffin's credibility – again, at the expense of the team's ability to prepare for those ancillary events that take place on Sundays.
I'm not saying Kiffin has handled all of this in the best possible manner. After the Raiders' embarrassing, 41-14 defeat to the Broncos in their season opener, he probably shouldn't have answered a reporter's question about defensive strategy by saying, essentially, that such matters are between Ryan and Davis. But Kiffin is young, and he's clearly under a lot of day-to-day stress. And, most of all, he's a coach who probably wants to get fired as soon as possible, so he can cash out and get on with his coaching life.
Determined not to let Kiffin get his way, Davis is doing everything in his power to derail that plan.
First he reportedly ordered Ryan to rebut Kiffin's comments about the defensive strategy, which resulted in an 18-minute, profanity-laced tirade. (A source said Davis wasn't thrilled with Ryan's performance because the defensive coordinator forgot one of the key talking points: That a specific defense endorsed by Kiffin had been particularly ineffective against the Broncos. Incredible, and only in Raiderland.)
Then Davis, through his subordinates, floated media reports last week that Kiffin was about to be fired. The Raiders' 23-8 upset of the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday – and/or the owner's whims – staved off the inevitable.
On Wednesday, according to reports, senior executive John Herrera went around the press room at the team's Alameda training facility distributing copies of an espn.com column critical of Kiffin. A source says the team's public relations director, Mike Taylor, has also taken an active role in advocating for Davis' position, at the head coach's expense.
Think about how preposterous that is – at least two team officials are essentially engaged in a campaign to turn public opinion against a man who is theoretically the most important employee on the football side of the organization.
Gee, I wonder why this team loses so much.
If Davis can't get Kiffin to quit, sources say, he's trying to build a case against having to pay him the balance of his contract, on the grounds of insubordination. I suspect that at this point, the best Kiffin can hope for is that Davis will fire him and withhold the remainder of the cash he's owed. Kiffin can then file a grievance that probably won't get resolved, one way or another, for a year or more.
If Kiffin has to wait for his buyout – or if it never comes – Davis will undoubtedly feel a sick sense of satisfaction. It'll be another victory for a man who long ago started caring more about winning the petty wars he creates in his paranoid world than the games his fan base actually cares about, and Lofton or Ryan or Tom Rathman or Denny Green (if Davis is lucky) will be heralded as the next savior who'll help restore the greatness of the Raiders.
It's a sad state of affairs for a once-proud franchise, one which, I feel, deserves a new motto in line with the times. So I took the liberty of creating one.
It's not quite as snappy as the current, three-word staple, but it's a lot less disingenuous:
Just feel my power, and cave under the onslaught of pressure I unleash until you commit enough acts that my lawyers decree are insubordinate, baby.
That's a very strange way to run a business, but hey, he's the boss.
Take it to the ATM
The Vikings will finally uncork some offensive firepower in a triumph over the Panthers. … Jon Kitna won't make it to the bitter end of the Lions' third-consecutive defeat; this time they'll fall to former offensive coordinator Mike Martz in San Francisco. … Wisconsin native Tony Romo, on Sunday night at Lambeau Field, will have another big game, but so will Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers' defense will be the difference in a hard-fought victory.
Please, boss, send me to …
Green Bay, where I plan to enjoy some Spotted Cow ales Saturday night without having to dress like I'm about to climb Mt. Everest. Oh, and there should be a decent football game at Lambeau Field the following night.
Lies, lies, lies
1. If a team scores a lot of points early in the season, it's clearly superior to a team which plays exceptional defense – because people in fantasy leagues insist it is so.
2. After his revealing postgame interview on Sunday Night Football, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been offered a position with the McCain/Palin campaign (which also blacklisted NBC's Andrea Kremer).
3. And the next coach of the Raiders is … not Rob Ryan but … Buddy.
World's simplest pool
Among the people silently thanking Browns coach Romeo Crennel for kicking that late field goal in a 10-6 defeat to the Steelers was Brandi Chastain, who sweated out her first pick and (unlike a certain large-eyebrowed columnist) survived to play a second week. "I'm going to take New England over Miami because I like this whole new-quarterback thing. Remember when little Tommy Brady, the younger brother of soccer-playing sisters, had to step in when Drew Bledsoe went down? Maybe the same scene could be playing out again. I'm still a Tom Brady fan, but there's always something intriguing about a new guy having to come in and play in someone's shadow. I think it'll bring out this team's character."
