Monday, January 23, 2006

Patience as a Virtue

It is amazing how the bay area beat writers and mediots (media idiots) are mocking the Raiders and Al Davis’ patient search for a new head coach. What is interesting is that Davis’ patient approach might earn the ultimate prize, Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt has emerged over the past few weeks as a bona fide star coach. While the other teams were busy interviewing and hiring retreads and lackluster candidates, Whisenhunt has been off the market because of the Steelers playoff success. Has Mr. Davis been laying in the weeds awaiting the Steelers to run their course which will eventually lead to the availability of Whisenhunt to be interviewed? Only time will tell.

This article seemed to imply that the Raiders “missed” out on hiring Al Saunders. Some of the flak that the Raiders are getting is also based on the fact that only 3 candidates have been officially interviewed so far. This article implies that the Lions and Redskins were “faster on the draw”. Are the Raiders doomed because they haven’t been quick on the trigger like some of the other teams who had head coaching vacancies? The Lions were faster on the draw to hire Rod Marinelli who has been stuck at Tampa Bay the last 10 years as a defensive line coach. The Redskins were faster on the draw to hire Saunders as an offensive coordinator not a head coach. Saunders is in the same mold as Turner who belongs in the press box not on the sideline leading the players into battle.

Some of the criticism stems from the fact that the Raiders will be the last team with an unfilled vacancy. Some of the writers point out that 2 of the 3 candidates who interviewed with the Raiders have been hired by other teams namely Rod Marinelli and Al Saunders. I think Al interviewed Marinelli as a potential defensive coordinator in case Rob Ryan was hired by the Jets. Same goes for Saunders. Al wasn’t in any rush to hire Saunders. If Al was impressed with Saunders than an offer would have been extended. Plain and simple. Let’s not forget that K.C. bypassed Saunders for their head coaching vacancy. Saunders was probably viewed more as an offensive coordinator which is what he ended up being hired to do for Washington.

To all the beat writers who continue to pile on the Raiders and to all the Raider faithful who have become frustrated with the Head Coach search, settle down. There are a number of excellent known candidates available in the market and probably a few surprise candidates hidden up Mr. Davis’ sleeve. The point I’m trying to make is that it is more important to find the right guy than rush into a poor decision. It isn’t a race. Here’s my perspective of the head coaching landscape, some of the other teams’ head coach choices, and the relevancy of when you hire the HC.

- Was Green Bay wise to jump the gun and hire Mike McCarthy as their leader in charge? McCarthy was the mastermind behind the worst offensive team in the NFL last year as the 49ers offensive coordinator. Now there's a resume filler.

- On Monday Buffalo hired Dick Jaroun as their man in charge. Can you say "retread"?Dick Jaroun sure did wonders as the Head Coach at Chicago where he compiled a stellar 35-46 record. He recently was washed out as the interim Head Coach at Detroit. Very inspiring choice Marv.

- The New Orleans Saints seemed very pleased to sign Sean Payton as their big cheese. Payton was the guy who as the offensive coordinator for the NY Giants was stipped of his play calling duties by Head Coach Jim Fassell. Now that should instill some confidence down by the bayou.

- The Houston Texans will be signing Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to man the fort. Gary Kubiak's credentials are impressive considering the potency of the Denver Bronco offense. However, I have to wonder how much of the real credit for Denver’s offense should be weighted towards Kubiak and how much really goes to the architectural genius, Mike Shanahan.

Here are 2 candidates that would fit the ideal profile and make the most sense as a match for the Raiders. This ideal profile is a young, ambitious coach without NFL Head Coaching experience who comes from the offensive side of the ball.

