Saturday, March 01, 2008

Al Davis & the Raiders

“One unsubstantiated story is meaningless, but put them all together and it’s true!” – Stephen Colbert

I’m not buying into the Davis/Kiffin story as it’s been told in the media. There has been absolutely nothing to provide substance, and the story is only advanced by the winks and nods of approving dittoheads caught up in the Jim Rome mentality of the modern sports media. If you can’t be so offensive as to convince someone to physically assault you, what you have to say doesn’t matter. But this is a commentary on Al Davis, not the media.

Bias

First, let’s get my biases out of the way so you’ll understand my philosophical location. I’ve been a staunch Raider fan since the late 1960s. When I moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, the Raiders followed me there. When I returned to the Bay Area in the early 1990s, the Raiders followed me home. I’ve often said that no team owner has shown so much devotion to one fan.

In those forty years I’ve come to understand a few things. It is not that Al Davis exists because of the Raiders, the Raiders exist because of Al Davis. I’ve come to understand, also, that I have more great football memories that any one football fan is entitled to. Al Davis is the man most responsible for those memories, and that buys more loyalty from me than a 19-61 run can take away. As far as I’m concerned, Al Davis has earned the right to do anything with his team that he wants. It is his, more than it belongs to the Raider Nation. He has done me the honor of renting, or lending the team to me on lazy autumn Sundays for forty years. I am obligated to return it when I’m finished with it.

It is not enough to say that the Raiders exist because of Al Davis. They are intertwined. It is impossible to imagine one without the other. And yet, that must eventually be so. Either that or the Raiders must fold shop when Davis is gone. I have watched Al Davis long enough to know that he believes that as long as the Raiders exist, Davis will be immortal.

That said…

Some seem to believe that Davis would destroy his team for his own aggrandizement. That is not possible. The only aggrandizement for Davis is the success of the Raiders. He wants the legacy to continue for all time. Currently he is attempting to restore his team again by the force of his will, as he once willed his wife to survive a stroke. Once that was possible, and even if it still is, soon enough it will no longer be so.

Over forty years of lazy media coverage, the opinion seems to be firmly entrenched that Al Davis controls all things associated with the Raiders. That used to be so, and to a certain extent it still is, but not in the way many think. Al Davis likes to surround himself with excellent football minds. He doesn’t want “yes” men. He wants people to disagree with him and to present alternative view points. That presents Davis with options, and from those options he makes his decisions. The notion that Davis does not listen to his coaches on draft day and during free agency is absurd. If the coach fails to provide input to Davis, in Davis’ mind the coach is not doing his job. Davis will sometimes go in his own direction if he feels that arguments to the contrary have been lacking. The fact is, Davis relies on his coaches now more than ever.

The notion that there is only one boss at Raiders HQ is absolutely true. Davis built the franchise according to his youthful vision of what a professional football dynasty should be. Davis created a franchise where he is the central brain trust, and he delegates to others as he would to his arms and legs. The delegates have no specified duties. Rather they do whatever Davis tells them needs to be done, or they suggest ideas to Davis who will delegate if the idea is approved. In the earlier days Davis was regularly on the practice field, coaching players and offering them career advice. He would sit in the owner’s box and send instructions to his head coach on the field. He negotiated contracts according to his own philosophies of duties and obligations to labor. He placed himself at the center of NFL committees. He was constantly moving around the country, scouting players and teams.

Through all of this time, the team has never suffered because of that level of Davis’ involvement. Rather, it has suffered for the lack of it.

It has been said that the Raiders will win if they model themselves after the successful plan of the Patriots. Not true. The Patriots did not invent a decade of success for an NFL franchise. It has been done before, and by teams who operated far differently. Teams find such levels of success through a combination of hard work, good luck, and coalescing circumstances. You don’t win the Super Bowl in the off and preseason, you merely build the foundation that allows you to reach out and take it if it presents itself. The combinations of coalescing circumstances, that get a team to the final victory circle, are as different, as varied, and as changing as the moon.

The most successful years for the Raiders were the years between 1975 and 1985. In that time, with two different starting quarterbacks, and two different head coaches, they won three Super Bowls for two different cities. What team of any decade can match that? This was also a time where the team benefited by Davis’ “constant interference.” One needs to examine Raider history a bit.

From the late 60s to the early 80s, Al Davis was a force of nature. All day he was in his office, on the practice field, in a meeting room, scouting, writing contracts… All night he was on the phone or watching film. It is not a coincidence that it was over this period that the dynasty was built. Al Davis structured a franchise that required the 24/7 involvement of its Managing General Partner, both in football operations and in the business office. For about 15 years Al Davis satisfied those requirements completely and unequivocally. He kept things internal to draw off of the experience that he gave people. He promoted internally to preserve “the Raider way.” Both John Madden and Tom Flores cut their teeth under Davis. They not only operated effectively in his system, they thrived.