My buddy's annoying fantasy football adventure
UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb and I are back on speaking terms after her resounding bounce-back in Week 2, as Gaucho Madness moved out of the cellar with a 90-68 thrashing of McLovin. (Big efforts from Aaron Rodgers and Jonathan Stewart were more than enough to compensate for disappointing outings by Braylon Edwards and Joey Galloway). Now we're wheeling and dealing: Picking up my man Gus Frerotte as a free agent; filing waiver claims for Ricky Williams and Bernard Berrian (I really think Frerotte is going to open things up for the Vikings); grabbing the Vikings' defense for Sunday's game against the Panthers while hoarding the Ravens for down the road; and dropping Ahman Green and Ladell Betts. Anthony Gonzalez also makes his debut in the starting lineup, replacing the injured Galloway, in a showdown with Tiggers (Drew Brees, Brian Westbrook, Willis McGahee, Donald Driver, Santonio Holmes).
Meanwhile, after his Lost Sunday, my buddy Malibu absorbed a Monday night thrashing from Rebels, who rode big games by Donovan McNabb and Felix Jones to a 13-point victory over Hand of Doom. Malibu has since directed some of his Ed Hochuli rage toward Broncos wideout Eddie Royal, who contributed 14.3 points to Rebels' cause. With LaDainian Tomlinson hurting and Marques Colston and Galloway sidelined, it has suddenly occurred to Malibu that, in his words, "My team blows." While contemplating trade options – his plan is to dangle tight end Antonio Gates in hopes of landing another running back – Malibu decided to play Matt Ryan over David Garrard in his showdown with Cleveland Steamers (named after an association of Ohio dry cleaners, perhaps?). I also advised him to pick up the Packers' backup halfback, Brandon Jackson, in the event that it looks like Ryan Grant can't go on Monday night against the Cowboys. And after listening to his complaints about No. 1 overall pick LT's failure to reach the end zone so far in '08, I told him he should have drafted Adrian Peterson. "Shut up," he replied.
Oxygen-deprived thought from above
Let's do some Don Julio Silver shots for …
The new Women's Professional Soccer league, which on Tuesday announced its national-team allocations. For those of us who were WUSA fans – and for soccer fans in general – next April looms as an exciting time. We're also summoning a hearty rendition of the Cal drinking song in honor of longtime band director Robert O. Briggs, who died on Wednesday.
This week's proof that Cal is the center of the universe
This is going to be a fulfilling fall for Golden Bears sports fans, with six teams currently holding national top-20 rankings: two-time defending national champion men's water polo (No. 1), men's soccer (No. 3), women's volleyball (No. 9), field hockey (No. 19), men's cross country (No. 19) and women's soccer (No. 20). And what of Cal's football team, which fell out of the rankings after a lost weekend on the East Coast? I'm afraid this movie mantra says it all – and that star halfback Jahvid Best may have learned the hard way about combining the Old Line State's favorite pastimes.
Yahoo search words of the week
two guys CNN
Rollin' with the Royals
If the Royals are going to fight their way back to the Premier League, they're going to have to start playing at least half as well away from home as they do at Madejski Stadium. After suffering a 2-0 defeat at Ipswich Town last Saturday, Reading came home three days later and crushed Sheffield Wednesday (that's the name of the team, not the night of the game) by a 6-0 score, matching the biggest rout in Madejski's 10-year history. The Royals, who got a shutout from our friend Marcus Hahnemann and goals by Kevin Doyle (hat trick), Noel Hunt (two) and Andre Bikey, moved up to fourth in the Football League Championship table with 10 points in six games. They hit the road again Saturday for a game at Watford, then play at Stoke City three days later in a League Cup third-round match.
Lyric-altered song dedication of the week
Like Richard Nixon during The Final Days, tearfully taking to his knees in search of absolution, the hanging-by-a-thread coach of the Oakland Raiders has had ample opportunity to lose it as of late. Here's a progress report, in the voice of his befuddled players, to the tune of "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction:
He gets mad
He gets mad
Trippin' on E(mail)
"Michael i get what you are saying about LT but we cant say he is not going to have the same record season he had in 2006 but you have to look it at it from the chargers stand point usually when the team starts off a tad bit slow so does LT but if you recall in nov and dec of 2007 the last half of the season when your football team has to play its best football thats when LT heats up. Plus he also won MVP in 2006 thats like a target on your back everyone knows they have to stop LT when they play San Diego, rivers and chambers and jackson are emerging and playing great but they are the focus right now because LT has a minor ding on his toe i think we should wait and see the whole season before we can really judge him because we cant say anything yet because its only week 3 now. What do you think?"
