Meet the new Raider boss, same as the old boss Print
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Wednesday, 17 September 2008 21:33
NFL Headline News

 Al Davis loves wide receivers who run like the wind, and coaches who know how to listen. He's done well with the combination over the years, even as the game changed and largely passed him by.
But old habits are hard to break, which is why Javon Walker was given a $55 million contract even after being cast off by the Denver Broncos. It's the same reason Lane Kiffin was plucked from obscurity as an offensive coordinator at USC and made head coach of the Oakland Raiders at the tender age of 31.
``You don't have to be old to be great,'' Davis said at the time. ``You have to be good.''
Kiffin has been more good than great during his short tenure in the NFL, leading the Raiders to four wins last year and a 1-1 record going into Sunday's game at Buffalo. He's won some praise for improving a bad team in a number of areas, though a season-opening thumping at the hands of the rival Broncos revealed much work remains to be done.
e never figured out the one thing every Raiders coach needed to know right after learning how to say ``Just win, baby.''
And that is: In Oakland, there is only one boss.
Jon Gruden understood that after a few years and left an awfully good Raider team for Tampa Bay. Mike Shanahan finally did, too, but only after the boss gave him the boot when he wouldn't listen.
The boss is 79 now and gets around with a walker, but he still has a firm grip on a team he himself once coached in the '60s. Though he's seldom seen and seldom heard anymore, his history is such that it doesn't take a Kremlinologist or tea leaf reader to figure out his next move.
In this case it likely will be getting rid of Kiffin - and soon.
Davis already tried it once, sending Kiffin a letter of resignation to sign at the end of his first season. That came after Kiffin tried to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, only to find out that Davis liked Ryan - liked him a lot.
He still likes him, which led to a bizarre exchange with reporters after Jay Cutler picked apart the Raiders in the Denver game and Kiffin basically washed his hands of any responsibility for his team's defense.
``I'm the head coach. I oversee everything and I control what I can control,'' he said. ``Do I have the exact belief (in what) we do on defense? No, but it's hard to have the exact belief that we do. So, it is what it is.''
o pretty much say Ryan and Davis were in constant communication and worked behind his back, while the owner wouldn't even give him the time of day.
All this after only one game of a 16-game season.
Newspaper reports during the weekend said that Kiffin was as good as gone, the only question being exactly when. Oakland's bye week comes after two more games, and that seems as likely a time as any to rearrange the deck chairs on this shipwreck.
Kiffin doesn't seem terribly unhappy over the prospects of losing his job,
``I don't have the power to make the decision whether I'll be here, so why worry about it,'' he said Wednesday in a conference call with Buffalo media.
The problem with being coach of the Raiders is that Kiffin has very little power over anything. It's Davis who decides to draft JaMarcus Russell, then carry on contract talks with him so long he basically wasted an entire season. It's Davis who signs Walker, who didn't play in the season opener and had no catches in the second game.
And it's Davis who signed Tommy Kelly to a $50.5 million contract this year - part of $170 million lavished on the defense - even though the veteran lineman was coming off a serious knee injury. On Monday, Kelly was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
high draft picks year after year in the NFL only means that you're losing a lot of games year after year.
Davis was a pretty good coach in his day in the American Football League, and he stacks up well as an owner, too, winning three Super Bowls and appearing in five.
But he's been in only one of the last 24, and the Raiders took a beating in that game. The days of needing little more than a fearless quarterback and some speedy receivers to win are largely gone, and in this era of salary caps it's the teams that have strong plans and strong organizations that are the perennial contenders.
The Raiders have a director of football operations in name only. They don't even have a general manager.
It's just Davis, on the prowl once again for a coach who knows how to listen.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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