Father time is not a forgiving patriarch. The NFL has become vastly more complicated, as has business in general. Don’t tell me that these complexities have passed Al Davis by. They haven’t. But they do require more time.

After the Raiders moved to Los Angeles, Davis, by necessity, began to spend a good deal of his time in court. After successfully suing the NFL, Davis had to deal with the fact that the LA Coliseum Commission fully breached their contract with him. Because of that breach, Davis spent much additional time looking for a final home for the franchise. Davis attempted to get his own stadium built in Los Angeles (more time), which was shut down by the NFL. He negotiated a move to Oakland (more time), and then immediately sued the NFL for breaking up his stadium deal. He was simultaneously sued by the City of Oakland on the ridiculous premise that Davis intended to turn around and move right back.

On top of this are the basic issues that none of us can escape over time. My father who is 89 became ill last year. Making sure that all his needs were met was a full time job in itself. Davis had his wife nearly die from a stroke which requires years of rehabilitation for a survivor. Davis is 79, and at 54 I know I don’t move from one thing to the next nearly as fast as when I was in my forties. If Davis can’t manage all of these things, in addition to the structured requirements of his franchise, it is not because he’s too old or because the game has passed him by. It is simply because there are not enough hours in a day to complete his daily tasks. As a result, he’s removed himself from the practice field and other areas where he feels he can reasonably delegate.

Since the delegates don’t have clearly defined roles in this structure, and since Davis has been absent more than in the past, team executives are sometimes forced by necessity or ambition to define their own roles. This leads to political gamesmanship, power struggles, and lost direction. This leads to the Lombardi/Shell fiasco of last season.

Coaching

When Davis began to get distracted in the early 1980s, Tom Flores was the head coach and long time Raider insider. Still, Flores suffered in his final years with Davis’ lack of involvement. The Raiders seemed stagnant. It was at this point that Davis’ hires began to lose direction, define their own roles, and slow team development with in-fighting and politics. Davis addressed the issue by hiring Mike Shanahan, but with Davis spending less time with the team, Shanahan began recreating the Raiders in the image of the 49ers. The old insiders objected and didn’t trust Shanahan, creating a situation where Davis eventually had to step in. So he fired Shanahan and promoted Shell.

Shell was a good caretaker, and a leader the team respected, but he was not known as a football strategist. As Shell made new coaching hires, and with the influx of players from other teams, there was more in-fighting and more self definition. Mike White, simultaneous with the team’s return to Oakland, politicked Shell out in a coup.

After two seasons and a record of 15-17 for White, Davis turned to the players’ favorite, Joe Bugel. Bugel was in over his head, attempting to determine how Davis would coach the team, rather than look to his own philosophies. And from the end of Flores to the beginning of Gruden, the Raiders were beset by internal squabbles and power grabs. Fortunately with Gruden came Bruce Allen. Allen was well known and trusted inside the Raider organization because of his long standing ties between football families. When Allen defined his own role, nobody objected. The friendship that developed between Gruden and Allen served them and the team very well.

Let there be no mistake. Gruden left on his own volition. He was presented with being able to be a head coach in his home town instead of 3,000 miles from his friends and family. He was offered added authority, the ability to hire his own family members, and a big raise. Davis may have been able to match the money, but he wasn’t ready to offer more power and he couldn’t offer a greater proximity to family and friends. Any of us in Gruden’s situation would have gone the same way, and Al was well aware that he couldn’t keep Gruden here without offering at least more power and money than Tampa Bay, who heaped power and wealth on Gruden as though he were the second coming. Davis, then, got what he could for his team. Unfortunately, Allen, who had developed a stronger relationship with Gruden than with Davis, followed his friend to Tamp Bay. He had been the only man since the late 1980s that could create structure where none was given.

Enter both personalities of Bill Callahan. Enter the friendly passivity of Norv Turner. Enter the forgotten Shell. Enter 2007. Davis’ plate was fuller by the day, leaving no guiding hand in place. Each coach determined his own needs simply by gauging Davis’ reaction to their suggestion. Each coach was looking to find structure that only Al could provide. There was no focus on long term team needs, only focus on whatever the coach needed at the moment.

The New England Patriots find more success from their players because they have a single offensive system in place that works. The Patriots fill their roster with players capable of simply being plugged into their system. This works for about a decade or more, until there are too few available players to fill the roles required, then a team must rebuild again, both its system and personnel. This was also true for the Raiders when they were doing the same thing.