I think that if LT can run like your sentences, everything will be just fine.
"You sir, are a complete and utter moron for ranking the Cowboys third when everyone else in the football Universe ranks them tops. Get a clue, pull your head out of your you know what and realize you are a bonehead and fix it. No, you will not quit getting emails about this, especially when Dallas goes up to Green bay and destroys the Packers. On a scale of one to ten for stupidity, 10 being about as smart as a box of rocks, your football IQ rates an infinity. Your an idiot who doesn't need to be writing for anybody. Oh, wait, your writing for yahoo, same thing as nobody I guess. Geeze!"
Are they boiling brain cells up in those springs? It's been awhile, so let's review: The proper way to insult someone's intelligence is to write you're an idiot; otherwise it opens you up to the possibility of ridicule on a vast scale. Got it?
"I think everyone is missing it on why Mike Shanahan went for 2 points at the end of that incredible game Sunday. I think he did it for the Chargers. Here's why. The refs and replay system had screwed the Chargers twice. Once when the replay equipment didn't work. Then, when he could clearly see that the ref blew that call at the end of the game it should have belonged to the Chargers, he decided to go for 2 instead of the tie because that was a class act that would have given the chargers another chance to win it in regulation. Now, this is coming from a Die-Hard Raiders fan who has watched this guy stick it to my team every chance he has got. I know he'll never admit it, but I think he did it for Norv Turner. He's a class act in my book from now on."
Amazingly, you are not the only one to write in with a theory of this sort. To which I say: I have a lot of respect for the Broncos coach, but if you think he did it for anyone other than Mike Shanahan (and his players), I think you're delusional.
"Great article on VY. The Longhorn plane story made me respect Jeff Fisher even more. Vince's story is such a complex one. You neglected to mention Ricky Williams' parallel weirdness as well. Full disclosure: I'm a UT grad and Ricky and Vince are my favorite football players ever. However, even their biggest fans become concerned when we see them spiraling out of the NFL. Having said that, we do deserve more than the black and white lambasting that they've both received during most of their pro careers. Way to be open-minded and consider the possibility that Vince is not just a hack and a baby, and that most pro athletes, especially QBs, have more complex stories than we casual fans realize. – KC"
Thanks, and in retrospect, I do want to add this about Young's ordeal: When I wrote about the emotional fragility he had displayed during his time with the Titans, I should have been careful to draw a distinction between that behavior and the potentially scary situation that played out the night after the season opener. Thankfully, it turned out that police officers and mental-health professionals did not regard Young to be suicidal. But, in general, I do not equate clinical depression with fragility, as I was careful to point out in the aftermath of Terrell Owens's accidental overdose two years ago. Also, as psychology professor Don LaGrange pointed out to me in a thoughtful email, "a serious injury can have a significant psychological effect on an athlete, shattering some basic foundations of their life which they've built their identity upon." This may well have been the case with Young.
"Assuming, as I am, that Pip's description of mayonnaise was meant to be about a disgusting semi-liquid, rather than Lucifer's physiognomy, shouldn't it be 'pus?' "
Hold on, I have to stop laughing at myself before I can answer. Yes, it should have been 'pus' and has since been corrected. Maybe I should move to Boiling Springs.
"You are truly a moron. How in the name of all that is good and holy could anybody call Dallas a lock to win against Philadelphia. A call like that just tells me your another Owens/Cowboy sucker. You fools have nothing with which to base a call like that. That's complete idiocy. Ya really weighed all the facts to come up with that one. What a freakin moron. I hope the Eagles crush Dallas just so I can see how fast you can backpedal. …"
First of all, you should take great comfort in the fact that many Cowboys fans feel the same way about me that you do – all totally understandable, given that I have not proclaimed an undying allegiance to the team you root for, as well as an unshakable faith in that team's ability to win every single game it plays. OK, now back to reality: I pick against 16 teams every week. It's nothing personal. And, of course, my picks have nothing to do with what actually happens on the field. As far as the Eagles, I guess I'm one of the few people who doesn't quite get why they've been embraced as an elite team. They were 8-8 last year. They are 1-1 this year. Yes, Donovan McNabb looks terrific, and they've shown an ability to score a lot of points. But just because a team scores a lot, it doesn't mean that team is good. I reserve the right to be skeptical about Philly until it defeats a team I consider legitimate.
Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Friday, Sep 19, 2008 3:08 am, EDT