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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010

NFL: What is the method to Al Davisí madness


By Monte Poole
The Oakland Tribune

The names of the coaches associated with interviews with the Raiders tell a story, an old story nobody wants to hear.

And itís not because Jim Harbaugh and Marc Trestman and Hue Jackson and Jim Fassel and Mike Waufle have nothing to say.
Itís because theyíre saying it to Al Davis.
Itís because theyíre responding to inquiries from Al the owner and general manager, which suggests Al the owner has no plans to retire Al the GM.
For those new to this game, Al the GM is, as much as anything else, including Al the ownerís eccentricities and reluctance to pay market rate, the main reason the coveted and upwardly mobile assistant coach tends to bypass Oakland.
The word is out, that the only man in the organization more challenging than the owner is the GM.
This is why every Raiders head coach since Jon Gruden was traded away after the 2001 season was a retread with limited options (Norv Turner, Art Shell), an in-house promotion (Bill Callahan, Tom Cable) or an impetuous, ambitious college assistant seeking a place to launch his career (Lane Kiffin).
Moreover, this owner/GM barrier is why impressive assistants such as Sean Payton and Ken Whisenhunt avoid Oakland.
Payton, a then-Dallas assistant who rejected the Raiders in 2004 after impressing in interviews, was hired by New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis two years later. The Saints on Sunday will host their first NFC Championship game.
Whisenhunt, who in 2007 declined an invitation to interview in Oakland, was hired shortly thereafter by Arizona vice president Rod Graves. The Cardinals reached the Super Bowl last season and own back-to-back NFC West titles.
Jets owner Woody Johnson ultimately hired Rex Ryan ó but only after GM Mike Tannenbaum fired his best friend, Eric Mangini, and quickly identified Ryan as the No. 1 candidate to replace Mangini.
The man behind the promotion of assistant Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis was not owner Jim Irsay but team president Bill Polian. Andy Reid reports to team president Joe Banner in Philadelphia. Chargers GM A.J. Smith made the decision to extend Turnerís contract in San Diego.
The blueprint Davis has yet to follow ó hiring a GM or team president and allowing that person to select the head coach, with ownership approval, of course ó is that which is most often followed by successful teams in the 21st century.
Davisí experience as a coach and executive once made him uniquely qualified to micromanage. He has been involved in all aspects of the operation and been successful in every facet. But this argument no longer applies ó and, given the recent track record, itís completely beside the point.
Davis no longer has the stamina to put in the hours required to be closely involved in every corner of the organization. That he still studies the game but has become the least effective GM in the league likely is related to this.
Above all, Alís unilateral decision process is well-known in the NFL. Any coach who considers working in Oakland knows precisely what heíd be getting into.
A billboard imploring Davis to hire a GM went up last month, about a mile north of the Oakland Coliseum. A small group of fans raised the money. A large group of fans agrees with the sentiment and realizes the evidence supports its point of view.
The general feeling within Raider Nation, a proud and mighty corps that once rocked the Coliseum to its foundation, is there will be no recovery in Oakland as long as one man tries to pull every string.
If the smoke signals from Raiders HQ, where Alís inner circle is smaller than ever, are accurate, the new GM is the old GM. Davis reportedly has interviewed Harbaugh, Trestman, Jackson and Fassel ó all presumably for the position of head coach.
If this is how the next chapter in Raiders history begins, how can it look dramatically different from the last several chapters?
Davis also reportedly has interviewed former New York Giants assistant Waufle, an indication that Big Mike is a candidate to return as defensive line coach in Oakland. But having an assistant interview with the owner and GM ó instead of the head coach, whether itís Cable or someone else ó has a familiar ring.
Maybe Al has a new GM unofficially in place. Maybe there is a method to this madness.
More likely, itís more of the same, which has to disappoint anyone who cares.