And my column features an interesting take from Raiders coach Hue Jackson on his boss, the 82-year-old Davis.
I've heard coaches and players defend Davis before, but few as staunchly as Jackson, the rookie coach who took over for Tom Cable last winter. Logical, you'd say (as would I); Davis is the first man to give longtime NFL assistant Jackson a shot at a head-coaching job in the NFL -- of course he'd be loyal and appreciative.
But there was something about Jackson's defense of Davis to me that was a little different, a little beyond what he needed to say to prove himself a loyal employee. Someone who has coached with Jackson before listened to my analysis of what Jackson said about Davis and responded: "At least he's being consistent. That's honestly how he feels -- or at least what he tells people he knows well. He legitimately likes working for Al.''
Whereas Jon Gruden seemed to tolerate it in Oakland and Lane Kiffin saw it as a golden bank account and Tom Cable ... well, I can't figure out exactly how he saw working for Davis, though it soured at the end ... Jackson sees the good more than his predecessors.
"I heard all the stories before I got here,'' said Jackson. "And I was from the outside. I didn't know what it was really like here. But now that I've been here a while, and now that I'm the head coach, I get a little disturbed at the things I hear about Mr. Davis. It pisses me off, to be honest with you. All this talk about his energy and his passion being down -- I see him all the time, and it's just not true. The stories ain't even close. Now, I know people will say, 'You're going to say all the right things about the guy who gave you your shot to be a head coach.' I call BS on that. He's aware. He's aware of everything on offense and defense, with the new schemes around the league. We talk about it all the time.
"This stuff about Mr. Davis being impossible to work for ... not so. He lets me coach the team. There are plays he enjoys, and plays he wants taught, and play patterns he wants us to teach. That's fine. Now, I'm used to running a lot of different plays in practice. Mr. Davis wants us to get the best plays run perfectly. I had to think about that for a while [whether to run a lot of plays, or to run fewer and practice them with more reps]. But I thought it was the correct habit. He'll say, 'Let's get this power [running] play down stone cold. Run it 'til we get it right.' That's the beauty of him -- he wants the basics run right.
"Working for him has been fantastic. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. He has his ideas, and we have good back-and-forth about them. But he's definitely let me coach this team.''
Interesting, impassioned stuff from Jackson -- and I entered our conversation with that as just one item on a laundry list of things to talk to him about. But it was, by far, the most interesting stuff he said. Will it last? Who knows? The honeymoon Davis has with his coaches never seems to last very long, so we'll see how long the open dialog and daily input are things Jackson enjoys.
One other Jacksonism: He said his emphasis in camp this summer was "we have to learn to finish.'' The Raiders went 6-0 in the AFC West last year, but failed to make the playoffs because they were 2-8 in their other games, in part, Jackson thinks, because they played so poorly down the stretch of too many games. "Obviously when you go 6-0 in any division you've got talent,'' he said. "But we've got to play like gangbusters, with no letdown, for 60 minutes. That seems obvious, but it's something you've got to do to win in this league.''
Now onto your email:
ON THE TRESSEL "SUSPENSION.'' "Just read Jim Tressel is going to miss six games for the Colts since the NFL 'holds coaches to a higher standard than players.' I've heard so many folks talk about the potential hypocrisy given that Terrelle Pryor was suspended five games and Tressel potentially wasn't going to be punished. Did we forget Tressel GOT FIRED? Isn't that a worse punishment than a potential five-game suspension Pryor was facing? Seems to me he's already served his punishment, and while I don't agree with what he did at Ohio State, I don't agree with this additional suspension. Thoughts?''-- Tom M., Princeton, N.J.
He had no choice. The NFL had a choice. You can't suspend the cheating quarterback of a college team five games for his misdeeds, and let the coach who also cheated at the same school get off without a suspension. Whether Tressel got fired or not, he and Pryor left a college program ignominiously, and if you're going to suspend one, the other's a gimme.
HUMANE OR INHUMANE? THAT IS THE QUESTION. "Really? A player 'on the bubble' when the NFL cuts rosters to 53 (like Mark Herzlich) only finds out that he made the team when he DOESN'T get a call? Why torture the poor guy all day? Each team has, what, four or five guys at the most who are in this situation? Couldn't the team call those guys first (before all the cuts) and give them the good news? Are the Giants the only team that do it this way, of is this how all the teams operate?''-- Jim, Evanston, Ill.
