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Raiders get Cable, but programming remains 'The Al Davis Show'

Tom Cable, left, is the latest Raiders offensive line coach promoted to head coach by team owner Al Davis, who fired Lane Kiffin Tuesday 20 games into Kiffin's tenure. AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

With the Oakland Raiders, the mistake is always in the perception. You only think that what happened Tuesday, with owner Al Davis essentially going "neener neener" at Lane Kiffin (just overhead-project, baby!), was some sort of crazy, out-of-control scene.

In truth, it's what the Raiders do. It's neither farfetched nor even, really, that much of a reach. They're a little louder than others sometimes, sure, but overall, this has become the norm. Other teams win (or lose). Other teams focus on their players, for better or worse. The Raiders do this. They churn. They roil. They leave a wake.

Look, it's a circus only if the clowns leave town after a week.

Tom Cable? Don't work up a sweat over him; he's just the latest drummer for Spinal Tap. A year from now, you'll think back and remember the day Cable spontaneously combusted while standing on the sideline at the Oakland Coliseum, leaving defensive coordinator and noted Al loyalist Rob Ryan to scoop up the little green globule that was left next to the clipboard.

Cable seems like a good man. He is Davis' most recent choice to run the Raiders, and by "most recent," I mean the sixth coach in Oakland in seven years, and by "run the Raiders" I mean -- well, of course, not actually run the Raiders. Cable gets the title. Al has the job. Don't think for a minute that either man doesn't understand the dynamic.

Again, though, this doesn't qualify as breaking news. Since 2001, Davis has gone through Jon Gruden, Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell and Kiffin to get to Cable. The routine has the easy familiarity of a TV test pattern and exactly as much entertainment value.

When Davis took the podium to excoriate Kiffin at agonizing length (the media session lasted so long it had a halftime, my friend Gary Peterson noted), he played the part of the embittered owner who somehow had been betrayed by the man he hired as a 31-year-old out of USC with no discernible NFL credentials. Davis doesn't normally call his former coaches flat-out liars, as he did Kiffin, but, shoot, that's just details.

What matters is that with Kiffin, Davis continued his recent tradition of hiring someone with either offensive credentials or a Raiders-loyalist background, realizing within a couple of weeks or months that he doesn't like his decision after all and carrying his buyer's remorse through several sets of awful back-and-forth grinding that ends in the coach's dismissal.

This has almost nothing to do with the product on the field, but everything to do with Davis the owner, with the politics of power and with the disastrous need for Davis to maintain total control of a franchise that is so obviously in need of fresh oxygen. It's the oldest story in the silver-and-black book, actually: The last coach to whom Davis gave any real ground was Gruden, and Gruden's national acclaim for actually producing a winner in Oakland was such a burr in Davis' massive saddle of ego that, eventually, Gruden had to go.

Kiffin's mistake, as we've written here before, was in assuming anything with the Raiders had changed since then. It's still unclear how the son of a lifetime NFL man (Kiffin's dad, Monte, is a much-decorated assistant coach) could have perceived something so completely incorrectly as he did when it came to working for Davis. Kiffin appeared genuinely baffled he had so little control over things. The man must never have read a newspaper in his life.

He could have asked any true Raiders fan and gotten the information, by the way. You want a sympathetic figure in this goof-off? Look to the fan who is trying to hang in there with a franchise that clearly couldn't care less about him or her, whose ownership constantly redirects the attention from the field and up into the skybox where Davis sits on game days. It isn't a terrible product down there -- the Raiders should have beaten Buffalo and could have beaten San Diego -- but no one will ever know it. This is all Al, all the time.

By the end of Tuesday, Kiffin was home with his wife watching Davis tear him apart in a news conference that was televised live in the Bay Area, thus proving the attention directed toward Davis is even recession-proof. Naturally, the focus was on Davis, the frail-looking, 79-year-old owner, who was seated at the podium before any media were allowed in the room and remained there afterward until every reporter left. At one point, Davis instructed an employee to post on the overhead projector a copy of the letter he had written Kiffin telling the coach what a louse he was. Davis read aloud while the reporters, like kids attending a college lecture, sat and squirmed.

Naturally, Kiffin is going to sue for lost wages. Davis' response Tuesday was, essentially, "See you in court." Business as usual, in other words. Try to act like you've been there before.


Mark Kreidler's book "Six Good Innings", about the pressure of upholding a small-town Little League legacy, is in national release. His book "Four Days to Glory" has been optioned for film/TV development by ESPN Original Entertainment. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, Kreidler can be reached at mark@markkreidler.com.