Paul Sakuma/AP
Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis

Kiffin Firing Has Critics Doubting Al Davis’ Sanity Again

October 02, 2008 02:36 PM
by Denis Cummings
Al Davis’ protracted firing of Lane Kiffin, ending with a bizarre press conference, is symbolic of the decline of Davis and the Oakland Raiders.

Davis Fires Kiffin

Raiders owner Al Davis officially fired head coach Lane Kiffin Tuesday after months of reports that he was trying to force Kiffin out. Davis said that Kiffin was fired for cause, meaning that he would not pay Kiffin the remainder of his three-year, $6 million contract.

During a long, rambling press conference, Davis called Kiffin a “flat-out liar” and accused him of “bringing disgrace to the organization.” He read from a three-page letter that he had sent to Kiffin earlier in the year that explained his grievances.

“Over the past months, you have made a number of public statements that were highly critical of, and designed to embarrass and discredit, this organization, its players and its coaches,” the letter stated. “Such statements constitute conduct detrimental to the Raiders and I will no longer stand silently by while you continue to hurt this organization.”

Opinion & Analysis: Davis on the decline

The press conference reinforced what many already knew about Davis. “Davis confirmed it all. Not only all the rumors and whispers that have been building for the past 20 months about his deteriorating relationship with Kiffin and all the little grudges held,” writes Ann Killion in the San Jose Mercury News. “But Davis also confirmed the Machiavellian, paranoid nature of his rule.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Ray Ratto found one positive from the press conference: that Davis hinted he might hire an experienced executive to help run the team. Though Davis said he will wait until the end of the season, and there is no guarantee that the executive would have been given any real power, there is at least a “notion that a football guy might be hired to drag the Raiders into some level of normalcy.”

Key Player: Al Davis

The 79-year-old has been with the Raiders for all but one year since 1963. He has done much to justify his election to the Football Hall of Fame, winning three Super Bowls with an aggressive, arrogant style that has made him the face of the Raiders.

His career has also been marked by personal conflicts with players and coaches, dishonest business dealings and increasingly poor management decisions, however. Over the past two decades, the Raiders have been a losing team, and over the past five years they have become the laughingstock of the league.
He joined the American Football League’s Oakland Raiders in 1963 as coach and general manager. The 34-year-old Davis inherited a 1-13 team, but went 10-4 in his first year, winning AFL coach of the year. In 1966, he was named AFL commissioner. He immediately took aim at the more established NFL.

“What Davis was going to show the NFL was that he knew how to plot, scheme and maneuver through the tricky thought channels of players and organizations,” wrote Edwin Shrake in Sports Illustrated. Davis would continue to do just that for the next four decades.

He returned to the Raiders a year later as co-owner and head of football operations, overseeing an AFL Championship and Super Bowl II loss. In 1972, while co-owner Wayne Valley was attending the Olympics, Davis rewrote the ownership agreement to give himself control. Valley sued, but Davis won the court decision and took control of the Raiders in 1975. Since that time, he has had full control over the team’s day-to-day operations.

Davis would build three Super Bowl-winning teams between 1976 and 1983. He became the face of the franchise and coined team mottos such as “Commitment to Excellence” and “Just win, baby!”

However, as an owner Davis was in frequent conflict with the NFL, especially with commissioner Pete Rozelle. He attempted to move the team to Los Angeles in 1980, but the NFL refused permission; Davis sued, won $35 million in damages and moved the team in 1982. In 1986, he sided with the upstart USFL in its antitrust case against the NFL, the only NFL owner to do so.

In 1995, he moved the team back to Oakland, but not before pocketing $10 million given to him by the town of Irwindale in a good-faith deal toward building a stadium there. He then sued the NFL, alleging a breach of contract for a Los Angeles Stadium and claiming that he still owned the territorial rights to Los Angeles. The lawsuit dragged on until 2007, when it was finally thrown out, and it further isolated Davis from the rest of the NFL owners.

In Oakland, the Raiders have failed to have the financial success of most other teams. “As the economics of the NFL changed, Davis didn't adapt,” writes Forbes’ Monte Burke, who adds, “the Raiders have one of the worst stadium deals in the NFL.” Despite having one of the most passionate fan bases in the NFL, the Raiders often do not sell out.

The Raiders have struggled on the field, as well. Davis has made many questionable coaching hires and even his good hires—Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan—were soon forced out. Since losing the 2002 Super Bowl to Gruden’s Buccaneers, the Raiders have gone 20-64 with no playoff appearances, the worst record in the NFL over that time period. As the team continues to struggle under Davis’s leadership, many fans and media members have called for him to relinquish control of the team.

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