Think you know your algebra? Then try this brain-buster: When does four in four equal six of 10?
When you’re doing math in Oakland, of course.
No, that’s not a slam on the city or its fine residents; rather it’s an illustration of mathematical certainty in Raider Land. The Silver and Black have now had three coaches in the past three seasons of futility, each of whom has contributed to an ongoing streak of five straight seasons of 10 losses or more. Fresh off a 4-12 campaign in 2007, one that was twice as “successful” as the 2-14 one that preceded it, the Raiders are reportedly on the verge of parting ways with Lane Kiffin and beginning their coaching search anew.
Get that equation yet?
Ask virtually any NFL veteran to name the most important factor in building a winning organization, and the answer you’re most likely to hear is the one thing that the Raiders have in shortest supply: Continuity.
The turnstile on the coach’s office in Alameda was once the source of some pretty good comedy — but it’s not funny anymore. From the moment Al Davis, for whom I still hold an enormous amount of respect and admiration, helped push Jon Gruden out the door in defense of his own interminable ego, the franchise has been unable or unwilling to do whatever is necessary to reestablish the “Glory of the Raiduhs.” And part of the reason for that, sadly, seems to be Davis’ refusal to allow anyone else to become the face of the Raiduhs.
The reports last week of Davis’ desire for Kiffin to sign a pre-written letter of resignation speak volumes. Kiffin is the league’s youngest coach, and no one is ready at this stage to proclaim him the second coming of John Madden orTom Flores, but Davis earned high praise for finally taking a chance on an up-and-comer, rather than pouring through the same list of re-treads that turned up the likes of Art Shell and Norv Turner. (And no, Turner’s AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers have not changed many minds about him — he needs to win consistently before he’ll be accepted as a top-flight coach.) Kiffin came in and established himself early on as a true professional, and he proceeded to earn the respect of the Raiders’ veterans, leading a franchise in disarray to improvement in many areas not readily apparent by looking solely at the win-loss columns.
Yet here we sit, one month removed from the end of his rookie season, and instead of building on the progress made, Davis is said to be working on four in four in order to achieve six of 10.
The sticking point? A familiar one. The coach wants to be allowed to coach while the owner sits back and quietly owns. But there is nothing quiet about the way Al Davis owns.
With Kiffin ready to jettison his defensive coordinator, a reasonable decision after Rob Ryan’s defense underperformed despite 11 returning starters from a defense that gave up the third fewest yards in the league in 2006, Davis reportedly stepped in and gave Ryan a stay of execution. Naturally, that didn’t sit well with Kiffin, whose only chance of making things work in his first head coaching job is to have control over his staff and his players.
Sources close to the team say Kiffin has refused to sign the letter of resignation Davis had drafted for him, and has dared the owner to fire him. The team flatly denies the report, but one thing is clear: Ryan’s continued employment with the Raiders clearly undermines Kiffin’s authority as coach, and if Davis remains insistent that his coach operate as a mere puppet for him, then he might as well pull out that list of re-treads again and hire Dennis Green.
Thereby ensuring that fourin four does in fact equal six of 10.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.