43-year-old Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator of Pittsburgh, has risen to the top of the list with the Steelers post-season success. Whisenhunt, who is in his second year as offensive coordinator, deserves the lion's share of credit for the Steelers robust 28.6 scoring average in the playoffs. As the visiting team, the Steelers have knocked out the top 3 seeds in the AFC bracket on their way to the Super Bowl. Whisenhunt has devised creative, aggressive offensive game plans and play calls in the 3 playoff victories. Whisenhunt's offense has produced TDs on 10 of 13 trips to the red zone in the playoffs. Both years that Whisenhunt has been in charge of the Steelers offense the team has advanced to the AFC Championship. Unlike some NFL coordinators who could be labeled “football professors” for their expertise in drawing up brilliant x’s and o’s, Wisenhunt is a former player who was known for his toughness as a TE in the league for 9 years. As quoted in this article Dan Henning says about Whisenhunt, "He leans on approaching players on an intelligent basis, but this is a tough guy," said Henning, offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. "He has a mental toughness about him that makes him excel.” This is the type of young, dynamic leader that the Raiders should hire.

44-year-old Cam Cameron, offensive coordinator of San Diego, has established himself as a bona-fide candidate with his track record the last 4 years. Cameron has played a big role in guiding the Chargers offense and developing such rising stars as Antonio Gates, LT, and Drew Brees. The Chargers offensive balance, productivity, and firepower is due in large part to Cameron’s efforts. Cameron's familiarity with the AFC West division would be an added bonus.

There are a number of other candidates who are worthy of a sit-down interview with Mr. Davis. This list would include Mike Singletary (Asst. Head Coach/LB Coach S.F.), Tim Lewis (Defensive Coordinator NY Giants), Maurice Carthon (Offensive Coordinator, Cleveland) and Mike Sherman (former HC Green Bay). Only time will tell whether or not Mr. Davis was wise in taking his sweet time in order to find the right man to lead the Silver and Black. When the scoreboard in Detroit on Feb. 5th hits 00:00, that patience might be rewarded handsomly. I am hopeful that on Feb. 6th that Ken Whisenhunt is enjoying an animated discussion with Mr. Davis about the future of the Silver and Black.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Who Will Be The Next Raiders QB?

Clearly the two biggest decisions facing the Raiders organization is the hiring of a new head coach and the selection of a starting QB. I realize that I might be jumping the gun by speculating on potential signal callers for the Silver and Black. The QB decision is partly tied to some degree on the type of head coach that is hired by the Raiders. There are also other factors and variables to consider. The availability of some QBs will be based on choices made in the other head coaching vacancies. The salary cap position of some teams will impact the availability of a few QBs. Certainly the upcoming draft will directly effect the QB carousel. I don't pretend to have a crystal ball in front of me but for the sake of having an open forum, here are some of the QB possibilities to consider.

Before I compile my hit list of potential QBs, I think it would be wise to first take a look at the remaining playoff teams QBs. It is important to note that this group of QBs runs the full spectrum in terms of how many years the QB has been in the league, when the QB became a starter, what round the QB was drafted, and whether or not the QB is still with his original team.

Mark Brunnell (Washington; 13 years in the league), Jake Plummer (Denver; 9 yrs.), Jake Delhomme (Carolina; 8 yrs.), and Matt Hasselbeck (Seattle; 7 yrs.) are no longer with the teams that originally drafted them. Ben Rothlisberger (Pittsburgh; 2 yrs.), Rex Grossman (Chicago; 3 yrs.), Tom Brady (New England; 6 yrs.) and Peyton Manning (Indy; 8 yrs.) are with the same team that originally drafted them.

Only Plummer, Manning and Rothlisberger were drafted to become starters in year 1. Grossman has been 1 of 6 QBs that the Bears have started the last few years. Grossman also has the good fortune to be on a team with a dominating, #2 rated defense that is largely responsible for the team's success. Brady was an unknown gem picked up in the 6th round.

The point I'm trying to illustrate is that there is no clear cut way to finding or upgrading your starting QB. 3 of the 4 starting Super Bowl QBs in the Raiders history were hand picked off of other rosters (Daryl Lamonica/Buffalo; Jim Plunkett/S.F.; Rich Gannon/K.C.). Kenny "The Snake" Stabler was groomed to be the starting QB but didn't reach the Super Bowl until his 8th season.

