<
>

Kiffin appears comfortable in his role, surroundings

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Lane Kiffin has been cruising the tony breezeways of The Breakers resort in polo shirts with an emblazoned Raiders' shield covering his heart.

He is among the other NFL head coaches at the annual owners meeting. He is one of 32. For now and, presumably, for the rest of 2008.

"I am moving forward," Kiffin said Tuesday morning during a 50-minute media breakfast session in what were his first extensive words of what has been a bizarre, even by Raiders standards, offseason.

Kiffin talked about the Raiders' kinetic offseason, which has been highlighted by owner Al Davis' throwing around money like Pacman Jones at a strip club. The Raiders have corralled cornerback DeAngelo Hall through a trade and have brought in big-dollar free agents Javon Walker (wide receiver) and Gibril Wilson (safety).

Kiffin talked about the possibility of the team trading out of the No. 4 spot in the draft in an attempt to make up for lost second- and third-rounders. He talked about the team not likely taking Arkansas star running back Darren McFadden because of a glut of tailbacks already in the fold. He talked about the importance of second-year QB JaMarcus Russell taking the next step.

Kiffin talked like a coach in control.

Two months ago that seemed impossible. Two months ago, it seemed like Oakland would hiring its fifth coach in five years and its third in three straight seasons.

Yet, here is Kiffin, wearing the Silver and Black, ready for Year 2 at the age of 32.

How did we get here?

In January, it was reported by ESPN.com that Davis drafted a letter of resignation for Kiffin. Reports surfaced following Kiffin's 4-12 rookie season that Kiffin wanted to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Raiders dismissed those reports and announced that Ryan was staying on as coordinator.

Kiffin reportedly was upset that he didn't have control of his coaching staff, leading Davis to ask for his resignation.
Raiders PR man Mike Taylor, who sat next to Kiffin during his media session, said that Davis never drafted the letter. Kiffin was in Mobile, Ala., coaching in the Senior Bowl at the time of the reports and said then that he wouldn't comment on what "transpired in the past three weeks."

Asked about the speculation of his future Tuesday, Kiffin said "when there is smoke there is fire -- not everything was made up. But we're moving forward."

When former San Diego coach James Lofton was added to the Oakland staff after the Senior Bowl, it was widely speculated that Lofton -- who had in the past interviewed for the Oakland gig and who has long had a fan in Davis -- could slide into the well-worn Raiders' head-coaching chair if Kiffin were to be fired. Yet, here is Kiffin.

Two current NFL coaches riffed this week that Kiffin has the toughest job in the league. Judging by his comments Tuesday, Kiffin doesn't necessarily disagree, yet he isn't ready to shy away from his task, either. Kiffin, as forthcoming and as strong-willed as any Raiders coach since Jon Gruden, acknowledged roaming the sideline for the Raiders can be tough duty.

"It's not the easiest job in the world," said Kiffin, who has two years remaining on his contract. If Kiffin were to resign, he would not be paid for the remaining two years.

Asked about how to describe Davis, who did not travel to the owners meeting, Kiffin laughed and took a sip of water before answering.

"It's very unique," said Kiffin of working for Davis. "The way I look at it, we need each other to win. We have to make the best of our relationship … He's very hands on … He's very demanding. He's done a lot in this game. He prides himself on his football knowledge."

Kiffin said he had input in the team's offseason acquisitions this year and that he hopes to have the same input during the draft, but he was clear that Davis is the "general manager" of the team. Kiffin said if the moves Oakland made don't work, the hammer will likely fall on the coach.

"I don't worry about it," Kiffin said.

Kiffin has a likable way about him. He is truthful. He doesn't shy away from the fact that he is in a tough spot. But you get the sense that he relishes the chance; you get the feeling that he wants to be the one who makes it work in Oakland. He wants to turn around the program that has won a league-low 19 games in the past five seasons.

Perhaps that is why he's confident to say that things aren't always rosy in Oakland and why he believes he can be a rare survivor in Davis' universe.

Kiffin, who freely admitted he and Davis don't see "eye-to-eye," was asked if Davis listens to him. "He listens to me," Kiffin said. "I don't know what he does with it, but he listens to me."

And after a rocky first quarter of 2008, the Davis and Kiffin marriage continues. Somehow.

Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.