Saturday, September 27, 2008

An Inflection Point

We come to week 4 in approximately the position we feared. The Raiders are 1-2, Lane Kiffin is a dead man walking, injuries have decimated a wafer-thin lineup, and recent tormentors the San Diego Chargers come to town. Then we get a week off to perhaps fire our coach and wallow in the despair of another season that effectively comes to an end before the opening pitch of the World Series is thrown.

This is an odd rivalry, arguably more of a Southern California thing. Despite LaDainian Tomlinson having shredded the Raider defense throughout his career, I hadn't even bothered disliking him until I drafted him #1 overall in fantasy football this year and he single-handedly cost me victory each of the past two weeks, this past Monday from my bench/doghouse. But it is a rivalry, and circumstances are lining up for it to be a very difficult Sunday.

If the distractions, injuries, and high powered San Diego offense turn the Oakland crowd - who, admirably, sold out the stadium this week - into an angry mob by halftime, we know how the next week will go. Davis will fire Kiffin, James Lofton will step into his place, uncertainty for 2009 will reign, and our descent into utter chaos will accelerate.

But what if - bear with me here - they win?

Initially I considered that the resulting inflection point might be a turn towards respectability. Al would let Kiffin stay. Players would bond, rally, believe. A week off would heal wounds and prepare a Raiders team at .500 and second place in the AFC West for further growth.

I'm not so sure. The dysfunction in the organization that for many years Raiders fans like myself considered frustrating but ultimately not the point, is the point. A decades-old lack of structured leadership and accountability has devolved into a vacuum of chaos and distrust. Al has become more insular than ever. By his silence, the actions of his cronies, and insight from pretty much every writer to step near Alameda this year, it's clear that Al wants Kiffin gone. But can he fire him after a win over San Diego?

If he does not, one could argue that we will be just that much further away from beginning the healing process that we hope kicks off upon Kiffin's departure. But no coach hired by Al Davis under these - or likely any other - circumstances will have the authority or support to take on the wholesale organizational changes necessary to turn this around. Jason Cole from Yahoo!, previously infamous for his assertion that Al Davis began to regret his offseason spending spree, added more insight on Raider dysfunction in last week's column. It's a frightening read.

Organizational success is not a matter of throwing together a bunch of talent and hoping good things happen. It requires discipline, leadership, and an alignment of goals. I don't see any of that improving after a game against the Chargers.

Don't get me wrong, I'll be thrilled if the Raiders win. I want to believe. I'll take any win, any competitive outing, any hope.

But I sure did put LT in my starting lineup this week.

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