Lane Kiffin will soon be history — the betting among insiders is that he’ll be gone before next month’s draft — and the only question is his successor. Al Davis will hire from within, either defensive coordinator Rob Ryan or newly hired James Lofton. My money is on Lofton, who was twice interviewed by Davis for the head job in the past.
It’s a total turnaround from last year, when Kiffin was introduced as the new coach and Davis talked of their common history as Southern Cal assistants, seemingly seeing in Kiffin a version of himself at that age.
Davis also allowed Kiffin the ability to hire new assistants, which previous coaches could not, as well as allowing him to run an offense that is an offshoot of Bill Walsh’s system, not a Davis favorite.
Johnson caught 48 passes for 756 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie with the Detroit Lions. Russell did not sign with the Raiders until after the season had started and didn’t play until late in the season.
It’s much too early to pass judgment on that selection. Russell is a big talent and was a big playmaker in college, but there are disturbing signs. He reported so overweight that a woman reporter suggested he needed a bra. He got back down to his playing weight during the season, but there are reports that his weight has shot up again in the offseason. His focus on football seems less than complete.
During the season, Davis observed as always but didn’t interfere. The Raiders were more competitive than they’d been the previous season, but still ended up with a 4-12 mark, which was right where they’ve been stuck the last five years, as they’ve compiled an NFL-worst 19-61 record.
Davis tried to get Kiffin to sign a resignation letter. Kiffin refused, but I’m sure the two sides are negotiating a settlement now.
Though Davis has always had the final word on club decisions, somebody else has done the public negotiating. No longer. Agents have said that he’s the one doing the negotiating, as he’s made two big deals, signing New York Giants safety Gibril Wilson, the San Jose native and City College of San Francisco alumnus, as a free agent and signing his own player, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to a $50 million, seven-year contract with $18 million in guaranteed money.
The first deal was an excellent one. The Raiders can now move Michael Huff, who has been a disappointment at strong safety, to free safety, where he can better use his athleticism.
The second move was a real head-scratcher. Kelly has value because he can play either inside or outside, but he is coming off an ACL injury and he could have been retained at a much lower price.
Davis has clearly decided to roll the dice and show a skeptical football world that he still knows how to put a team together. You can count me among the skeptics. No matter who the new coach is, the Raiders will again hold up the rest of the league this fall.