Thursday, April 5, 2007

Darryl Stingley

April 5th is sad day for all fans of football: Darryl Stingley has died due to complications associated with quadriplegia.

"In my decision to stop coaching, Darryl's situation was a factor. Not the only factor, but a factor. During the weeks he was in Eden Hospital, not many people seemed to care enough. That's when I started wondering if football people really care about a player, or if football people just care what a player does."

~ John Madden. Hey, Wait a Minute (I Wrote a Book). p 5

"When the reality of Stingley's injury hit me with its full impact, I was shattered. To think that my tackle broke another man's neck and killed his future... well, I know it hurts Darryl. It hurts me too.

I didn't know if I ever wanted to play football again. It was constantly on my mind and tearing at my insides. My body felt like a hollow shell that no longer belonged to me."

~ Jack Tatum, They Call Me Assassin. p 224

"I am deeply saddened by the death of Darryl Stingley. Darryl will be forever remembered for his strength and courage. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

~ Jack Tatum

Rest in peace, Darryl. And know that we Raider fans cared then, and we care now.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Help Wanted: Coaching Staff

Al Davis went off on the mediots after the press conference announcing the hiring of Lane Kiffin as coach (see the comments section of the previous stick for more info).

The best thing about the Kiffin hire is that it was done expediently. The last search drew out longer than a nonsensical Norv Turner soliloquy on how his team was "competitive". Art Shell was handcuffed by having to pick threw leftovers to round out his staff. Many of his picks were either old and in the way (Walsh) or first time coaches (Slater and Eatman). Blessedly, this will not be the case this time...

After the press conference, Kiffin took a jet Al had chartered to head to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. As the team with the worst record in the NFL, the opportunity for the Raiders was there to coach the Sr. Bowl squad and get a first hand evaluation of the talent. However, without a coaching staff in place, this opportunity passed them by...

It seems likely Kiffin is there to find a staff more so than to evaluate college prospects. The Senior Bowl is also an annual gathering place for coaches to meet and discuss prospective job offers.

I hope Al Davis is willing to throw the checkbook at the best coaches available this time. The entire offensive coaching staff needs to be fired pronto (with the possible exception of Freddie B., who will have a spot with the Raiders for life, even if it is in a non-coaching capacity like the one Jim Otto holds). In fact, a sure sign that Kiffen has the autonomy to do as he wills with his staff would be to see Biletnikoff relegated to a non-WR Coach position like being in charge of "squad development".

The most important hire for Kiffin is the offensive line coach. Without a solid line, it does not matter what scheme he implements or what QB the Raiders draft. All will fail. I hope the checkbook is thrown at someone like Alex Gibbs, a former Raider O-line Coach who developed Wiz with the Raiders of LA.

I know it sounds a bit sacrilegious seeing as how Gibbs gave the Doncos their cutblock schemes, but I truly believe Gallery, Grove, et al. are not power linemen suited for a man scheme. The current Raider linemen seem more suited to zone blocking than brute force. As a bonus, Al Davis could twist the knife in Shanarat by hiring Gibbs. With the coaching changes in Atlanta, Gibbs is available as a Consultant, but he is not cheap... Here is Gibbs' bio.

A Gibbs protégé, Tom Cable, is rumored to be a target as well. Cable has helped Gibbs make the Falcons into the NFL's top running team. Here is Cable's bio.

With the departure of Nick Saban, Dolphins O-line guru Hudson Houck may be a possibility. Houck coached current Raider Co-Oline coach, Jackie Slater, so the connection could be made... Houck is also a former USC player and O-line Coach, which might open the doors for him with Kiffin.

Houck made the Dallas Cowboys what they were in the '90s and I am impressed by what Houck did to resurrect the San Diego Charger O-line, basically a bunch of nobodies, into a helluva blocking machine for LaDanian Thomlinson. If anyone can take a collective group of turnstiles, weathervanes, and windmills (e.g., the current Raider linemen) and turn them into something, it's Houck. Here is Houck's bio.

My vote is for Houck.

Then next most important hire is the Offensive Coordinator. Since Kiffin will call his own plays, the real issue here is to get the Tom Walsh taste out of everyone's mouth as soon as possible.

Yet another Falcons coach, Greg Knapp, is one candidate. Knapp is a West Coast Offense disciple, so his hire would be another strong indicator that Kiffin has some juice. Of note, Knapp was in the LA Raiders training camp as a QB in '87-'90, but never made the roster, so he is familiar with the organization.

Another consideration at OC is Marc Trestman. Trestman elevated Gruden's conservative offense to perhaps the most go-for-the-throat offense the Raiders have seen since Tom Flores' days as HC. Trestman fits the bill Al Davis is looking for; as Al said at the press conference, the reason he hired Kiffin is he wants a coach who will ATTACK! Hiring Trestman would be an indicator that Al is calling the shots, as would bringing in current Charger WR Coach James Lofton as OC.

Steve Sarkisian, Kiffin's Co-Offensive Coordinator is another possibility at OC, having been joined at the hip with Kiffin at USC. Sarkisian was the Raiders' QB Coach in 2004. He has stated his interest in remaining with the Trojans, but anything is possible...

My vote is for Trestman.

The last position at the top of my list is QB Coach. Many Raider fans are clamoring for Rich Gannon to return in a coaching capacity. Word is he did work with Andrew Walter last offseason. One day Rich will return, with my blessing, but this does not seem to be that day.

Al Davis is rumored to have been interested in Patriots QB Coach/ Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has been involved in the development of Tom Brady, the Tucker... It seems doubtful McDaniels would leave the Patsies for anything less than a HC opportunity, but Belichick and Al Davis are friends and we know the two talk as Rob Ryan came from Belichick. Here is McDaniels' bio.

