Friday October 3rd, 2008

Lane Kiffin's long-anticipated firing this week instantly bestowed him membership in the ever-growing ranks of ex-Raiders head coaches, and there's certainly no shame in that.

I mean, think about it. There are worse things to be known as. Even better for Kiffin, who's only 33, he's the youngest member of that particular club, giving him years and years to enjoy the distinction and, potentially, profit from it.

Consider the happy fates of so many others who have been fortunate enough to leave the employment of Al Davis and his silver-and-black band of brothers:

-- John Madden has gone on to become an almost ubiquitous figure in American pop culture, setting the standard for the athlete/coach turned broadcaster in all ways, not the least of which has been his singular niche as the nation's leading overexposed commercial pitchman (although Peyton Manning seems determined to give him a run for his advertising money). There are household names, and then there's Madden.

-- Mike Shanahan has done quite nicely for himself as well. Once he rid himself of his own 20-game Raiders coaching imprimatur, he went on to win one Super Bowl title as the offensive coordinator for the 1994 San Francisco 49ers, and two more in 1997-98 as the coach in Denver, where he is currently in his 14th season. That makes him second only to Tennessee's Jeff Fisher in terms of continuous NFL coaching tenure with one franchise.

-- Jon Gruden caught one of the last flights out of Oakland before the franchise descended into complete irrelevance and disarray and one year later earned a Super Bowl ring for himself and his team in Tampa Bay -- becoming something of a sneering Madison Avenue darling in the process. As hard as it is to believe, Gruden's already in his seventh season with the Bucs, making him the third-most tenured coach in the NFC. He trails only soon-to-be ex-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren and Philadelphia's Andy Reid, and is tied with Carolina's John Fox.

-- Norv Turner's head coaching career wasn't derailed by the two-year sentence he served in Oakland. Turner is now in his second season in San Diego, and the talented Chargers have as much claim as anyone this season to the role of AFC Super Bowl favorite. Turner is 15-8 in his first 23 games with San Diego, earning two playoff wins last January for a franchise that hadn't won a postseason game since 1994.

-- Even Davis himself is an ex-Raiders head coach who has fared pretty well after his three-year stint (1963-65) on the sideline. He does own the team after all, as Raiders fans might have been prone to recall a time or two during the course of the franchise's disastrous past five years. For a guy who first showed up in Oakland in January 1963 -- during the Kennedy administration -- that's 45 years of staying power.

So the last thing Kiffin should do is despair that his Raiders days are done and over with. He got his 20 games, it didn't go well, but that's that. Who knows? Maybe some day in the decades to come, he'll have a popular video game named in his honor, and football fans will rush out en masse to buy Kiffin '22. What? Would it have sounded any more ridiculous if we had predicted the same thing for Madden in 1979?

• The other thing that struck me this week was that the Rams and Raiders -- those old relocation-loving NFL twins -- were linked once again when they both fired their coaches within a day of each other.

The Rams asked Scott Linehan to turn in his building ID badge on Monday after a 36-game stint calling the shots, and Kiffin got the word in a less-than-courtesy phone call from Davis on Tuesday. The twin dismissals were the NFL's earliest coaching firings in two decades, coming just four games into the 2008 season.

It brought back memories of the Rams and Raiders packing up and leaving Los Angeles together in the spring of 1995, with Georgia Frontiere's team headed for greener pastures in St. Louis and Davis kissing and making up with the city of Oakland, from whence the Raiders had come 13 years earlier.

The irony of all ironies, of course, is that if you believe what you hear, the Rams and Raiders could have their eye on a move back to Los Angeles at some point in the coming three years.

The Rams and Raiders are among the very few NFL teams that have hired the same head coach twice, a feat the Rams have, remarkably enough, repeated more than once.

Everybody remembers that the Rams had two Chuck Knox eras (1973-77, 1992-94), but often overlooked is that George Allen (1966-70) was re-hired in 1978, but subsequently fired just two games into the preseason that year. As for the Raiders, Davis had Art Shell replace Shanahan after four games of the 1989 season, fired him after the 1994 season, then brought him back for 2006's memorable 2-14 fiasco. Kiffin replaced Shell in 2007.

• Due to Hurricane Ike, the 0-3 Texans were the only team that didn't get to play at home in September. But boy are they going to make up for it in October. I hope the good folks of Houston are ready for some football, because their team is about to have something I can never remember seeing in all my years of watching and covering the league: a four-game, month-long homestand.

Houston's three-week delayed home opener is Sunday against the Colts, and it's followed by home games against Miami on Oct. 12, Detroit on Oct. 19 and Cincinnati on Oct. 26. After a trip to Minnesota on Nov. 2, the Texans are back at Reliant Stadium on Nov. 9 against Baltimore, the team that was originally scheduled to visit in Week 2.

• Through the first four weeks of last season, four teams remained unbeaten: New England and Indianapolis were 4-0 in the AFC; Dallas and Green Bay were 4-0 in the NFC. All four made the playoffs, and the Patriots and Packers played in the conference title round.

This year, just three unbeatens remains after four weeks: Tennessee and Buffalo at 4-0 in the AFC, and the defending Super Bowl champion Giants at 3-0 in the NFC.

The bottom line? I think we have a great chance this year of not having to suffer through any more stories involving the thoughts or reactions of Don Shula and his 17-0 Dolphins of 1972.

• From what I hear, Bucs coach Jon Gruden intends to make one more push to talk Jake Plummer out of retirement at halftime of the Tampa Bay at Denver game on Sunday. If Plummer still says no deal, then the Bucs will stick with their other ex-Broncos starter as their No. 1 -- Brian Griese.

Griese beat one of his other former teams, Chicago, two weeks ago on the road, so Tampa Bay is hoping to repeat that trick. The trouble is, with 11 games still remaining after this week, the Bucs' schedule is all out of teams Griese once played for.

• Atlanta visits Green Bay this week, and if Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers can't go with that shoulder sprain, rookie Matt Flynn would have to fill in. That would give Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan the overwhelming advantage in experience, given that he's already got four NFL starts to Flynn's none.

Wait a minute. Even if Rodgers does play, both he and Ryan will be making their fifth career starts, so the experience factor will be largely moot no matter what.

• Speaking of experience, why did Wade Phillips' many years in the game not remind him to not give up on the running game last week in the Cowboys' surprising home loss to Washington? Redskins rookie coach Jim Zorn, who had never even been a coordinator in the NFL before this season, called a smart, efficient game despite not having "experience'' on his side.

Experience doesn't count for much when you don't know your team as well as you should, and you fail to mix in a healthy dose of common sense.

• Buffalo at Arizona matches the AFC team with the longest playoff drought (the Bills last made it in 1999) against the NFC team with the longest playoff drought (the Cardinals last went to the postseason in 1998).

After watching Arizona fold up at the Jets last week, and the Bills fight back to trounce the Rams in St. Louis, I'm convinced that Buffalo's streak will end, but I'm not so sure about the Cardinals'. And for me it comes down to this: Trent Edwards knows how to take care of the football and Kurt Warner does not.

• All I know is that without much health at running back, the Steelers figure to have to pass the ball a lot this week against Jacksonville. And when Pittsburgh throws the ball these days, Ben Roethlisberger gets hit behind his shaky offensive line. It's not a good formula for Big Ben's long-term health, or the Steelers' 2008 season.

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