Black Monday brings another Raiders guessing game; more notes
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we digest a quieter than expected "Black Monday'' in the NFL, the day teams traditionally fire coaches....
• Here we are one year later, and it's nearly laughable that we're trying to play the Al Davis guessing game again: What will Al do with Raiders head coach Tom Cable, and when will he do it? If it all sounds so familiar, it's because it is.
Last year on the NFL's Black Monday, a lot of folks in the media were reporting that Cable was out in Oakland. This year? A lot of folks in the media are reporting Cable is out in Oakland. Could be, but it seems more than a little bit like Groundhog Day.
Frankly, I'm not sure Cable is going to survive again. But I do know he made it at least one year longer than he was expected to in early January 2010, so how can anyone be entirely certain about 2011? This much is true: Davis likes it when he's portrayed as unpredictable and willing to go against conventional wisdom, and he may just be waiting to figure out exactly what the conventional wisdom is before he makes his decision.
Not that Big Al's asking me, but I would summarize it thusly: Cable is the coach who just ended Oakland's seven-year streak of 11 losses or more, and put together an undefeated 6-0 mark in the AFC West in the process of going 8-8, so 2010 was clearly better than 2003-09 in Raider-ville. These aren't the crazy, dark, Lane Kiffin days. Oakland has made progress, but now we get to wait to see if Davis thinks it was enough progress.
Sources I talk to think Davis, as always, will take his time before making a call on Cable. At least 10 days or so. Maybe a bit longer. Cable's contract has expired, but the Raiders have a two-year option they can activate by Jan. 18 if they care to. If nothing else, keeping Cable around for the time being gives Davis some contract negotiation leverage with whomever he might be pursuing as Cable's potential replacement. Don't think that's not important to Davis, because it is.
And the other piece of hopefully educated guesswork I have regarding the Raiders' coaching situation is this: Don't assume that Oakland offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is the natural guy to get Cable's job if there's an opening. I'm told that Davis has some significant reservations about Jackson, including Jackson's role in convincing Oakland to sign ex-Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller, who Davis thinks can't play, and Jackson's limited understanding of the team's running game, which emerged as its true strength this season. Cable, the team's onetime offensive line coach, has been pretty integral to the development of the Raiders' Darren McFadden-led run game.
Cable is probably used to twisting in the wind by now, but the truth is he's in a far more advantageous position than he was last year at this time. He was once all but unknown in the NFL, but people have seen the job he did in getting Oakland back to relevancy and respectability, and that's good for his resume. Coaching the Raiders is still maybe the toughest gig in the NFL, and eight wins in Oakland should probably count for at least 10 in some other league venues.
If Davis doesn't pick up Cable's option, he'll land with another NFL team, or maybe even a college program, as either a coordinator or an offensive line coach. I could even see him surfacing in a place like Carolina, where Panthers owner Jerry Richardson clearly doesn't intend to spend big on a coaching staff and might value Cable's running-game expertise in some capacity, given Carolina's running game-based offense.
But first things first. For now, we're back to waiting on Al Davis and trying to discern which direction he's leaning in regards to his third-year head coach. It's Black Monday, and once again we're keeping our eyes on the Black and Silver.
• I can't really find anyone in the league who seems to think it's a great idea for Mike Holmgren to fill his own head coaching vacancy in Cleveland. But I also can't find anyone willing to rule out Holmgren returning to the sideline in 2011 -- even if Holmgren was almost willing to take himself out of the running Monday after canning Eric Mangini.
The Browns going after ex-Carolina head coach John Fox, Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg or ESPN's Jon Gruden are all logical deductions. But many believe Holmgren deeply misses the game-day experience of an NFL head coach and reasons he's still has the energy to do the job for only another three- or four-year window of time.
• Speaking of Mangini, it's now become apparent that coaching Brett Favre can be hazardous to one's career. Mangini and Brad Childress could probably commiserate over beers on that topic. Together they've combined to get fired three times in the past two years, and all of it since they had the privilege of coaching No. 4.
Pretty impressive that Green Bay's Mike McCarthy has escaped the Favre jinx.
• Maybe the notion of Josh McDaniels being a good fit to replace Charlie Weis as Kansas City's offensive coordinator has more than the potential flaw of McDaniels working on the staff of Todd "No, I Won't Shake Your Hand'' Haley.
Weis and McDaniels share the same agent, the almost ubiquitous Bob LaMonte. Something tells me Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli really isn't in the mood to hire another LaMonte client at the moment. Just a hunch.
• The John Elway front-office hiring in Denver strikes me as pure public relations for a franchise that has lost its way. How'd Dan Marino do with that stint as whatever he was with the Dolphins? And come to think of it, Bart Starr's coaching era didn't really work out in Green Bay. I guess Doug Williams had a decent little stint back in Tampa Bay's front office, but the routine of bringing the star quarterback into the fold doesn't really have a great track record.
• Gary Kubiak's officially back in Houston for a sixth season, but quite a few of his defensive assistants are gone. That's called sharing the blame, or saving your own hide, depending on one's perspective. In this case, the worst of the accountability has once again avoided falling on Kubiak's shoulders.
As I wrote on Sunday, I think the idea of hiring Wade Phillips as Houston's defensive coordinator is a very good move. I mean, he's already got the Western wardrobe and his Texas twang doesn't need a bit of work.
Maybe Phillips thinks he'll be in line to become the Texans' interim head coach should Kubiak falter next season. Phillips has already served as an interim in the NFL twice before, and it certainly looks like it's going to work out well for that Jason Garrett guy in Dallas.
• One very prescient league source said this about Kubiak's Texans: "They kind of reflect the mentality of a backup quarterback, which is what Kubiak was in his NFL career. When the pressure's on, they don't really play well. But when the pressure's off, they can look great and really surprise you. That's kind of how it has been for the Texans the past few years.''
I concur. Houston's a team that tightens up when the stakes grow bigger, and relaxes and performs when the pressure is off. It's a bit of a slap to some of the more clutch backup quarterbacks in league history, but I understand the point being made.
• Monday wasn't as eventful as it appeared it might be on the coaching front, but I still don't like the chances of long-time head coaches Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and Jeff Fisher in Tennessee returning next season. The Bengals had a division-winning season last year and Tennessee was 13-3 in 2008, but those success stories already seem like a very long time ago.
As for Tony Sparano in Miami, it's still a close call, but I think he survives and gets a fourth season. He's a pretty good coach who still commands the respect and admiration of his players. The Dolphins are just desperate for a quarterback.