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.

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