|Al Davis' mixed legacy|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 04 October 2008 05:23|
``I want you to meet Mike Shanahan,'' Davis told Parcells. ``He's going to be a great head coach.''
Shanahan, 35 at the time, has indeed distinguished himself, but not with Davis' Raiders. Twenty games into his tenure, he was fired, the same point that Davis fired Lane Kiffin this week.
So what happened to Kiffin isn't new. But it's sad.
Because given recent history, it's easy to overlook the many contributions Al Davis has made to the NFL.
They include moves that led to the AFL-NFL merger, making the league into the multibillion dollar corporation it is today. They include significant contributions toward solving labor disputes, in part because of his closeness to the late Gene Upshaw, an ex-Raider who ran the union for 25 years.
successor, Art Shell - and the first female CEO, Amy Trask, who, unfortunately seems to have been left out of the decision-making process in the latest fiasco. She's one of the few levelheaded people currently in Oakland's front office.
And the legacy also includes winning: three Super Bowls and a record from the late 1960s to the early 1980s that was as good as any team in pro sports.
That's why it's simplistic to characterize the 79-year-old Davis as an out-of-touch old man, the way he's been described for most of this decade as his once-proud organization has descended to the bottom of the NFL.
Davis always has been able to spot young coaching talent, including Parcells, whom he coached in a college all-star game in 1963 and later mentored.
But aside from John Madden, promoted from the assistant ranks in 1969 at age 32, Davis' overbearing manner and his penchant for coaching from the owner's box drove them away - from Shanahan to Jon Gruden to Kiffin, the only one whose bona fides are not yet established.
Davis also alienated them. Just as he's refusing to pay the remainder of Kiffin's contract, he and Shanahan have been locked in a dispute for two decades over $300,000 that the Denver coach claims he's owed.
The normally humor-deprived Shanahan can now joke about it in a manner that demonstrates what many people around the NFL think of the chaos in Oakland.
you, I was a little disappointed,'' he said the day after Kiffin was fired. ``When you take a look at it, I was there 582 days. Lane Kiffin was there 616 days. So what it really means is that Al Davis liked Lane more than he liked me. I really don't think it's fair. I won three more games and he got 34 more days of work. It just doesn't seem right.''
Other than those youngsters, Davis' head coaching hires have either been ex-Raiders - Shell and Tom Flores, who was the NFL's first Latino coach - or coaches in little or no demand elsewhere. Tom Cable, the offensive line coach who became the interim head coach when Kiffin was fired, fits into the latter category.
This approach allows Davis to continue to ``coach'' because guys who are happy just to have one of 32 NFL jobs will take what goes with it. The youngsters with aspirations for long coaching careers (Shanahan, Gruden and Kiffin) bristle at it.
But it's been 43 years since Davis was a coach; he stepped down in 1965 to become part owner after turning around what was one of the worst teams in the old AFL.
The problem is Davis still wants to do it. During Tuesday's news conference, that was clear as he critiqued moves that Kiffin made in losses to Buffalo and San Diego. And he defended his pick of JaMarcus Russell with the first pick of the 2007 draft, a move he said Kiffin was against.
the physical tools. But it's also clear why Davis had fewer questions about him than Kiffin and other football people: Russell is a classic Al Davis quarterback, a recreation of Daryle Lamonica from the AFL days or Jim Plunkett from the early 1980s who can throw 40 or 50 or even 60 yards downfield. Think of another Davis mistake: Jay Schroeder, a mediocre QB with a huge arm who Davis thought could carry the team in the late '80s.
Still, Davis can adjust when he has to.
During the 1970s, the quarterback was Ken Stabler, who probably couldn't throw more than 30 yards but led a franchise that was 112-39-7 during the Madden years. The Raiders succeeded again in the early part of this decade with Rich Gannon, another quarterback with less than a power arm who took the team to an AFC title game after the 2000 season and a Super Bowl two years later.
That was in Gruden's version of the shorter-passing West Coast offense. But Davis was never really happy with that and his interference finally alienated Gruden, who left after the 2001 season for Tampa, taking with him Bruce Allen, the only GM the team has had.
So the Raiders are 20-64 since the start of the 2003 season, a laughingstock in a class with the Detroit Lions, who fired team president Matt Millen a week ago.
Madden thinks the problems reflect the way the game has changed.
in the personnel department and Al Davis,'' he told Sirius Satellite radio this week. ``So there were really less than 10 of us and there were no barriers. I mean, everyone was right there together and we kind of did everything so we didn't have any of these problems.
``And then as the game grew and the organization grew and you have more and more people and more and more assistants, I think instead of being closer and being part of each other, it looks to me like they just grew apart.''
One name stands out: Wolf, one of the best personnel men of the last 40 years.
He not only helped put together Raiders teams that won Super Bowls after the 1976, 1980 and 1983 seasons, but also obtained Brett Favre for Green Bay and built a Packers team that won the title in 1996 and the NFC championship the following season.
There is no Ron Wolf on the current Raiders nor anyone close to him. The personnel decisions seem to be made either by Davis or by lackeys whose goal is simply approval from the boss.
That's why it sounded so ludicrous when Davis whined about dealing Randy Moss to New England for a fourth-round pick. ``A fourth round pick!'' he repeated, suggesting it was Kiffin's decision to make the deal on a team where everything - important and otherwise - goes through the top.
d Moss, who played in Oakland by the motto that got him traded by the Vikings: ``I play when I feel like it.'' Only the Patriots, with Bill Belichick coaching and Tom Brady as the QB, could have gotten him to play to his form of last year, when he caught a record 23 TD passes.
Talk to ex-Raiders of recent vintage and you hear a common theme: ``I'm just glad to be out of here.''
``I've seen the circus of the NFL,'' said the Colts' Dominic Rhodes, who spent one year in Oakland after helping Indy win the Super Bowl two years ago and returned this year to the Colts after being released by the Raiders.
``I watched it and I actually sent Lane a text message and told him 'Thank you for letting me get out of there like you said you would.' I'm just happy they let me get out because I would not want to be a part of that right now.''
In a lot of ways, that's sad. Because Al Davis is one of the most important figures in NFL history. This isn't the legacy he wants to leave.
DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams in the NFL based on current level of play.
1. New York Giants (3-0). Being off last week was good enough to move them up.
2. Dallas (3-1). Look at the loss to Washington as ``anything can happen in a rivalry game.'' But things can get worse if T.O. doesn't shut up.
3. Tennessee (4-0). A very, very solid team. As long as Kerry Collins is protected ...
ngton (3-1). Anything can happen in a rivalry game. As for those folks who considered Jim Zorn overmatched in the NFC East ...
5. Buffalo (4-0). Why aren't the Bills higher? They might be headed there.
6. Carolina (3-1). You can go home again. The second WR the Panthers needed was Muhsin Muhammad, back home after three seasons in Grossmanland.
27. Oakland (1-3). Competitive under Kiffin. What does firing Kiffin ``for cause'' mean if the Raiders get worse under Cable?
28. Houston (0-3). Finally get a home game this week.
29. Cleveland (1-3). Wouldn't have beaten the Bengals if Carson Palmer had played.
30. Cincinnati (0-4). Just signed Cedric Benson, cut by the Bears after two alcohol-related arrests. No further comments needed.
31. Detroit (0-3). Firing Matt Millen doesn't make things better yet.
32. St. Louis (0-4). At least the Rams are paying the coach they fired.