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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Kiffin and Raiders won't patch this up

September 23, 2008|Sam Farmer

Lane Kiffin might be standing on the plank, but the Oakland Raiders have yet to ask him to walk it.

That's what the young coach said Monday, at least, when asked about reports by Fox- Sports.com and ESPN that he had already been informed by the Raiders that he will be fired as coach.

"I have not been told by Al Davis that I'm not the head coach, so until he tells me directly we're going to keep plugging away," Kiffin said at his regular news conference. "There's so many conversations that go on around here. . . . If we believe everything that was said around here, we'd be in a lot of trouble as a team."

The Raiders are coming off a 24-23 defeat at Buffalo, where they nearly pulled off an upset before their defense imploded down the stretch. The Bills scored 17 points in the final eight minutes of the game to overcome 16-7 and 23-14 deficits.

It's noteworthy that it was Oakland's defense that dropped the ball, because Kiffin made it clear in the wake of a season-opening loss to Denver that the defensive philosophy is molded each week by coordinator Rob Ryan and Davis.

Ryan countered that a day later with a competing news conference, vehemently dismissing what the head coach had said. The tension between Kiffin and Ryan is palpable, and dates to last off-season when Kiffin tried to fire him but was rebuffed by Davis.

It's also worth noting that Sunday, with the clock winding down and Buffalo already well within field-goal range, Kiffin didn't use either of his two remaining timeouts -- though the Associated Press reported that he tried to call one just before Bills kicker Rian Lindell knocked through the game-winning, 38-yard field goal as time expired. Officials apparently didn't see him.

Speaking to reporters Monday, the coach said he feels the Raiders are moving in the right direction -- at least on the field.

"I think that some of our core beliefs in what we need to do to win are happening," said Kiffin, 33, the former USC offensive coordinator who is 5-14 as Raiders coach. "The penalties are coming down as you saw yesterday. We're taking care of the football better. Through three games, the quarterback has thrown no interceptions. He's been sacked one time in two games. We're getting the ball back on defense. We're forcing turnovers. . . ."

But if the owner has already made up his mind, all that is just noise. Even though he has burned through head coaches -- the Raiders are on their fourth in five years -- Davis has fired only one during the season: dumping Mike Shanahan four games into the 1989 season.

The situation is, in a word, ugly. It's also bizarre. Last week, a Raiders official allegedly directed reporters to an ESPN.com column that was critical of Kiffin's recent behavior. When the Raiders air their dirty laundry so publicly, the end is near.

Then, on Monday, things turned entirely surreal, with Raiders executive John Herrera and San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami getting into it.

During the news conference, Kawakami had mentioned the ESPN column he said the Raiders passed out, and asked Kiffin whether he felt "isolated." Herrera responded by shouting -- several times, while Kiffin was still seated and TV cameras rolled -- that Kawakami was a "liar," confronting him again just as the news conference ended.

Another day in Raiderland.

By all indications, the firing of Kiffin isn't a matter of if but of when. He and Davis have been at odds for months, and on a conference call with Buffalo reporters last week, the coach said he and Davis hadn't spoken for two weeks.

"How about when you go for a jog yesterday and you feel like it's paparazzi because the TV cameras are following you and they're asking you if you're still the coach of the Raiders," Kiffin said on the call. "I felt like Brad Pitt. Anyways, I don't let it affect me because I can't do anything about it. I don't have the power to make the decision whether I'll be here, so why worry about it?"

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Chasing Chase?

Here's an interesting theory from reader Freddy Nager: Seeing as the two NFL teams from Missouri are a combined 0-6, and both St. Louis and Kansas City are in the market for a quarterback upgrade -- the Chiefs much more than the Rams -- are they really just jockeying for position to draft Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel?

Interesting suggestion, Freddy. But they're just bad.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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