Keeping this in mind, Al and the next head coach have 4 paths that they can take.
-Stick with Kerry Collins
-Go with Andrew Walter
-Trade for or sign an up and coming QB w/4-6 years experience
-Trade for or sign a seasoned vet

The worst possible case scenario is for the Raiders to stick with Kerry Collins. Besides this leading to an outright revolt by the Raider Nation, this is a proven path for L-O-S-I-N-G.

The only time in the Raiders history that they have gone with a young, unproven, drafted QB (Todd Marinovich) led to disastrous results. Is Al willing to roll the dice on Walter? If history is our guide, no. It also wouldn't make sense for the Raiders to try to move up in the draft to take Matt Leinart. Leinart and Walter are very similar in size, skills, and backgrounds. Walter set the Pac 10 record for most career TD passes in 2004 and has the arm strength to stretch the field. Bombs away in 2008.

If the Raiders are going to attempt to sign an up and coming QB with 4-6 years experience then Billy Volek (Tennessee), David Carr (Houston), and David Garrard (Jacksonville) would be on my short list.

Billy Volek (6 years experience; 10 game started; accurate passer; steady but unspectacular performer)
Tennessee could very easily take Vince Young with the 3rd pick in the draft with the intention of McNair grooming him as the heir apparent. There is no conceivable way that the Titans could afford to fit McNair, Volek, and bonus baby VY under the salary cap. As pointed out by an anonymous blogger, Volek was the QB under head coaching candidate Pat Hill at Fresno St.

David Carr (4 years experience; starter since day 1; tough, durable, athletic)
If the Houston Texans give into the ground swell of support to take Vince Young over Reggie Bush with the #1 pick then David Carr could very well fall into the Raiders lap. If the Raiders hire Pat Hill as the Head Coach, look for Davis to aggressively pursue all trade avenues for Carr. Hill was Carr's head coach at Fresno State. The Raiders would need to package draft picks and a starter or two to work this trade.

David Garrard (4 years experience; limited to 8 career starts; mobile, athletic, can make all the throws)
Garrard's stock has risen with his performance the last 5 games of this season. He performed admirably in relief of injured starter Bryan Leftwich by leading the Jaguars to a 4-1 record.

If the Raiders are going to attempt to swing a major trade or sign a seasoned vet, my list would consist of Brett Favre (Green Bay), John Kitna (Cincinnati), Brad Johnson (Minnesota) or Dante Culpepper (Minnesota).

Brett Favre (Hall of Fame credentials)
Brett's situation in Green Bay is dicey. The key to Brett's availability will be who Green Bay hires as their new head coach and the overall direction of the organization. Is the Pack management team trying to push Brett towards the retirement door and how important is it for Brett to retire as a life-long Packer? There is no question that Brett has plenty of bullets left in the chamber. Favre joining the Raiders would have to be considered a major long-shot. Just imagining Brett slinging passes to Moss and Porter in a Silver and Black #4 jersey puts a little extra giddy-up in my step.

John Kitna (2003 comeback player of the year)
Kitna's game management and leadership skills plus mobility would be a big upgrade over Collins. However, with Carson Palmer suffering a major injury vs. Pittsburgh, I could see Cincy re-signing Kitna as an insurance policy.

Brad Johnson (62% career completion; TD/Int ratio: 155/102; Led Bucs to a Super Bowl victory in 2002)
This season's performance was impressive. Johnson took over a Vikings team that had hit rock bottom and orchestrated a 7-2 record in his 9 starts.

Dante Culpepper (All Pro QB with off the charts, physical tools when healthy)
Will the Vikings owner cut bait on Culpepper because of the "Love Boat" incident and re-sign Brad Johnson? Culpepper reuniting with Moss would be electric.

