Owner Davis trying to force Kiffin's exit from Raiders
Posted: Friday January 25, 2008 7:21PM; Updated: Friday January 25, 2008 10:30PM
Exhibiting the usual combination of the surreal and the bizarre that has become the Raiders' trademark, the latest saga in Oakland will likely result in Lane Kiffin's tenure as head coach ending after just one season -- by either termination or resignation.
That's the picture that has emerged this month in Oakland, where team owner Al Davis, according to league sources, is all but ignoring Kiffin's presence within the team offices, to the point of not even allowing his coach to attend meetings involving personnel decisions, draft planning or free-agency evaluation.
Kiffin being excommunicated within the Raiders' own building is said to be in retaliation for Davis getting wind of Kiffin's recent clandestine pursuit of both the Arkansas and UCLA head coaching jobs, which have subsequently been filled.
Kiffin and his right-hand man, director of football development Mark Jackson, have been disinvited to any meeting this offseason that has a bearing on the Raiders' future personnel decisions, a league source said. Kiffin's entire assistant coaching staff attends those meetings, along with Davis, but are barred from sharing details of what was discussed with the head coach.
Clearly, there's an ugly showdown going on behind closed doors in Oakland, with Davis trying to prompt Kiffin's resignation after just one 4-12 season, and Kiffin not yet willing to walk away from the final two years of his contract, believed to be worth about $2 million per season.
If Kiffin eventually leaves, his possible replacement could be a familiar name that seemingly has been mentioned in connection with almost every Raiders head coaching search in the past 15 years or so: Dennis Green.
While the former Vikings and Cardinals head coach is unlikely to submit to formally interviewing given the depth of his relationship with Davis -- they date to his days in the Bay Area as a 49ers assistant and Stanford head coach -- Green has been intrigued for years with the prospect of coaching the Raiders.
"It's the same dance,'' said a league source. "Al Davis has been flirting with the idea of hiring Dennis Green for how long now? Before Al ever hires anyone, he always talks to Green.''
Green, however, isn't likely to agree to any bargain-basement offer, which is Davis' standard approach to hiring a head coach. Anything less than four years or in the $2 million annual salary range won't cut it. Trouble is, if Davis has to pay off the final $4 million or so of Kiffin's contract, it's highly improbable that Oakland would be able to pay Green anything approaching what he would want to take the job.
Thus, Davis appears to be trying to marginalize Kiffin to such a degree within Oakland's organization that resignation will look like an appealing option to the NFL's youngest head coach, who turns 33 in May.
Ironically, Kiffin and his staff are representing the Raiders this week in Mobile, Ala., where they are coaching the North squad in the Under Armour Senior Bowl college all-star game.
"In some cases, people in the building aren't even allowed to talk to Kiffin or Mark Jackson at this point,'' a league source said. "Davis is trying to make Kiffin's life miserable. It has to come to a head at some point.''
The trouble between Kiffin and Davis apparently intensified early this month after Kiffin wanted to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was eager to leave and join the Jets in the same capacity. But Davis blocked Ryan's departure, exerting control that Kiffin believed he had over the makeup of his coaching staff. Ryan, incidentally, is seen as another potential candidate for the Raiders in the event that Kiffin departs.
While unusual, Davis's treatment of Kiffin is not without precedent. Longtime Raiders personnel executive Michael Lombardi left the organization last May after a behind-the-scenes feud with former Oakland head coach Art Shell resulted in him being kept at an arm's length from most of the team's football operations in 2006 and early 2007.
Before Kiffin was hired last January, the last three Raiders head coaches all had one- or two-year tenures: Bill Callahan (2002-03), Norv Turner (2004-05), and Shell (2006). If Kiffin is done after one season, Oakland would be in the market for its fifth head coach since Jon Gruden left the team for Tampa Bay following the 2001 season.