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Sam Farmer / ON THE NFL

A Nation Waits

Raiders' Kiffin reportedly is about to be fired as relations with owner Davis become more icy. Even the coaches are openly bickering.

September 18, 2008|Sam Farmer

In the happy aftermath of Sunday's victory at Kansas City, embattled Oakland Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin dropped a hint about his uncertain future with the team. He spotted a reporter, and before walking into a curtained-off part of the locker room said, "See you later . . . maybe."

A moment later, Kiffin poked his head back out, smiled and added: "If I don't, it's been good."

The writing is on the wall -- and in the newspapers -- Kiffin is on the way out, with more than one Bay Area publication citing unnamed club sources who say he is on the verge of being fired.

In recent months, when asked about some of the team's personnel moves, the coach has essentially shrugged and said such matters are out of his control, indicating owner Al Davis is calling the shots.

Reached Wednesday night, Kiffin said he was trying to move beyond the reports.

"All I can worry about is what I can control," he said. "We've got to keep this team together and we can't let any of these reports affect us. I think our staff did a great job of that last week, and our plan is to do that this week."

But he added: "I feel bad for our players. They've had to deal with these questions every day for four straight days. In the meantime, we're trying to get them focused on winning another road game this week."

The Oakland Tribune noted this week that Kiffin hasn't even been calling Davis by name lately, instead referring to him as simply "the owner." As a testament to their icy impasse, Kiffin and Davis didn't speak to each other on the flight home from Kansas City.

Even within the coaching staff, fissures have formed. After last season, it was widely reported that Kiffin wanted to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan but was rebuffed by Davis.

Last week, things got even stranger. After Oakland's embarrassing performance in its season-opening 44-14 loss to Denver, Kiffin was asked about defensive pressure. He essentially said he didn't play a role in deciding that, and the scheme was formulated each week by Davis and Ryan.

The next day, Ryan held an obscenity-laced news conference to refute what the head coach had said.

"I meet with Mr. Davis in the off-season," Ryan said. "That thing is just [baloney], and I want to make sure you got it right."

Ryan would be a leading candidate to replace Kiffin if and when the ax falls. Other potential successors on staff are offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and receivers coach James Lofton.

But seeing as Kiffin kept his job thus far, he almost certainly will be the coach Sunday when the Raiders play at Buffalo, where they are 9 1/2 -point underdogs.

After that, all bets are off. Kiffin is in the second year of the three-year, $6-million deal he signed in 2007. In Kiffin's first season, the Raiders were 4-12, doubling their 2006 win total, and held fourth-quarter leads in nine games. They improved in most offensive categories, including going from 29th to sixth in rushing.

While saying he has no specific inside information on the day-to-day decisions of the team and owner, Raiders great Tim Brown says he thinks the Kiffin-Davis split is based on conflicting personalities, not dueling philosophies.

"It can't be about the young kid and what he's doing as far as coaching," said Brown, who retired in 2005 as the team's all-time leading receiver. "Something happened behind closed doors that they didn't click. It's Al's ball, and he can play with whoever he wants to play with. And if he chooses not to play with Lane anymore, that's just the way it's going to be."

Now, it looks as if Kiffin's days are numbered, and he doesn't seem too worried about it. He could wind up like Mike Shanahan, hired by Davis in 1988 and fired before the fourth game of his second season. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls and torment the Raiders during many fine years as Denver Broncos coach.

And those Raiders were filled with veteran leaders. This year's version of the team is far younger and less seasoned. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell is heading into only the fourth start of his career, and big-money free agents Javon Walker and DeAngelo Hall have a long way to go to prove they were worth the millions the Raiders have invested in them.

Still, the team has shown flashes of promise. In its 23-8 win at Kansas City, one of the league's worst teams, Oakland ran for 300 yards, including 164 by rookie Darren McFadden.

Apparently, it was enough to save Kiffin's job too.

At least for this week.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

COMMITMENT TO WHAT?

The Raiders left Los Angeles after the 1994 season. A look at the head coaches since the move back to Oakland:

MIKE WHITE, 1995-96, 15-17 (.469)

Did not reach the playoffs

JOE BUGEL, 1997, 4-12 (.250)

Did not reach the playoffs

JON GRUDEN, 1998-2001, 38-26 (.594)

2-2 record in playoffs

BILL CALLAHAN, 2002-03, 15-17(.469)

2-1 in playoffs, lost 2003 Super Bowl

NORV TURNER, 2004-05, 9-23 (.281)

Did not reach the playoffs

ART SHELL*, 2006, 2-14 (.125)

Worst 16-game record in franchise history

LANE KIFFIN, 2007- , 5-13 (.278)

Days seem numbered with franchise

*This was Shell's second stint as head coach of the Raiders. From 1989 to '94, in Los Angeles, Shell's record was 54-38.

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