Stubborn, meddling Davis making Raiders irrelevant


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Jan 22, 2006
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Stubborn, meddling Davis making Raiders irrelevant
By Trent Modglin
Jan. 30, 2006

This is the same sad song that has been played many, many times before in Oakland. And if the Raiders hope to regain a steadily declining fan base, it’s time to pull the needle off the record.

That needle is 76-year-old owner Al Davis, and his insistence to remain actively involved in the major football decisions has removed the Raiders from relevance, made them just another team, and not a good one at that.

Innovative, eccentric, controversial, successful — Davis has been all of these in his long and distinguished career in professional football. But he’s losing his grip on the kingdom he has built. The Silver & Black mystique needs to be buffed, as it’s steadily losing its luster.

The Raiders find themselves on a slippery slope here, amidst a miserable 13-35 three-year run since losing Super Bowl XXXVII to the Buccaneers. Earlier this month, Norv Turner became the fifth head coach Davis has dismissed since 1996, continuing the troubling trend of absolutely no continuity. Mike White, Joe Bugel, Jon Gruden, Bill Callahan and Turner. Only Gruden made his mark, but he was never truly appreciated by the boss and eventually was traded to Tampa Bay.

The names of coaches and players cycle in and out of Oakland, but the underachieving ways have remained the same. The lack of discipline is as consistent as the sunset over the Pacific. Of the five coaches mentioned above, only Gruden displayed the leadership necessary to lead an NFL club. The unpopular Callahan nearly had a locker-room mutiny on his hands before he was cut loose. Turner never commanded much respect from his players, many of whom began tuning him out during a late-season slide. But perhaps all that is as much an indictment of Davis’ undermining, authoritative ways as it is the coaches’ lack of guidance.

Overruling his coaches and dictating the staff while usually excusing players has long been an issue for Davis. His fingerprints are everywhere, and smudging has been problematic. A man whose best days, in terms of making crucial decisions, are behind him has prevented the club from keeping pace.

Davis will never pay the salary that will draw the top names in the coaching ranks. And he will always be hands-on, most say overly so, in his approach to keeping tabs on all things Silver & Black. He simply has too much control and shows no signs of delegating any of it despite previously meddling owners with other teams and even in other sports having found flattering success by stepping back a bit (see the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, Yankees’ George Steinbrenner, etc.). When a coach’s attempts to prepare and lead his players becomes secondary to appeasing the man upstairs, there is little hope.

Those factors aren’t exactly a beacon of light to draw in the popular coaching candidates, and they are keeping the franchise stuck in the slow lane as the rest of the league speeds by with a wave, likely of the one-fingered variety.

For further evidence of Davis’ travails, look to the draft, where the Raiders tend to show up like the disheveled kid who almost sleeps through his final exam. First-round busts like Derrick Gibson, Phillip Buchanon and Napoleon Harris haunt the organization. There are building blocks recently from the draft, like OT Robert Gallery, CB Fabian Washington and LB Kirk Morrison, but the failures far and away outnumber the success stories.

Give Davis credit for going out and making headlines in the offseason, adding weapons like WR Randy Moss and RB LaMont Jordan. He tried, at least. But the Raiders finished 21st in the league in offense, scoring more than 21 points only three times, leading to Turner’s departure. Too often, the splashy signing means more to the Raiders than a semblance of leadership or cohesiveness.

Two things are certain whenever the Raiders search for a new boss. One, it will end with the hiring of a coach with an offensive background, a Davis staple. Two, it will be methodical and lengthy. Davis doesn’t like to rush such decisions, choosing to interview candidates as if they’re entering the CIA. He took 27 days after the firing of Callahan to settle on Turner, and it has now been 27 days since Turner was let go. Nine other teams have filled head-coaching vacancies since the end of the season, leaving only the Raiders without a head coach.

While many of the best names available have been snatched up by the rest of the league, Davis continues with his cautious, deliberate approach. He remains stubborn and naïve enough to believe the fading memories of the “Just Win, Baby” era are enough to attract the top coaching talent.

But what Davis may end up with is a coach on his last legs, looking for one more day in the sun, or a young coach, hired a year or two before he should be, eager to conquer the world, chump paycheck and domineering owner be damned.

Hardly ironic, many of the previous coaches Davis decided weren’t good enough to lead Raider Nation are enjoying success elsewhere. Mike Shanahan led the Broncos to a 13-3 record and has a pair of Super Bowl trophies since getting canned. Bugel is an assistant for Joe Gibbs on a Redskins playoff team. Chuck Bresnahan, former defensive coordinator in Oakland who fought Davis for his release, works for the AFC North champs in Cincinnati. Gruden has the Super Bowl win over Davis and led the Buccaneers to the NFC South title this season when little was expected from them. Even Callahan, for all his flaws, has the Nebraska Cornhuskers once again on the rise.

Meanwhile, the Raiders look like the playground bully the rest of the kids finally stood up to.

“We gave the coaches what they wanted,” Davis said of his most recent firing. “Actually, more than what they wanted. … Norv came in for a trademark of power running, vertical football. It wasn’t there. For whatever reason, it *wasn’t there. You have to have a direction, a vision.”

You have to have a direction, a vision. The owner’s advice for his former coach would best be turned on himself.
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