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Davis fires, rips Kiffin

Calling coach 'a flat-out liar,' Raiders boss says move is made 'for cause,' contending he doesn't have to pay off his contract.

October 01, 2008|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The strangest scene in the NFL this season really wasn't that unfamiliar.

Al Davis sitting in the courtroom Tuesday, presenting his case about how he and his Oakland Raiders were wronged.

But it wasn't a courtroom at all, it was Raiders headquarters. And the jury was a roomful of reporters covering the firing of coach Lane Kiffin, the owner's fourth such dismissal since 2003 as his team has scraped along the sea floor, compiling an NFL-worst record of 20-64.

So there Davis sat, launching torpedoes at Kiffin, the former USC assistant coach he hired at age 31 and hailed as the bright-eyed future of the franchise.

Tuesday, he called Kiffin a "flat-out liar" and said he was guilty of "bringing disgrace to the organization."

Whether he lied is debatable. Davis accused him of leaking information to the press, and for claiming -- falsely, the owner said -- that he and Davis hadn't spoken for weeks.

"I just couldn't go on much longer with what I would call propaganda, the lying that was going on for weeks, and months, and a year . . ." said Davis, who promoted offensive line coach Tom Cable, a former UCLA offensive coordinator, to interim head coach.

Kiffin only briefly spoke to reporters Tuesday, but he has promised a news conference of his own today.

Because Davis fired Kiffin "for cause," he contends that he doesn't owe him the reported $3.5 million remaining on his contract. That, he said, was Kiffin's first question when he got the news: Will I still get paid?

"There are a lot of people who believe, in the organization, that he wanted to be fired but he wanted to be paid," Davis said.

If this also sounds familiar, firing a young head coach early in a season and then fighting over compensation, it's because Davis has done it before. Mike Shanahan was canned four games into the 1989 season and went on to torment the Raiders as coach of the Denver Broncos. Until Tuesday, he was the only coach Davis had fired midseason.

Not that Davis is sentimental about keeping coaches the way he hangs onto players. In the five years since his franchise lost to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl, Davis has burned through Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell and now Kiffin.

In his little-more-than-one season on the job, Kiffin went 5-15.

"It hurts because I picked the guy," Davis said. "I picked the wrong guy."

The most surreal moment Tuesday came when Davis read from a three-page letter he said he sent to Kiffin on Sept. 12 by overnight mail. Just as it might be in a courtroom, the letter was projected on a screen behind Davis as he read.

"I realized when I hired you that you were young and inexperienced and that there would be a learning process for you," he read. "Your mistakes on player personnel and coaches were overlooked, based on our patience with you. But I never dreamt that you would be untruthful . . . in statements in the press and as well as so many other issues.

"Your actions are those of a coach looking to make excuses for not winning, rather than a coach focused on winning."

Davis said it could only be Kiffin who leaked the existence of that letter to ESPN, which broke the story of his firing. What's more, the owner referred to ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen as "a professional liar."

Among the points Davis stressed were that Kiffin never wanted to draft quarterback JaMarcus Russell; that he pushed for Davis to sign high-priced but yet-unproductive free agents DeAngelo Hall and Javon Walker; that he insisted the team dump All-Pro receiver Randy Moss, who was traded to New England in a bargain-basement deal for a fourth-round pick; and that he wanted his father, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, to replace current Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Davis also said it was Monte Kiffin and USC Coach Pete Carroll who were advising Kiffin.

"I thought he was young and immature and that someone would grab him by the throat and tell him he's doing the wrong thing," Davis said. "But his own father and Pete, they're the advisors and somewhere or other they got lost in this thing."

Earlier in the day at USC, Carroll opened his weekly news conference with a tongue-in-cheek call for "a moment of silence for our comrade."

"All of this happened in way too much of a hurry and it's unfortunate," he said in an interview after the news conference. "Lack of communication was probably the cause of it. Kiff's a terrific football coach and I think in time it's going to be clear that's the case."

Kiffin's worst transgression in the eyes of Davis?

"I could never get him to feel toward ex-Raiders the way I wanted him to feel about ex-Raiders," the owner lamented.

So Kiffin is now one of them, an ex-Raider.

--

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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