What has been sorely lacking with the Oakland Raiders over the last seven years is the consistency of making moves with a long term plan and a guiding hand that is ever present. The first priority in changing that is finding stability at the position of head coach. Priority number two, which must immediately follow the first, is finding someone to replace Bruce Allen and it must be someone that Davis trusts implicitly. It must be someone who can make structure where none exists.

From this point forward, every move that Al Davis makes, regarding the Raiders, must be in furtherance of a plan, with Davis’ stamp but without Davis’ physical presence, that keeps this team in Super Bowl contention for the decades to come. Otherwise the Raiders, after Al Davis’ passing, will resemble something of the demise of the Hindenburg.

Over the years, part of what has made the Raiders so entertaining to me is the personal side of their story. In spite of the losing, I’m still entertained. I have faith in Al Davis to figure out how he will exit this life, just as he figured out how to live it.

The story of Al Davis and the Raiders must end in triumph or tragedy. There is no middle ground. And for Al Davis, that is how it should be. To those who have become Raider fans in fairly recent history, and who only know Davis by what the media reports, the final chapter in this legend should be the most exciting chapter of all. Those who are demanding changes will get more than they asked for over the next five years. The stakes have become incredibly high, but going “all in” on a hand of Texas Hold ‘em has never reduced the interest in the game.

28 Comments:

Blogger PantyRaider said...

BlandaRocked:

Beautifully written....and so true...We are from the same period of time and of a like mind in many things....But not in all things Raider...I am "57"....

Our "RudderLess" Ship needs to have direction but with out it we have gone astray in a big way..There has not been a good plan in our drafting until recently...also with signing FA's....It has been the direction of who ever was pushing his will at the time...This years players do not fit next years plans....

Only on the "D" has there been continuity but this has not resulted in success....we have invested 5 of the last 7 years highest draft picks on the "D" and the "O" has been left virtually unattended..."Under-Maned"....And now it is in desperate need of attention...More than just the "QB-n-"TE" acquired last season....We need "WR"s..."RB"s...."OL"....

This year is a year where those needs are plentiful in a deep draft and also available in FA's...The problem is we have very few draft choices in the early rounds...only 2 in the first 3....and 3 more in rounds 4-6....

Neglecting the "O" will just delay any hope of this team becoming competitive again....and by the time "JRus" has weapons and protection he will be "Bruised-n-Battered" and have lost his confidence....What a shame that would be after we have invested so much time and money...We can't expect him to go out and deliver a winning team without supplying him with the tools to do so....I sincerely hope the "O" is not neglected again...

The "D" should have been productive this last season but it was not...But I fear now there will be somewhat of a power struggle between Kiffin and "SOB" da "CaveMan" for attention in the draft-n-FA's....Now more than ever we need a strong Al Davis to give this vessel direction and stability...but at this point I don't know how much the "OldMan" has left....

We can address many of our weaknesses on the "D" threw FA's..."DE"s like Jevon Kearse who can come in and contribute as situational players but not on every down...."DT"s are a scarce commodity at this time but "DE"s are not..."OLB" are also available but "ILB"s are scarce...."CB" are few....So now is not the time to put the ship in "Hawk" trying to compete for those high priced positions....Rather we should be filling the voids this year that have available players and look at the availability of the other's next season....I can assure you there is more to fix than can be repaired in one draft or in one crop of FA's...

But the "O" is closer to repairable if we give it our attention now....and the players are available to fill those voids now....

"Long Live The Maverick"....

PantyRaider....Respectfully Loyal!!!

12:48 AM  
Anonymous memdf said...

Blanda-

"Allen, who had developed a stronger relationship with Kiffin than. .."
What a freudian slip this was!

Nicely done.

I will be 51 in May so have traveled the same Raider road. Like AD no one is getting any younger. With his interest in history I am sure AD is thinking of what his legacy will be in terms of the final years.
We will see...

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely put Blanda!

Keep them coming, I have herd all the negativity about my team, it's about time we hear something positive and well documented.

raiderdecoachella

2:04 PM  
Blogger Calico Jack said...

Very interesting take BlandaRocked. I'm glad to hear your unfiltered opinions.

Nothing would please me more than for Davis to finish this last chapter on top.

In regards to your commment:

"If Davis can’t manage all of these things, in addition to the structured requirements of his franchise, it is not because he’s too old or because the game has passed him by. It is simply because there are not enough hours in a day to complete his daily tasks. As a result, he’s removed himself from the practice field and other areas where he feels he can reasonably delegate."