Ken Zampeze (son of Ernie) did wonders developing Carson Palmer in Cincinnati. Like Palmer, indications are the Raiders will make JaMarcus Russell a #1 overall pick. Zampeze even made Jon Kitna look like an NFL QB - a miracle in itself. Zampeze might have to be offered one of those bogus titles like "Assistant Head Coach" to make the move to Oakland, as he is under contract. As evidenced by the hiring of Lane Kiffen (son of Monte), Al Davis likes football families. Ernie Zampese was an integral part of the Chargers Air-Coryell offense and me thinks his son has soaked up some his pop's knowledge about getting QBs and WRs on the same page. Here is Zampeze's bio.

Unless Kiffin could somehow defy the laws of gravity and get former USC coach Norm Chow to come on board with the Raiders, my vote is for Zampeze.

Methinks coaches will be added to the staff early next week. Your sticks on who they will be are welcome, as always.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Davis Taps the Fountain of His Youth

In the press conference announcing the hiring of Lane Kiffen (which you can find in its entirety here) we see a rather animated Al Davis.

In the search for the newest Head Coach of the Raiders, Davis seems to be following the direction of Ponce de León, searching for his own Fountain of Youth. In the past when referring to the unfortunate illnesses of his friends (e.g., Bill Walsh) and former Raider players, we have heard Davis say, "We haven't found a way to beat death...yet. But we will."

While the inevitability of dying is a reality for us all, Davis seems to believe that by the force of his own will, he can achieve immortality. Who can blame him for trying?

After all, one of the most telling anecdotes about the man's character is the story of when Davis' wife Carol's heart stopped beating and she appeared to be dead on the way to the hospital in 1979. Al remained at Carol's bedside constantly for seventeen days throughout her coma, literally willing her to get better. She did and remarkably returned to health. Dr. Robert Albo, who treated Carol Davis, says he had seen a recovery of this type only two or three times in his thirty-year medical career.

After all, Davis' own mother, Rose, lived to be over one hundred years old.

I believe on some level, Davis is aware that at the age of seventy-seven with his own physical health failing, his legacy and the future of his organization may be best served by recreating himself in the present.

Davis tried to have Art Shell be an on-field physical extension of Davis' will to win and his vast football knowledge last season. While everyone knows Art Shell as a loyal Raider and a man of integrity, it was obvious Shell did not have the offensive mind to succeed in today's NFL. Realizing his own shortcomings in this department, Shell delegated the play calling to his offensive coordinator. We all know that after a lengthy absence from the game, Tom Walsh was not up to the task.

Despite Shell's commitment to reestablish the Raider Way utilizing the "Al Davis Offense" – as Art stated from the outset as documented here in this very forum — he simply was not up to the task of coaching the current players. Shell just didn't win baby, despite his intimate understanding of and belief in slogans such as "Commitment to Excellence." I wish Coach Shell success in wherever his path leads next.

Davis loves nothing more than winning, and the hurt caused by the losses of recent seasons showed in this press conference. So now we are left with the youngest Head Coach in modern NFL history in one Lane Kiffen (some old-school coaches such as George Halas were younger when they began, but no one in recent memory has been hired at the age of 31 or younger) to heal the pain.

The comparisons of Kiffen to young, successful Raider coaches John Madden (thirty-three years old when named HC) and Jon Gruden (thirty-four years old) are certain to follow. But the most apt comparison is to Davis himself.

Before Al Davis became an NFL coach in 1960, he was a line coach at USC from '57-'59. Like Kiffen, Davis' duties included scouting and recruiting. Davis is famed for signing Lance Alworth under the goalposts for the Chargers of the old AFL. Perhaps this memory explains why Davis mistakenly referred to Kiffen as "Lance" during the press conference.

Later, at the age of 33, Davis himself became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history when he was named head coach and managing general partner of the Raiders in 1963. Davis brought youth and energy to a floundering Raider franchise and immediately revitalized the team from its 1-13 record the previous season to a 10-4 record with Davis at the helm. Will Kiffen prove to be a clone of the young Al Davis with all the accompanying success?

Three things jumped out to me at the press conference to help us answer this question:

One is Kiffen called Davis "Al" instead of "Mr. Davis" as most of the Raider staff does. This tells us Kiffen has cojones. This is a good sign that Kiffen may have the ability to listen to Al's input, absorb the suggestions he finds useful, and yet still run things his own way. Make it so, Lane, else you will flounder.

Second is Kiffen stated he thinks the roster if full of good players and that his job is to get the ball in the hands of the big money playmakers. While we all would love to see more plays being made and this is indeed the crux of the Raiders' offensive woes - NO ONE made a play on offense in '06 - we are left to wonder whether this means Randy Moss and Jerry Porter will be here in '07… and whether Kiffen will pander to their childish behavior in an attempt to make them happy. I hope not.

Third is Kiffen, being intimately familiar with the college personnel coming into this year's draft may have more say so over who is chosen than previous coaches seemed to. Perhaps the Raiders will even break their own mold by choosing a QB such as LSU's JaMarcus Russell with the first pick. Russell has arguably the strongest arm of any QB at any level of the game today, and Al Davis certainly might be enamored with his cannon. A new mad bomber QB to groom would do much to bring hope back to the Black Hole denizens.

After what might just be the worst season in Raider history, things have reached crisis status in Oakland. A man in a crisis goes back to what he knows best; a murderer to murder and a thief to theft.

In this crisis, Al Davis goes to back to the fountain of his youth.