Lane Kiffin was a good young NFL head coach. He was just caught coaching for the NFL's worst organization.
Al Davis is the league's most impatient owner, and it doesn't help that, at age 79, he is running out of time to see the Oakland Raiders get to another Super Bowl.
Kiffin had a good game plan to get the Silver and Black back on track in a year or two, but like fine young offensive minds such as Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden before him who have roamed the Raiders' sideline under Davis, there always have been unreasonable expectations to "Just Win Now, Baby!"
Davis perceived the Raiders as having a championship-caliber defense, and the pressure was on the offensive-minded Kiffin to bring them up to the same level on the other side of the ball.
First, what gave Davis that idea about his defense? Although there are some good pieces such as middle linebacker Kirk Morrison and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, there also are some overpriced, overrated ingredients such as tackle Tommy Kelly and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been good in dialing up the aggressive play, but the results have been inconsistent. Sometimes they look great against the pass, but more often, they look awful against the run. The unit also doesn't really have a veteran field leader.
Second, Kiffin did his job as a schemer, turning the offense from a turnover-prone, ineffective joke into an impressive run-heavy attack that kept the Raiders in more games. He really hasn't had much with which to work on the offensive line, and showed he could produce a strong rushing attack. Last season, he also did it with the unlikely trio of LaMont Jordan, Justin Fargas and Dominic Rhodes.
This season, that running game looks a lot more promising with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush as the younger, more dynamic 1-2 punch. Also, has anyone noticed that quarterback JaMarcus Russell is playing pretty well in his first year as the starter? You can bet Kiffin had something to do with that.
A couple of years after being the league's worst team and breaking in a franchise quarterback, it's unrealistic for any team to think it can contend right away. In reality, Kiffin was doing the little things to build a pretty good team.
As a motivator, Kiffin also had his team playing harder than his most recent predecessors. There was that ugly home game against the Denver Broncos to start the season that everyone remembers, but he also produced a great all-around team effort in defeating the Broncos at home last season.
This season, after the Denver debacle, Kiffin got his team to rise up and beat up on the archrival Kansas City Chiefs. He also had his players threaten to beat Buffalo and San Diego, until that "championship-caliber" defense let them down. If anyone should have been fired midseason, it should have been Ryan.
Speaking of the Broncos, I guess Davis doesn't remember how quickly he let Mike Shanahan go and how that turned out for a hated rival in his own division. I guess Davis also doesn't remember that moving Jon Gruden to the Bucs burned him in what looks like the Raiders' last Super Bowl appearance for a long while.
Lane Kiffin has a promising career ahead of him. He's young, he's talented, he's got pedigree, and even if some other NFL team doesn't come calling, I'm sure plenty of needy college programs are already lining up.
There are good signs that, like at Southern Cal, Kiffin will come back strong in a winning situation. As for the pro football team in Northern Cal, it comes up losing again.
Raiders fire Kiffin
Sept. 30: Al Davis says he fired Lane Kiffin with cause and introduces Tom Cable as interim head coach.
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