Kiffin moving Raiders in different direction

Lane Kiffin had the right answers when Al Davis hired him. But does he have the answer to turn around a franchise that is 15-49 over the last four seasons?

Originally Published: March 12, 2007
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- At 31, new Raiders coach Lane Kiffin displayed Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting that he is astute beyond his age.

Kiffin, talking with the national media for the first time, detailed his hiring by Al Davis.

As it turns out, Kiffin, then the USC offensive coordinator, attended Steve Sarkisian's second job interview with the Raiders. Sarkisian wanted to hire Kiffin as his offensive coordinator, so Davis told him to bring him along. After Sarkisian turned down the chance to get the Raiders job, Davis called Kiffin, who knew exactly what to say in an interview that led to his becoming the league's youngest head coach in the modern era.

"I guess I kinda had the answers to the test," Kiffin said. "I went with Steve on his interview. So I came back two days later and had the answers to the test at that point."

Passing the Al Davis test is one thing. Winning is another thing. Though it's obviously premature in March to predict the Raiders' hopes following a 2-14 season, Kiffin offered a refreshing glimpse at the next two years of Raiders football. Clearly, he's bright. The son of a defensive genius, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane Kiffin was born to be a coach. As a kid, he'd watch the sidelines more than the field to see how coaches acted and made strategy decisions.

Lane Kiffin
Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesLane Kiffin was an assistant coach at USC for the past six seasons.
At USC, he worked six years with a head coach, Pete Carroll, who was always generous with his time and knowledge. Each day, Carroll would give Kiffin insights on what a head coach does in certain situations.

In Oakland, Kiffin is the fresh answer to a stale problem. The Raiders, one of the league's most historically successful franchises, have gone 15-49 in the four seasons since going to the Super Bowl in 2003. They are on their fourth head coach since that Super Bowl XXXVII loss to the Bucs. The fans are frustrated. Davis is frustrated.

Davis wanted change and the young Kiffin fits that bill. With Davis' guidance, Kiffin has started to weed out some players on the roster. He's making changes in strategy. Along the offensive line, for example, Kiffin plans to go to a zone blocking scheme, completely the opposite of Art Shell of a year ago. He changed 16 coaches on the Raiders staff, keeping only five assistants, mostly on defense.

Gone is quarterback Aaron Brooks. On deck is the chance to use the first pick in the draft on LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell or Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Kiffin has spent many hours looking at tape of an offense that scored only 12 touchdowns in 16 games last season.

With a $5 million roster bonus due, it was no surprise that Brooks was the first to head out the door.

"I don't know if Dan Marino would have won many games playing in that offense," Kiffin said.

Kiffin presents an impressive new look for the Raiders. He has the face of a television anchor man. He talks in a believable tone. He projects good energy. More importantly for Al Davis, he brings an approach that is completely different than Shell's. Davis hired Shell to go old-school Raiders. For whatever reason, that approach failed miserably. The Raiders went 2-14 and the offense was horrible to watch.

It's been Kiffin's mission to get the know the players and give them a reasonable expectation of what he wants from them. First, Kiffin, not offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp, will be calling the offensive plays. One of Shell's first acts was alienating wide receiver Jerry Porter, who got into a heated argument with Shell in part because he wanted to do his offseason training in Florida. Things never got much better from there for Porter, who demanded a trade at the start of training camp. Porter was inactive for the first four games of the season before being suspended for four games by Shell (a suspension that was reduced to two games).

Kiffin has met with Porter three times this offseason and has told him he wants him to be the flanker, the movement receiver who can be an instrumental part of the passing offense. So far, Porter has bought into the concept. He withdrew any trade demands, asked for and received Tim Brown's No. 81 and appears to be excited about the offense.

The next move was to add competition to the backfield. Dominic Rhodes will work with LaMont Jordan in the backfield similar to the way Reggie Bush worked with LenDale White for Kiffin at USC. Justin Griffith was brought from Atlanta to compete at fullback. Tony Stewart was signed from Cincinnati to add competition at tight end.

Kiffin is shaking up the offensive line slightly. Barry Sims is a candidate to move back to left tackle, while Robert Gallery, who had a horrible year at that spot last season, will be tried on the right and left sides.

"I saw a player that was not playing to a standard that I would want a player to. But I wasn't there. So I don't know what was told to him. "
Lane Kiffin on watching tape of Randy Moss from last season
Naturally, the biggest topic Tuesday was Randy Moss, whose name has been linked constantly this offseason to trades that probably won't happen.

Asked about Moss' future, Kiffin said, "I think he will be on our team. I do."

The plan is for Moss to be the split end, lined up on the open side of the field away from the tight end. For the past few years, Moss has floated between flanker and split end and his performance has been extremely inconsistent. He's seemed bored and disinterested at times and has openly talked about being traded.

The day after he was hired, Kiffin said he talked for 15 minutes with Moss and explained the offense and his belief in the split end position. Kiffin said there was no mention of trade by him or by Moss.

"I saw a player who at times made some very talented plays," Kiffin said of his tape evaluation of Moss. "I saw a player that was not playing to a standard that I would want a player to. But I wasn't there. So I don't know what was told to him. I'm not going to make a judgment on that because I wasn't in those meetings. Did they sit down and tell him this is what we need from you or did they allow it to happen?"

Kiffin said Moss had the look of a player who was frustrated.

"With Randy you go all the way back to how exciting he was at Minnesota," Kiffin said. "He was playing fast because it seemed like he was really into it. Whatever it was, it was a different player because of that frustration factor. When someone is frustrated they aren't going to perform at their highest level."

Whether it's Moss or anyone on the Raiders, Kiffin is trying to change the culture that has taken over.

"Things have to change because it hasn't been just one year," Kiffin said. "I know Al Davis realized that. He was hurt by that."

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer