A week ago, the Oakland Raiders sent out a mass e-mail to the national media reminding the world of the organization's successful past.
The press release spoke of the number of AFC West Division championships through the years. It talked about the great wins, the great players and the commitment to winning that has been trumpeted through the years by team owner Al Davis and his loyal followers. Unfortunately, much of that success is in the distant past. The frustration of years of losing is causing Davis to keep making too many changes to try to get it right.
Recent observers of the Raiders read that release as a sign of potential change. Lane Kiffin might be on the way out in Oakland after only one season. Davis is committed to winning, but no Raiders team has won more than five games since 2002. In 2006, Davis tried to reach into the past in bringing back Art Shell, the coach he regretted firing in the 1990s. In Shell's second stint, the Raiders went 2-14 and the Hall of Fame lineman was fired again.
In January 2007, Davis tried to go young by hiring former USC assistant coach Lane Kiffin. Just 31 years old at the time, Kiffin became the youngest head coach in the history of the modern NFL. Davis loved Kiffin's youthful approach to the game. Davis gave him the authority to be aggressive in free agency and bring in 15 new assistants.
There was a genuine excitement about the Raiders heading into Kiffin's first minicamp. With the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the Raiders selected LSU's strong-armed quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Even though Russell had the big-time arm that could bring back Davis' vertical passing game, the rookie quarterback wasn't expected to play much in 2007. He was supposed to spend his rookie season as an understudy to Josh McCown, who came from the Detroit Lions in a draft day trade.
With news that Davis sent a letter to Kiffin informing him that he's lost his powers in personnel decisions and in the hiring and firing of assistant coaches, the Raiders are back to square one as far as turning their bad fortunes around. Davis' "commitment to excellence" is once again in a cloud of confusion. If Kiffin resigns or is fired, the Raiders could be seeking their fifth head coach since 2003.
It's pretty clear the 4-12 season changed Davis' opinion of his bright young coach. But constant change is committing this franchise to endless futility. Maybe a change to an established coach such as Dennis Green could bring much-needed stability to the franchise. The problem is Green won't come cheaply. Davis would have to pay him more than he normally pays head coaches. He probably wouldn't come for less than $3 million a year. That's a huge commitment for a Raiders head coach.
Kiffin did turn the offense around, but he apparently didn't do enough to satisfy Davis. The Raiders added about a touchdown to their offensive scoring average, taking them to the 17-point level. While that's not good enough to be at a playoff level, it's progress.
Kiffin, now 32, faces a tough decision. Should he stay or should he go? It's pretty clear Davis has lost confidence in his first-year coach. Shell was stunned a year ago when Davis called him in and fired him after the 2006 season. The problem was the offense. The blocking along the line didn't jell, and players questioned the game plans of Tom Walsh, Shell's offensive coordinator who returned to the Raiders after spending time working at a bed-and-breakfast.
Initially, Kiffin won over the players with his plans for the offense. His coaching staff created some energy. But 12 regular-season losses wore on the players and definitely turned Davis into more of a critic than a supporter.
The idea behind hiring a young coach is to give him time to grow and build a winner. Davis did that with Jon Gruden. He was successful with John Madden and Tom Flores. Commitment requires time, and 12-loss seasons stop the clock.
It's hard to imagine Kiffin somehow remaining as Raiders head coach. Green would be a logical replacement, but if he says no, Davis is back in the mix trying to find the next bright, young coach to hire. Whoever gets that opportunity may have only one year to turn things around. Davis has to find a way to get out of this cycle.
This is becoming like Groundhog Day. Every late January, Davis looks out and sees the shadow of an 11- or 12-loss season. He fires the coach and the Raiders have another double-digit loss season.
It's a horrible cycle.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.