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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Kiffin not sure where the exit is

September 29, 2008|Sam Farmer

OAKLAND -- Knowing he probably has coached his last game for the Oakland Raiders, Lane Kiffin did something Sunday that his own team failed to do.

He finished.

Instead of ducking out of the locker room and up to his car -- something his Raiders handlers clearly wanted after his obligatory postgame news conference -- Kiffin circled back to the locker room after a 28-18 loss to San Diego and answered all the questions reporters could muster. Or he tried to answer them, at least.

That isn't just odd for an NFL coach.

That's unheard of.

And the questions weren't about how for the second consecutive week the Raiders nearly pulled off a shocking victory before imploding in the fourth quarter. They were about Kiffin's future with a club that obviously wants him gone.

He and Raiders owner Al Davis haven't spoken for weeks, so Kiffin is pretty much in the dark about whether this is the week he'll be shown the door. The timing makes the most sense now, as the team heads into its week off.

But then again, who knows? It's not as if Davis is itching to write him a check for the remainder of his $2-million salary. And as for experienced and capable coaches who want to step into Kiffin's shoes, well, let's just say that even the federal government wouldn't touch that bailout.

Truth be told, Kiffin is as in the dark as anyone about when the ax will fall. So he plans to prepare his 1-3 team for its Oct. 12 game at New Orleans as if he'll be the coach.

"Like I've said before, until I'm told something different by Al or by other people," he said, "we're going to keep trying to find a way to win."

If regulation NFL games lasted three quarters, the Raiders would rolling. They had a 15-3 lead against the Chargers before being outscored, 25-3, in the fourth quarter. A week earlier, at heavily favored Buffalo, the Raiders twice built nine-point leads in the fourth quarter only to fritter them away.

So when linebacker Kirk Morrison said Sunday that "we stayed true to what we've been doing this year," it was as big a slam as anything that happened on the field.

As for his team, it was undone by the usual San Diego suspects. LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Philip Rivers, who took an early beating and was sacked four times, threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Antonio Gates.

Through the first three quarters, it looked as if the Chargers were on their way to a 1-3 start, duplicating last season's sloppy September. But then they woke up and seemingly told themselves, remember, these are the Raiders, a team we've beaten nine times in a row.

Aside from a 63-yard touchdown pass from JaMarcus Russell to Zach Miller, it was Oakland's defense that gave the Raiders the upper hand, something Kiffin acknowledged in his news conference. He praised defensive coordinator Rob Ryan by name, notable in light of the long-standing tension between the two.

Then again, it's hard to heap praise on an offense that, midway through the fourth quarter, had no rushing first downs and had converted one of 11 third downs. Still, Kiffin said he felt very good about some of the things he saw.

Obviously, this situation is trying on the coach. But he's making some decisions with the abandon of a short-timer.

For instance, he had the Raiders wear white Sunday rather than black, until now their unwavering choice for home games. Hey, they don't call it the White Hole. But his reasoning was solid: It was a hot day; make the visitors sweat in the dark jerseys.

Instead of doing the traditional player introductions, where each player gets his own moment of center-stage treatment, Kiffin instead optioned for group introductions. So, for instance, all the quarterbacks ran out together.

"It was just something I came up with [Saturday] night when I was talking to the team," he said. "We're never going to win as individuals. I don't care how much money you make. I don't care how good you look on paper. You've got to play as a team. Those individual introductions, we're not going to do that anymore. That's not who we are."

And the wildest gambit of the game?

With time running out in the first half, the Raiders allowed the clock to wind down to one second, called a timeout and attempted a 76-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. Seventy-six yards! The kick fell about 15 yards short.

"He's made 73, 74 in practice," Kiffin said. "We would have never tried that if it wasn't the end of the half, because of the field position. As long as you feel good about your coverage unit . . . there's really nothing bad that can happen."

Besides, compared with the into-the-wind challenge Kiffin's facing, that kick was a chip shot.


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