Wait: You're sure Lane Kiffin gets a free pass on all this?
You're sure Kiffin's calling out his boss in public is absolutely the way to go? You think dumping on his defensive coordinator is the team game at work? You're saying distancing himself from the
Oakland Raiders' failures and downgrading their talent is the leadership role the head coach is supposed to play?
Fascinating news: One can trash one's employer and have the world tell him he's utterly right to do so. This frees up so many tantalizing possibilities.
I know, I know -- it's Raiders owner Al Davis we're talking about, which means Kiffin is going to be forgiven almost anything, no matter how ill-considered or self-sabotaging. Kiffin instead will be labeled a sly fox -- a breath of fresh air, even! Consider the way he's talking about Al and the Raiders' screwed-up administration -- in such a way that he doesn't actually commit insubordination (a firing-without-pay offense), but rather only hints broadly at it.
If Kiffin pulls that off, he might still get the cash when he's shown the door.
That fits. The long arc of Davis' tenure as coach/GM/proprietor/media-gatekeeper of the Raiders puts almost everything around it into eclipse, common sense included. It's to the point that an entire generation of NFL fans likely doesn't know Davis once was considered a visionary in the sport; these fans recognize him only as the meddling interloper who can't coexist with a head coach and who usually winds up regretting his own hires.
As a carnival sideshow, that works fine. Everything that goes wrong with the Raiders can be laid neatly at the feet of the man who claims ultimate authority, yet rarely looks as if he's absolutely sure what day it is.
The Raiders screw up a play and take themselves out of the red zone. Cue Camera 1, the shot of a frail-looking Al sitting up in a press box with those watery eyes. Anarchy in the locker-room? That must be Al's doing, a result of the man walking around undercutting the coaches in charge with his sense that he knows better than any of them how to run a game.
This is not to say there isn't validity to all that mudslinging -- quite a lot of validity, depending upon the day of the week. But the catch is little of it applies in the real football world, by which I mean almost every other team in the NFL. If Lane Kiffin hopes one day to lead one of those teams, this might be an opportune moment to consider leaving Oakland with head high and mouth closed.
Kiffin's mistake certainly wasn't in taking a head coaching job at age 31. It even wasn't a mistake working for Al Davis, under conditions that have been deteriorating by the week for five years. Plenty of other coaches have said yes to such a situation, although not enough recently to spare Davis from having to reach down to the college assistant ranks for Kiffin. Still, there aren't so many NFL jobs swirling around that a USC quarterbacks coach (as Kiffin was when Davis hired him) can afford to pick and choose his entry to Tha League.
But with that said, Kiffin's egregious misstep has been in acting as though he is the first Raiders coach to be run over, roughshod, by Big Bad Al. The coach appears shocked that he has little say in personnel matters, subtly putting down Oakland's offseason free-agent signings. I don't recall Kiffin being interviewed for the GM or owner's spot, but perhaps I'm mis-remembering.
Is Kiffin handicapped by Davis' meddling? Almost without question, the answer is yes -- but how can that possibly be construed as breaking news? Is Kiffin, the son of longtime NFL coach Monte Kiffin, really trying to assume the role of the unsuspecting waif who got caught in Al's decades-old power plays? Art Shell, Norv Turner, Bill Callahan, Jon Gruden: Kiffin knows better.
He knows better, and that's what makes last week's doings so inexcusable even for a guy openly trying to get himself fired. When Kiffin replied to a question about Oakland's defense (after being routed by Denver) by saying, essentially, "Hey, go ask Al and the coordinator – they're calling all that stuff," he demonstrated very clearly that he has a long way yet to go before he understands what an NFL head coach actually does.
The NFL coach shoulders the load, including -- quite regularly -- the things over which he has little control. A bag of rocks comes standard-issue with the job and the salary. The pros know how to tote it.
Kiffin, by acclaim, has talent. Not only that, but several Oakland players have suggested the team is playing hard for its young coach. No jury in the world will convict him for falling out of favor with Al Davis. Plenty of people already are pleading Kiffin's case for him, which is exactly why Kiffin shouldn't waste time doing it himself.
Mark Kreidler's book "Six Good Innings", about the pressure of upholding a small-town Little League legacy, is in national release. His book "Four Days to Glory" has been optioned for film/TV development by ESPN Original Entertainment. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, Kreidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.