Posted by ESPN.com’ s Bill Williamson
|Â||AP Photo/Paul Sakuma|
|Â||Hired before the 2007 season, Lane Kiffin is the NFL’s youngest head coach.|
In 17 days, the Oakland Raiders begin their drive for the first winning season in six years.
And Lane Kiffin still stands. Kiffin doesn’t look like a man who is going anywhere.
Kiffin, 33, isn’t only the NFL’s youngest head coach, he may be the league’s most honest headman as well. Some may even say he’s the most defiant coach as well. Kiffin, who arguably works in the toughest environment for a head coach in the league, operates like a man who has nothing to lose. He is doing it his way without caring what anyone thinks.
Whether or not he keeps job doesn’t seem to matter to Kiffin. All he seems to want to do is turn around the Oakland Raiders while he has the chance.
Kiffin has caused quite a stir in the Bay Area this summer with his raw candor. Ask the man a question and he delivers an honest opinion. Kiffin’s honesty this training camp has ranged from his displeasure with free-agent pickup Javon Walker to his angst over his talent level at the end of his roster.
Last weekend, Kiffin created waves when he talked about his inability to add to the roster. Many observers thought it was a direct dig at Raiders owner Al Davis. Was it? Maybe. Ultimately, all Kiffin was doing was being honest about his feelings.
Kiffin has an air about himself this year that he doesn’t care about his perception. All he wants to do is make his football team better.
When I visited the Raiders training camp in Napa, Calif., earlier this month I asked Kiffin about his high dose of honesty that he consistently serves the media. He asked if that was unusual around the NFL.
“That’s who I am,” Kiffin said. “I’ve always been honest and I am going to be honest in this job.”
Earlier this year, it didn’t seem like Kiffin would have the chance to continue in his job. ESPN reported in January that Davis sent Kiffin a letter asking him to resign and that Kiffin refused. At the NFL owners’ meetings on April 1, Kiffin declined to specifically address that situation. All he said at the time was “when there is smoke there is fire — not everything was made up. But we’re moving forward.”
And on marches Kiffin. Both in the Bay Area and nationally, there are schools of thought that Kiffin could get blown out of Oakland during the season if the Raiders, who play one team in the first 12 games that had a winning record last season, start poorly. With 17 days to go before the Raiders host AFC West rival Denver on Monday Night Football to open the season, Kiffin is still in Oakland and you have to appreciate the way he’s handling a difficult situation.
When Kiffin was hired before the 2007 season, Davis had just fired coaches Norv Turner and Art Shell after consecutive seasons. Kiffin, who was an assistant at USC before being hired by the Raiders, doesn’t seem to worry about Davis’ track record. Nor does Kiffin seem to worry about the unsettling events of earlier this year.
Kiffin has done a fine job of blocking out everything that goes along with being a coach in a difficult situation. When asked about his relationship with Davis, Kiffin doesn’t hesitate. His stock answer is that the two have a working relationship.
There’s no doubt Kiffin wants to win. Earlier this month, Kiffin talked about his opportunity of being the Raiders coach who restores the team’s glory. This is a team that has won 19 games in the last five seasons since advancing to the Super Bowl in January 2003.
Kiffin said with young offensive players such as JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and Zach Miller, (all three players have been drafted since Kiffin took over as coach) he believes the team can become special again.
“It’s easy to be part of a team that has been winning,” Kiffin said. “Let’s bring back the winning tradition here. That would be special.”
Will it work? Will Kiffin last in Oakland? Does any coach? While Kiffin’s future in Oakland could be perpetually cloudy, rest assured he will trudge forward with one thing in mind.
“I’m here to win,” Kiffin said.
Like everything Kiffin says, it’s best to believe one of the most honest men in the NFL.