Good point. Some teams tell their players, and some teams are working with the players on the premises the day final cuts are made. One way you're mistaken -- there are many more than four or five players on every team on the bubble. Not saying teams couldn't have someone in-house simply make a 20-minute round of calls to tell the 20 or so who would have some small doubt about making it that they've survived. The one other X-factor here is that lots of teams are trying to trade guys right up to the deadline. So many players wouldn't be able to be called 'til after the deadline for cuts, meaning they'd still have to wait the whole day to hear.
CLUBFOOT NOTE OF THE WEEK. "Speaking of clubfeet [I wrote Monday that Charles Woodson of the Packers was born with the malady], what are the odds that both the Super Bowl champs (Woodson) AND the World Series champs (Freddy Sanchez) would both have players on the roster that fought through this birth defect. Modern medicine (and a lot of hard work) continues to amaze.''-- Jim Barrick, Ventura, Calif.
Thanks for pointing it out, Jim.
OH, STOP. "Do you believe in karma? Nothing good has happened to Peyton Manning and the Colts since coach Jim Caldwell decided to cheat the football gods by passing up a chance to go undefeated in 2009. They've had an incredible run, and I hate, hate that it is happened to a man, and a player, like Manning. I understand the logic behind the decision by the Colts in 2009, but you do NOT do that if you are undefeated. Manning deserved the chance to go for it. You probably think I'm crazy. Keep up the excellent work.''-- Ray Alwine, Philadelphia
I definitely don't think you're crazy, but I'm not a big believer in karma and Peyton Manning being connected. Thanks for the kind words.
THEY HAVE AGENTS. "Your section about the Cowboys kicker turnstile made me wonder what players do during the year to stay on the radar of teams. What's the psychology/strategy of an out-of-work player who still wants to play? For example, was Kerry Collins still floating his name out there as an emergency possibility, or did the Colts come up with that completely on their own and seek out a retired player who had no thoughts of continuing to play? But kickers especially seem most likely to get an out-of-the-blue midseason call-up.
Do they or their agent keep reminding teams they are out there? Do they continue to practice every week? When do they give up and find other work? And this question applies to every other position as well.
Thanks for enjoying what you do as much as you do. We readers really do get to experience the inner workings of football vicariously through you, and even though you're easily the busiest man in sports business, you never seem to get bored, or bitter or cynical about it. At the end of the day, football is just a game, and you never lose sight of that.''-- Victor DiGiovanni, Houston
Your letter made my day, Victor. Thanks. When I covered the Giants, I remember Bill Parcells keeping what he called his "Short List,'' his list of 30 to 40 players -- some at each position -- in his pocket every day. That list, researched and kept by director of pro scouting Tim Rooney, had two or three players (or more, or less) at each position, with phone numbers, so as soon as the Giants suffered an injury at that position, they'd waste no time in calling that player, or his agent, and getting him in for a workout, or getting him in to sign. Every team does something like that today.
In addition, agents at crowded positions like kicker are always peppering teams when they have a slumping kicker, or an injury to one. Re: Collins, I'm sure he was the first of the unemployed quarterbacks Bill Polian considered when it became apparent he would need some insurance for Peyton Manning, having drafted Collins in Carolina in 1995 and watching him mature over the most recent years.
SOME REAL 'INSIDE FOOTBALL STUFF' HERE. "This isn't really a football question, and maybe none of our business as readers. But I'm curious. You wrote, 'Saints-Pack. I'm going for NBC. Can't wait.' What if something really unexpected, and dramatic, happens at that game, or one of the Notre Dame games you're working for NBC -- something that demands immediate and in-depth coverage -- who do you work for? Who gets you first? Do the differing platforms -- television, web, magazine -- allow for this multi-organization commitment? And does -- should? -- this mean anything at all for us as readers?''-- Jeff, Chicago
Thanks for asking, Jeff. When I am on assignment for NBC, my first responsibility is to NBC. Last year, at halftime of the first game of the season, I reported on NBC that Tom Brady signed a new contract with the Patriots, something I confirmed that afternoon. Because I was there for NBC, it got first dibs on the story. Immediately after reporting it on TV, I went to my laptop and typed out a story for SI.com, which posted, I'm guessing, about 40 minutes after my TV report.
It's an imperfect world I try to navigate, and I do everything I can to be fair to both entities. For instance, when interviewing coaches and players from NBC studios after Sunday games, much of that does not end up on NBC; it ends up in Monday Morning Quarterback, or on this website somehow, or in the magazine. I just try to be honest with my employers and do the best I can to serve who I'm working for on the day, and time, I'm working for them.