Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Victory Lane

First and foremost, I tip my hat to commend RaiderTake for his excellent post "For Sale: Optimisim With Extended Warranty" which ranks in my top 5 of his 330 takes. In particular, this post resonated with me on many levels. It has inspired me to get off my duff with my own blog to share my views of this off-season. The crux of RT's post is that the optimism going into 07 is justified. To coin a classic RaiderTake line, here are my "minty fresh" feelings of unbridled optimism.

(1) There is no question that Al Davis has given Lane Kiffin the necessary authority and platform to be successful long term. Davis seems to have changed his proverbial stripes for a combination of reasons.
(a) "Survival Mode": Davis realized that after 4 consecutive, miserable losing seasons that he needed to adapt his ways and allow his newly hired Head Coach the increased latitude to get this ship turned in the right direction.
(b) "Young Al Part Deaux": Davis sees himelf in young Kiffin. After a series of interviews, Davis was able to quickly establish a rapport with Kiffin based on trust and his own instincts. The career parallels between Davis and Kiffin are unmistakable. Davis was a young "football lifer" Asst. Coach/Recruitng Coordinator at USC prior to becoming Head Coach for the Raiders at the age of 33. Kiffin is a young "football lifer" who was an Asst Coach/Recruiting Coordinator at USC prior to becoming Head Coach for the Raiders at the age of 31.
(c) "The Hands of Time": Davis turns 78 this July 4th. This awareness of his mortality coupled with reasons (a) + (b) = a renewed sense of urgency to get his house in order.

(2) The energy, decisiveness, vigor, and cohesive plan of Kiff has led to assembling a staff of coaches who are well qualified. Here is a list of the current coaches:

(3) The building of the coaching staff seems to have emphasized youth, solid teachers, and past working relationships that bodes well for good chemistry. The obvious connections and working relationships; Knapp-Cable (Atl), Knapp-Rathman (SF), Cable-Schneider (UCLA), Kiffin-Jackson(USC).

Why is this important? Just look at the offensive unit. Kiffin as Head Coach has the plan and playcalling accountability. He hired Knapp to implement this vision. Knapp worked with Cable last year and Rathman earlier this decade. The blocking schemes, running attack, and each respective unit is a piece that fits into part of the entire offensive puzzle minus the WR/TE units. I would expect Kiffin to identify and select his WR Coach, TE Coach, and QB Coach within the next 10 days.

(4) When was the last time that a newly hired Raider Head Coach was given the authority to hire someone for the front office? Kiffin's hire of Mark Jackson (former Dir. of Ops at USC) as Director of Football Development is a very significant and noteworthy hire since it clearly marks a HUGE measure of trust on Davis' part. It also shows an overall, long term plan to build a team where coaches, players, and the front office are all singing from the same sheet of music.

One of RaiderTake’s readers “R2G” brought up a profound question namely how do we measure the success of the 2007 Raiders? At the top of the list is of course the tally of wins and losses. The 2nd most obvious barometer of success (or improvement) will be the performance of the offensive unit. Are the Raiders able to protect the QB, establish a consistent rushing attack, and run a sophisticated, creative, and most importantly, productive offense? Are the players being put in the best possible position to succeed through coaching, game planning, playcalling, schemes, personnel groupings, match-ups etc.?

But beyond wins and losses, whether it is 6-10 or 10-6 (or somewhere in between) , it will also be measured by many difficult to describe & measure intangibles. For perspective on this question, refer back to Gruden's 1st season of 8-8 in 1998. Although 8-8 isn't a remarkable record, the general feeling from watching the Raiders play that season was an increased sense of direction, competitiveness, and hope under the energized leadership of young head coach Gruden.

With my glass more than half full, I realize that ultimately Kiffin's leadership will dictate the speed of the Raider turnaround. In my mind's eye, "Victory Lane" is right around the corner.