Although the market for QBs is fairly thin this year, I am confident that the Raiders can upgrade the QB position simply by showing Collins the door. Whether it is suffering the initial growing pains of Walter maturing, taking a chance on an unproven young gun, or creatively signing a seasoned vet, the bitter taste in my mouth will be washed away once the Collins era ends.

The Raiders desperately need a QB with the ability to make pre-snap reads, audible out of bad plays, who has pocket awareness, mobility, game management skills, leadership skills, and a passion to win at all costs. Is this asking for too much? Not if your quest is to see another Lombardi Trophy hoisted into the air!

Silver and Black Forever,

Calico Jack

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Head Coach Wanted

The axe came down today on Norv Turner mercifully ending a pitiful 2 year run as the Raiders Head Coach. When your company slogan is “Just Win Baby”, Turner’s record of 9-23 (1-11 in the division) left Al Davis no choice but to send Norv on his merry way. Let the speculation begin on who Al chooses to lead the Silver and Black back on to the path of greatness.

There isn’t a minute to be wasted on the identifying, recruiting and hiring process of the new head coach. It is imperative to have the new head coach on board sooner rather than later. This is especially true when you consider the demands of being a newly hired head coach in the NFL; (hiring of new coaching staff, roster evaluation, the 2006 draft, the free agent market, installing new systems, training camp, etc.)

Finding and hiring a head coach who is the right fit for the Raider organization will be challenging to say the least. One of the major hurdles to navigate will be finding a head coach who will be a willing and able partner with Renegade Al. Al’s reputation as a maverick, unorthodox owner is well deserved. The ability to co-exist with Al and have a healthy, give and take working relationship will be critical. I think it is a fatal error in judgment to discount Al's persuasive skills to lure the right candidate for the job. No one should discount the prestige of being the head coach for the Oakland Raiders either. I also think Al will need to loosen up the reins a bit and give the new head coach the full authority that the position requires.

Al and the newly hired HC can immediately turn around the offense's shortcomings. This will be achieved first by kicking Collins to the curb and then selecting a veteran QB by trade or through free agency that has proven game management and leadership skills.

When speculating about possible HC candidates for the Raiders, it interesting and somewhat amusing how it becomes a process of elimination. Has Al ever hired a HC straight from the college ranks? No. Has Al ever hired a defensive minded HC? No. Another prominent eliminator is the salary of potential candidates. It is hard to envision Al forking out a fair market contract to a HC who is already being highly compensated by his current employer (ie. Nick Saban at LSU being hired away by Miami).

Al's history of hiring head coaches tends to fall into 3 distinct categories;
1. Retreads/NFL coaching vets; (Mike White, Joe Bugel, Norv Turner)
2. Promotions/Company Men; (John Madden, Tom Flores, Art Shell, Bill Callahan)
3. Diamonds in the rough/no NFL HC experience; (Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden).

Here is a speculative list of head coaching candidates to consider that fall into 1 of the above 3 categories;

Retreads/NFL coaching vets:
Steve Mariuchi – fired in Detroit after Thanksgiving Day game
Mike Sherman – fired on Monday by Green Bay
Mike Tice – fired on Monday by Minnesota
Dom Capers – fired on Monday by Houston
Jim Haslett – fired on Monday by New Orleans
Jim Fassell – current offensive coordinator at Baltimore; former HC of NY Giants

Promotions and/or Company Men:
Rob Ryan – current Defensive Coordinator
Art Shell – former player and Head Coach; currently V.P. executive of NFL

Diamonds in the Rough and/or no NFL head coaching experience:
Mike Singletary – current Defensive Assistant Coach at S.F.
Sean Payton - current offensive coach at Dallas; interviewed with Al for HC in 2004
Scott Linehan – current Offensive Coordinator at Miami
Russ Grimm - current offensive coach at Pittsburgh
Maurice Carthon – current Offensive Coordinator at Cleveland
Pat Hill – current Head Coach at Fresno State; previous NFL coach experience

Based on Al's hiring practices the past 30+ years it looks like the HC pool shrinks down considerably. If you toss out category 1 (who wants another retread?) it boils down to Rob Ryan, Art Shell, and the diamonds in the rough. You can eliminate Rob Ryan and Mike Singletary since both come from the defensive side of the ball. You can eliminate Pat Hill since Al has never hired a coach straight from the college ranks. Now you are left with Art Shell, Sean Payton, Scott Linehan, and Maurice Carthon.

