For weeks, it had appeared that Raiders owner Al Davis and former coach Lane Kiffin had been engaged in a game of part chess, part chicken regarding not whether Kiffin would be fired, but whether he'd receive ongoing compensation for the period after his termination takes effect.
On Tuesday, Davis made it abundantly clear that, in this case, perception matches reality.
Setting aside for now the wisdom (or lack thereof) of allowing the potential savings of a few million dollars to overshadow the critical early weeks of the franchise's 2008 season, many league insiders will be eyeballing the manner in which this thing proceeds going forward.
Here's the background. When an NFL coach is fired before his contract expires, the coach is entitled to receive the rest of the money, reduced only by any pay he receives working elsewhere as a coach. The contract typically contains language permitting the team to cut the coach off if the coach is fired because he has breached the contract.
So the battle line here is simple, and clear. The Raiders need to show that Kiffin in some way breached his contract. Kiffin needs to show that he didn't.
If Kiffin chooses to pursue the matter, and he reportedly has 3.5 million reasons to do so, the issue will be resolved by the commissioner. That's because most, if not all, NFL coaching contracts contain language pursuant to which the coach sacrifices his right to a jury trial in a court of competent jurisdiction and agrees instead to make the commissioner, or the commissioner's designee, the final arbiter of the situation.
Last year, for example, former Raiders front-office executive Mike Lombardi filed a grievance with the league office, claiming that he was entitled to a buyout of his contract. The only problem? He didn't have a contract that could be bought out. Raiders 1, Lombardi 0. (Because Lombardi didn't have a contract, he wasn't required to use the league's internal grievance procedure. But filing a lawsuit based on the argument that a man should get a buyout of his contract without a contract would have potentially exposed his lawyer to the prospect of attempting to practice law without a license.)
Davis prefers his employees not to have contracts, so that he won't owe them a dime when he chooses to ask them to leave. If the league didn't require a team's coach to have a contract, Davis likely wouldn't use them for that position, either. So it's no surprise that Davis would want to avoid having to pay Kiffin now that Davis has asked Kiffin to leave.
But regardless of whether Davis specifically attempted to engineer the situation to support a finding that Kiffin breached his contract and thus should receive no money, Davis made a compelling case on Tuesday in support of the conclusion that Kiffin has been untruthful in his comments to the press, that he has conducted himself in a manner detrimental to the interests of the team, and that once Kiffin was unable to get his dad hired as the defensive coordinator Kiffin basically attempted to provoke his firing so that he can leave Oakland with a seven-figure parting gift.
The outcome of this one will depend on the perceived truthfulness of the Raiders' witnesses and the perceived truthfulness of Kiffin and his witnesses. Because we've yet to hear Kiffin's position, it's impossible at this point to predict what will happen.
That said, Davis has made a passionate and compelling case for his decision, and Kiffin will have to come up with something just as meaningful in order to have a chance at getting his money. Whether Kiffin chooses to lay out his case when he meets with the media on Wednesday remains to be seen. He might ultimately choose to hold his tongue until he meets with the Commissioner.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
There are two good reasons for exercising restraint. First, anything he says on Wednesday can and will be used against him later. Second, the potential perception that Kiffin is willing to talk out of school might be the equivalent of radioactivity when it comes to his future job prospects.
Then again, any potential employers who listened objectively to the Al Davis press conference on Tuesday will want to hear something/anything from Kiffin as to his version of the events. Otherwise, Kiffin's next job might involve coaching receivers for a high school that runs the wishbone.
PFT: Defensive end finally finds a new team in San Diego — and for a honey of a deal that would be worth a max of $13.35 million.
Raiders fire Kiffin
Sept. 30: Al Davis says he fired Lane Kiffin with cause and introduces Tom Cable as interim head coach.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Chudzinski: 'Too early' to name a QB
Following Thursday's OTA, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski speaks to the media about his team’s brewing quarterback controversy. He feels the competition will aid in each QB’s progression as a passer, but he isn’t ready to name a starter for Week 1.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.