In the rubble of Raiders' rebellion

Originally Published: December 31, 2003
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

The ticker runs off the body count with the cheery insouciance of the front of Lenin's Tomb: "Bears fire head coach Dick Jauron ... Cardinals fire head coach Dave McGinnis ... Raiders fire head coach Bill Callahan ..."

Well, that last one wasn't particularly stunning. It had been predicted for months, ever since it became clear that the defending AFC champions had no taste for the actual defense.

There may have been players all around him, but Bill Callahan stood alone on the Raiders' sidelines this season.
They did what bad Raider teams have done with frightening consistency over the past decade ... they turned on the media, they turned on each other, they turned on their coach, and that nobody actually turned on the pompadoured godhead, it's only because they know the percentages in that.

And be not fooled, this was one of the very worst bad Raider teams ever. Unwatchable on nearly every level, 4-12 on pure merit, they served to concisely paraphrase the great Dean Vernon Wormer in delivering the lesson of this Oakland team: "Old, hurt, and catty is no way to go through life, son."

So, yes, Bill Callahan probably had it coming, for the same reason that an egg dropped off a roof has it coming. Gravity is always a bitch.

But until Sunday, there was something slightly more melancholy about his expulsion. He'd only been a bad coach for a year by the rules of engagement (re: the won-lost record).

Sunday, though, he went out in a blaze of futile and maybe even spiteful glory, de-activating running back Charlie Garner and cornerback Charles Woodson for allegedly not attending a mandatory Saturday night meeting. Since Garner and Woodson had been among his most aggressive critics, it smacked of one last shot on the way out the door, because it was.

The players rewarded him with an enormous outpouring of anger before the game and one last disinterested effort during it, letting LaDainian Tomlinson humiliate them (as though they would have had a choice under more benign circumstances) in a 21-14 loss to the dreadful San Diego Chargers.

Hey, what's one more indignity, right?

For awhile, though, one could be sympathetic to his plight, said plight being that he fell from grace so swiftly and without much warning. After all ...

  • He did coach last year's team to the Super Bowl, and even if it was with Jon Gruden's players, he didn't screw up a good thing, and that counts for something.

  • He didn't tell the players to age at the same time.

  • He could have done without Rich Gannon's injury problems, which many people believe began in the season's first game at Tennessee and remained severe until he was finally knocked out for the season.

    And by the way, we can put to rest the idea that the Super Bowl rattled Gannon, because it was actually Jevon Kearse who did that. People who still think Gannon cracked after being cracked by Tampa in January not only weren't paying attention at the time, they are too lazy to pay attention now.

  • He didn't need the inspirational preseason coldcocking of tight end Marcus Williams by linebacker Bill Romanowski, or the organization's stunning reaction, "Hey Bill, take a day off, apologize, and when it blows over, we'll waive the guy."

  • And he had a team of stubbornly independent men who didn't fear his wrath one-tenth as much as they feared Gruden's, so when he needed to swell up to twice his normal size to get their attention, they had already looked away.

    In sum, this team reverted to its most horrible habits in record time, taking the public perception of its too-proud owner back from "He's still got it'' to "No he doesn't'' in less time than it took for the Giants to fire Jim Fassel. The windburn alone was devastating.

    Thus, the Callahan Question, "Should this man be fired?" was never asked, because it became clear early on that we'd moved on past that to "When will this man be fired?" He was tagged and bagged by the midway point, so clearly that by the time he uttered his now-famous "We must be the dumbest team in America" speech, it sounded less Parcellsian than posture, even if its accuracy was difficult to dispute.

    You have to hand it to him, though. He went out like a chemical fire, without a haz-mat suit in sight. But there is no room for sympathy upon his departure. These are the Raiders, and the Raiders don't do sympathy.

    This is the NFL, and better coaches have been fired with better records. This is business, and business is always a game of Canines-And-Carotids, where the days are filled with the search for the exposed throat and the nights are filled with document shredding.

    That he got an entire wing of the locker room to hate him in record time, it's hard to puddle up much on his behalf.

    True, Callahan was a success not so long ago, and unless he really turned stupid overnight, it isn't impossible to think that he might be successful again, if given the chance to learn from his own mistakes and those of the people who worked for him and those who worked against him.

    Will he get that chance? Not right away, and not even likely, though stranger things have happened.

    His reputation was smithereeened over four months, in considerable part by his own hand. You never like to go out with players chasing you with torches, after all, although there is no evidence that the Raiders would have been any better without him.

    He has moved behind the new list of hot assistants (Lovie Smith, Romeo Crennel, etc.), and will likely return to his previous position as a line coach, an unlikely springboard for future glory.

    If this was his first and last stand, Callahan would become the Super Bowl coach with the fewest number of games on his permanent record, and it's hard to know whether he deserved such an epitaph.

    But "deserved" hasn't got anything to do with it. It's an eat-or-be-eaten world out there, and Bill Callahan is today's blue plate special.

    Look fast, though. The menu changes daily.

    Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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