Last week, news broke of the Oakland Raiders possibly dismissing Lane Kiffin. The media reaction ranged from shock to humor. But such a move would hardly be surprising to those who have experienced life as a Raider. We understand that loyalty is not only expected, but also demanded from owner Al Davis.
As a former player for the Raiders, I have seen how that loyalty is rewarded. Willie Brown, Jim Otto and George Atkinson are a few of the former Raider greats who continue to have ties with the organization. Moreover, there are countless others who have spent decades working for the organization without the benefit of a written contract.
Lane Kiffin may have underestimated the significance of loyalty when he (or an associate close to him) reportedly inquired about the Arkansas and UCLA jobs near the end of the season. His alleged pursuit of those jobs would be seen as the ultimate act of disloyalty by Davis.
In naming Kiffin the head coach just a year ago, Davis took a chance on an "up-and-coming" college assistant who had limited experience as a coordinator and was not considered a prime candidate for a head coaching job on any level. But Davis has always been a risk taker when it comes to running his football team.
He hired John Madden at the age of 32. Tom Flores became the first minority to win a Super Bowl, also under Davis's guidance, and the Raiders have the highest-ranking woman in league circles, chief operating officer Amy Trask. Davis clearly has a long history of granting unconventional candidates opportunities to lead, but he expects to be rewarded for his acts with loyalty and respect.
Kiffin's alleged pursuits of the aforementioned jobs violated this order, and his rumored attempt to dismiss several staff members without Davis' consent would be another sign of disrespect.
Despite those acts, the decision to jettison Kiffin after one season would be difficult. Kiffin, who led the Raiders to a 4-12 record, appeared to have the team headed in the right direction. His squad was competitive (seven losses by seven points or fewer), organized and played with an energy that hadn't been seen in Oakland in the past two seasons.
Offensively, Kiffin fixed the leaky O-line and orchestrated an attack that ranked sixth in the league in rushing offense. With JaMarcus Russell slated to start in 2008, the Raiders could be a prolific unit. Oakland also has the personnel in place to field a top ten defense for years to come. Thus, the dismissal of Kiffin would squash a lot of the positive buzz that is building around the franchise.
Regardless of how this saga eventually unfolds, Davis' demand for loyalty will not change and those who represent the Raiders must realize that.