It’s official: Al Davis has become Howard Hughes.
Like Hughes, Davis was brilliant in his early career, turning an Oakland Raiders team that had once lost 19 straight games over two years into a perennial powerhouse that went to four Super Bowls, winning three, in a 16-season run.
And like Hughes, Davis has turned into an eccentric recluse in his later years, destroying his own legacy with weird moves.
The latest: The revelation that he deducted $20,000 from each of Tom Cable’s six paychecks, for a total of $120,000, which caused Cable to file a grievance with the NFL. Speculation is that Davis was angry because the NFL had taken away a couple of the Raiders’ Organized Team Activities last spring because the workouts had been too physical. The Raiders haven’t confirmed that but, of course, the Raiders wouldn’t confirm that this is January.
Davis doesn’t mind overpaying for players, either draft choices like JaMarcus Russell or Darrius Heyward-Bey or free agents like DeAngelo Hall and Randy Moss, but he hates to pay the going rate for head coaches. He’s been involved in financial disputes going back to Mike Shanahan in the late ’80s.
This hurts the Raiders in a couple of ways. One is obvious: Davis can’t get any good young coaches to come to Oakland. That ended when Jon Gruden was “traded” to Tampa Bay for draft choices, despite his success at building up the Raiders. (Not incidentally, the Raiders got little value from those draft picks.)
The last young coach to come to Oakland was Lane Kiffin, and he did it only to build a reputation that would enable him to get a good college job. It worked, because he has since been at Tennessee and now USC, but he was just an offensive assistant at USC and not on anybody’s list of hot young coaching prospects when Davis hired him.
I thought Cable was a good offensive line coach and as a head coach, he’s probably as good as Davis can get at this point.
I had to laugh at rumors that Jim Harbaugh would come to the Raiders. Harbaugh was quarterbacks coach for two seasons with the Raiders, so he knew very well how it works in Oakland. He’d remained in communication with Davis, but when he was given a chance to interview, he declined.
Davis’ difficulty in getting any promising coach to even interview for the job also deprives him of a chance to pick the brains of candidates, both about the teams for whom they’ve coached and their ideas in general.
So, by default, Hue Jackson got the head coaching job; the Raiders finally announced it Monday. Jackson was an important factor in the Raiders’ improvement this season because his play calling was such an upgrade over Cable’s in the previous season. He’s never been a head coach before or even a candidate for the job, but Davis had no choice but to give him the chance.
Raiders fans were excited about the team’s improvement this year, after seven seasons of double-digit losses, but 8-8 may be as good as it gets with Howard Hughes at the helm.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.