No question there is too much on Davis' plate. Similar to the President of the United States, the key is to identify and appoint (hire) trusted advisors. My issue since the departure of Gruden/Allen is that Davis hasn't attained more help for Player Personnel.

In reference to your point:

"The most successful years for the Raiders were the years between 1975 and 1985. In that time, with two different starting quarterbacks, and two different head coaches, they won three Super Bowls for two different cities. What team of any decade can match that?"

49ers >> 1982 to 1995 (5 SBs)
Steelers >> 1975 to 1980 (4 SBs)
Cowboys >> 1993 to 1996 (3 SBs)
Patriots >> 2002 to 2005 (3 SBs)

I hope you find more free time to blog on your site.

2:43 PM  
Blogger PantyRaider said...

CalicoJack:

The teams you posted had the same coaches....Same "Q"s and played in the same cities during their run....The Raiders did not....We did it despite the turmoil of coaching changes and team moving(s) and "QB" trades...

Typical Raider Dysfunctional instability at it's best...Please Al bring it back....

PantyRaider...FanHopeful!!!!

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo!...

9:36 AM  
Blogger H said...

Blanda,

As for coaching input. There was a recent quote from John Madden that, unfortunately, I must paraphrase.

He said, "In all his time with the Raiders, the only unanimous choice they ever had on draft day was Ray Guy"

H

9:38 AM  
Blogger nyraider said...

Nicely written Blanda. I am fortunate to have many of the same fond memories of Raider dominance. However, I grow increasingly concerned about Mr. Davis' ability to achieve a graceful exit. Nothing would please me more than for him to do so, on his own terms.

9:39 AM  
Blogger H said...

By the way, you youngsters. I just celebrated a birthday and Daughter of H gave me a Raider helmet piñata.

It will never be used as a piñata, but will take a prominent place amongst my other Raider Items.

H

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Wow... what a well thought out and eloquent post Blanda! Thanx for all the hard work in creating it! Very enjoyable.

I have a few different theories of why things have fallen of late... I mostly think that Al has not adopted to the salary cap/FA era very well at all. His only success since it began was acquiring every quality veteran FA available, and that ended up hurting us in the long run (part of the 19 wins in 5 years result). Now I hope he is learning from NE and Indy by concentrating more on the DRAFT than free agency. Acquiring Russell last year is a great foundation.

Secondly, he has never done well with scrap heap coaches... the second he decided to fire Callahan (which I've always said was one year too early) he shoulda went right to another young hot coach.

Finally, he went to the well too often in trying to hit the lottery with scrap heap QB's after Gannon. ... of course, all of this is done with 20/20 hindsite.

I saw someone suggest that if the CBA gets demolished next year it might HELP the Raiders because most of the glory years were when there was no salary cap and FA's... I couldn't disagree more. The Raiders are towards the bottom in revenue, and would struggle in a non-equal playing field. The only thing that would help is if Al could keep most of the merchandising himself instead of sharing it equal... the Raiders are always in the top 5 in merchandising. Thoughts?

10:22 AM  
Blogger BlandaRocked said...

Gary:

I think acquiring players right now is slightly less important than having a system that stays intact for more than a year or two. NE is successful because they are able to simply look for the right fit into a solid system.

As for the loss of the cap, this could be why Davis sold off a portion of the team a year ago. Davis knows everything that goes on inside the NFL, and everything that goes on with the players union. It is very possible that the selling off a small interest in the team was to bank that money for the rainy day that the end of the cap will bring.

Winning will do more to increase the Raiders' revenue than anything, and that is why the Raiders focused on getting rid of those ridiculous "personal seat licenses."

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Arkansan Raider said...

Outstanding blog, my friend. Keep it going!

---Jeff

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Gary said...

>>>>
I think acquiring players right now is slightly less important than having a system that stays intact for more than a year or two.
>>>>>


I couldn't agree more... which is why I freaked out when I first heard that Kiffin might be gone. I'm not convinced (yet) that Kiffin is a great coach, but NOTHING could be worse than starting this whole process all over again. Sometimes you have to take two steps back to go forwards, but if you keep going two steps back, you can fall off a cliff.

There needs to be more continuity... which is why the Russell signing ultimately might be as important as Kiffin staying.