Art Shell would be the safe, reliable choice having compiled a 56-41 record with 3 playoff appearances in his stint as HC of the Raiders from 1989-1994. Sean Payton was very close to becoming the Raiders Head Coach in 2004 for but got cold feet. Scott Linehan is a brilliant offensive mind and play caller. Maurice Carthon has an impeccable coaching pedigree having worked under Bill Parcells (Pats, Jets, Cowboys) and with Bill Belichick (Pats, Jets). He is also a former player under Parcells who was on 2 Super Bowl championship teams with the N.Y. Giants.

Will Al break his pattern to hire Pat Hill or Mike Singletary? Singletary would be an inspired choice. Is there another diamond in the rough that will be a bold stroke of genius to hire? Or in the final analysis, will Al go for the safest choice, Art Shell? This next HC decision is paramount to the success (or failure) of the Raiders. Stay tuned.

I bleed Silver and Black,

Calico Jack

Sunday, January 01, 2006

NY Giants 30 - Oakland Raiders 21

On a soggy New Year's Eve night in Oak-Town, the Raiders 2005 season came to a fitting end. The Raiders did just enough good things on the field to tease their loyal fan base but didn't make enough plays at critical junctures in the game to bring home a victory.

The Good: This game showed some of the promise of a high powered passing attack. Receivers Moss, Gabriel, and Porter combined for 21 catches, 292 yards, and 3 TDs.
DE Derrick Burgess set a team record with his 16th sack of the season and is the 1st Raider to lead the league in sacks.

The Bad: With Lamont Jordan on the shelf, the rushing attack was non-existent. The Raiders ran for a total of 25 yards for the ENTIRE game. A balanced offense was not in the cards tonight. The Raiders gave up 3 critical big plays to the Giants; a 95 yard TD run by Tiki Barber, a 78 yard TD pass to Plexixo Burress, and a 58 yard punt return by Chad Morton.

The Ugly: Down 30-21 with 3:51 on the clock, the Raiders had 1st and goal from the 1 yard line and were unable to score on 4 consecutive rushing attempts. This series of plays on the goal line was symbolic of the Raiders 2005 season. It showed Turner's unimaginative play calling and the players lack of execution during key points in the game.

I was pleased with the team's effort in this meaningless game which does show a certain level of commitment by the players to Head Coach Turner. However no plausible reason can justify bringing Turner back for 2006. His record speaks for itself. 2004 (5-11, 1-5 in the division); 2005 (4-12, 0-6 in the division). Here's a guy who built his coaching reputation on being a supposed offensive guru, an offensive master-mind, an offensive genius. The only thing offensive is the fact that in 16 games this year, the Raiders only scored more than 21 points on 3 occasions. To say that the offense underachieverd this year would be a major understatement. It was interesting (and puzzling) to read in the Oakland Tribune article by Jerry McDonald all of the players'quotes supporting Turner to remain as head coach.

Hopefully this will be the week that the axe comes down on Turner's ugly reign as the Oakland Raiders Head Coach. My future posts will delve into what to expect from the godfather of Silver and Black, Mr. Al Davis, speculation on head coaching and starting QB candidates, and the 2006 draft. I also intend to write about the culture of the Raider Nation.

With the completion of the 2005 regular season, you can now view the Raiders 2006 opponents provided by the league office.

I Bleed Silver and Black,

Calico Jack