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New coach, new scandal, same old dysfunction with the Raiders

This season the Raiders dirty laundry was supposed to be stuffed in the hamper. Out of sight. Deodorized. This was going to be the year that the woeful Raiders finally turned it around. Instilled discipline. Got back to basics. Stopped all the nonsense and distractions and the Al Davis public displays that come complete with overhead projectors and legal action.

Guess not.

The Raiders weren't even a week into the 2009 training camp before the dysfunction started up again. On a positive note, it took 12 days before the Raiders latest problem became public. The negative side? The 2009 season could be derailing before it even begins.

Midday Monday, news broke that a lowly Raiders assistant coach named Randy Hanson was hospitalized in Napa after an Aug. 5 assault by another staff member at the team's training camp headquarters. Police filed a report, though no charges were pressed. According to news reports, the assailant was Raiders head coach Tom Cable.

Several hours later, when Cable was available to the media, he did not proclaim his innocence. He said, "It's an internal issue and we're dealing with it," and abruptly cut short his media session. Later in the evening, ESPN reported that Cable had denied that any punches were thrown.

Not exactly the art of spin control. But then, public relations has never been the Raiders strong suit.

This is a bad beginning to what is supposed to be a fresh start for a team that has not won more than five games for six consecutive seasons. This is the Raiders' golden anniversary, celebrating 50 years of existence, and though the team still trots out its tired "Team of the Decades" slogan, it has become one of the league's most hopeless franchises.

Last season was perhaps the ugliest in a half-century. A standoff between coach Lane Kiffin and Davis created another lost season. Kiffin was fired after four games. In one of the more bizarre NFL press conferences ever held, Davis smeared Kiffin as a liar, and brought out an overhead projector to detail Kiffin's transgressions.

(In an odd intersection of Raiders' public embarrassments, Hanson played a role in Kiffin's demise. After the Raiders were thrashed by Denver in the 2008 season opener, Hanson told the team that the problem wasn't the players but the coach. Kiffin suspended him and wanted to fire him, but Davis defended Hanson and ultimately keep him.)

It couldn't get any worse. Could it?

Last fall, Cable -- then the offensive line coach -- replaced Kiffin. He had a 4-8 record, was left dangling by Davis at the end of the season, but finally got the full-time gig, becoming the Raiders fifth head coach in six seasons.

He was supposed to instill discipline in a group of players that had exhibited precious little, regularly among the league leaders in penalty yardage (and showing no signs of changing, with 14 penalties for 107 yards in last week's exhibition opener against Dallas).

Cable started the season with a Football 101 approach, walking through basic formations in an effort to teach his players to be mentally strong. But now the head coach is accused of losing all self-control.

Davis' head coaches don't arrive in Oakland with a lot of credibility; they are considered Al's Puppets. Now Cable is at risk of losing whatever authority he's earned.

That's the opinion of Rod Woodson, a former Raider who was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I was on a local television show with Woodson on Monday night. He said that, if Monday's story is true, Cable's position as a leader is in jeopardy.

"You're telling your team to be poised, to be under control," Woodson said. "That if somebody hits you don't respond in the negative."

And if the reports about Cable are true? "They'll say in their heads, 'You're a hypocrite.' You can lose a locker room."

A larger issue is what action the league will take. Commissioner Roger Goodell has shown no hesitation in going after players who violate the league's personal conduct policy. If he ignores reports that a coach has violated the same policy, he'll be considered a hypocrite, undermining his own credibility.

On Monday, after the story had been circulating online for hours, Raiders players chanted "Cable Bumaye" in warm-ups drills -- a nod to what fans in Zaire shouted to Muhammad Ali before the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. Funny stuff. And Raiders fans flooded Internet sites praising Cable's toughness. Predictable stuff.

But this story is neither particularly funny nor a sign of strength. Recently Cable was asked if there would be any fights when the 49ers and Raiders share a practice field in Napa this week. He shrugged. "Boys will be boys," he said.

But head coaches are supposed to be leaders. And if there was ever a team desperate for some real leadership, it's the Oakland Raiders.

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