All of the consistent teams today have good/great QB's. We need three years out of Kiffin minimum to get Russell's feet on the ground so we can return to consistent winning football again. Thats why Gruden's "scrap heap veteran" model was so doomed for failure. Our foundation was built on players that only had a few years left in the tank.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Oh, btw... I think this coming season is the tipping point for the Raiders, a place where we can become the Lions, Arizona or Bengals where we always seem to underachieve, or a place where there is consistent winning. Thats why it didn't bother me much THIS year when we only won 4 games (and you saw how that was received) I thought we hit rock bottom the year before and wasn't expecting much. This year is completely different. It is absolutely imperative that Kiffin steps up his game and gets a minimum of 8 wins this year, or he almost certainly will be out of a job, and we are back to square one again. 8 wins is Al's minimum threshold of "excellence"... anything less is grounds for dismissal. The Raiders absolutely have to win 8 games to keep any continuity. EIGHT STINKING WINS!

12:55 PM  
Blogger BlandaRocked said...

Gary, I think you're right about Kiffin needing at least 8 wins. And not just any wins. When the Raiders were 8-7 in Gruden's second year, and heading into KC, there was much talk that that one game would mean the difference of Gruden coming back the next season, or being replaced.

That game was such a big win, displaying historic Raider character, it propelled us into the AFC championship game the following season.

1:10 PM  
Blogger RaiderCat said...

Nice take, BR!

I realize now why I respect you and others who regularly post on RT's blog - at 44, I've vicariously lived the glory years... the years of transition... the years mired in doubt.

I, too, concluded they were following me to L.A. and back to the bay, lol.

Your quote on RaiderTake sums up much of the RaiderNation loyalty:
"Ultimately, that is why a lot of us are Raider fans. It's not so much the success, but the success against the odds."

And, like it or not, Al Davis was the spirit behind the Raiders.

Gotta dig it.

~Cat

5:55 PM  
Blogger kigleigh said...

Nice piece Blanda,when i harangued you on Take's blog last week about not writing any blogs for so long i didn't expect such a great read so soon mate.Well done,it reminded me of why i love the RAIDERS and i for one cannot percieve the RAIDERS without Al..
Great read BR,nice to have you back.
As Panty put it earlier..Long Live The Maverick!

12:07 PM  
Blogger kigleigh said...

Just a thought BR,considering your past record,maybe you should go to the superbowl this season mate,just to see if the RAIDERS will follow you again!!
We can all chip in for the ticket.You're the best chance we've got at the moment...

2:51 AM  
Blogger BlandaRocked said...

Hmmm... Maybe I like that idea.

5:50 PM  
Blogger PantyRaider said...

BlandaRocked...

I saw this and knew you would like to see it also....Just look who's name is in this news report....

The Raiders last week received permission to speak with Hall's agent, Joel Segal, about the prospect of a deal that would satisfy the Falcons, the Raiders and Hall. By week's end, Hall was in Alameda at the Raiders' training facility for a physical and meetings with managing general partner Al Davis, Coach Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, among others.

Did you notice the name "Kiffin" in this news report....

http://origin.mercurynews.com/breakingnews/
ci_8587500

PantyRaider....Kiffin-Lives...Kiffin-Lives!!!

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still enjoy reading this insightful and well written blog every so often...

SCAR

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Hey,

I've started a website called raiderwire.com (which is part of my other website, NorCalSportsWire.com) that I think will be really useful to Raiderfans. The website aggregates only headlines and excerpts from the best Raider news sources and displays them on the homepage, organizes the data into tags and categories, and (of course) links back to the original stories on each blog, thereby increasing traffic to your site.The site also features a highest rated posts of the day section as voted on by users, a top ten youtube section, and updated rosters and schedules. I read the material on your website and think your stuff is awesome and a worthy edition to raiderwire.com. I've also included a link to your blog in the links section.

News to me not only includes what people like the SJ Mercury News and the SF Chronicle are saying, but also what the blogs are saying and in that respect Ninerwire.com is one of a kind. I happen to think some of the Raider blogs, including yours, are more informative than some or all of the news sites.

Lastly, I hate to be that guy, but if you enjoy the website and feel it'd be useful to your readership, I'd be forever indebted to you if you could hook it up with a link back to Raiderwire.com

If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions, please feel free to shoot me a line. Keep up the great work on the blog.

-Jesse
http://norcalsportswire.com

2:38 PM  
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6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh how we miss your insite over at RT's. getting pretty bad over there.

frkyraider

7:08 PM  
Blogger PantyRaider said...

Hi "BR"

I have been out of contact for a long time because I just grew sick of all the negativity over at "RT"s but I miss the comradely with the boyz in RaiderTown so I can't just stay away...I have started posting at

http://www.atdhe.net/index.html

They seem to have a good mix of the positive and the adverse...And I will post here when you have new threads...

Looking forward to a new season..

PantyRaider...

8:53 PM  
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