Woodson rips coach for benching

Updated: December 30, 2003, 9:20 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Beleaguered Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan looked the way he always does on Mondays following gameday: extremely tired with a day's worth of stubble on his face.

But the words he spoke, and those he didn't, conveyed a deeper sense of uncertainty about his future with a franchise that only a year ago he guided to the Super Bowl as a rookie head coach.

Callahan summed up the season in three minutes Monday, then marched out of the room without fielding questions.

The coach, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, already has cleared out his office in anticipation of being fired.

The Raiders finished a dismal 4-12 season with a 21-14 loss to San Diego. Oakland posted its worst record since also going 4-12 in 1997. The Raiders tied with three other teams for fewest wins in the league in the biggest collapse by a team that reached the Super Bowl the previous year.

For their poor performance, the Raiders earned the No. 2 pick in next year's draft.

"I addressed the team this morning and thanked them all for their efforts and contributions this season," said Callahan, who has refused to speculate whether he'll return next season, saying it's out of his control. "I know that we're all disappointed in the outcome, as I stated before, but I accept full and complete responsibility for the lack of success that we've had this year.

"As I told the team, I believe that we all learned some invaluable lessons, but the great thing is that we can all move forward and learn from this experience, personally and professionally."

The players seemed just as eager to get away as Callahan. Jerry Rice rolled down his car window, smiled and waved as he pulled away from team headquarters.

Charles Woodson made time to express his frustrations with Callahan, who deactivated Woodson and running back Charlie Garner before Sunday's game for missing curfew.

Woodson, a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback who could become a free agent, has been one of Callahan's most outspoken critics. He has called Callahan stubborn and said he lost the respect of his team.

"He's really made this thing personal," Woodson said Monday. "When things get personal, it's not a good situation to be around people that it's personal with. I won't play for him.

"He's not the type of person you want to be around. He's just really brought a really negative vibe to this team over the course of the season."

Callahan defended his decision not to play Garner and Woodson, citing his suspending center Barret Robbins for the Super Bowl after he disappeared the day before and missed team meetings.

"And my decision to bench them was predicated solely as my responsibility as a head football coach and also as responsibility to this team," Callahan said.

"The bottom line is that we're all accountable and as an organization, and I feel strongly that as a society, we cannot function without structure and we cannot function without discipline. There are consequences.

"I'm paid to manage this team, and in all fairness to the other team members I had to do what was necessary, as any leader would do in any organization. I cannot and will not accept lack of discipline on this football team."

Yet Woodson claims Callahan acted out of resentment. Woodson had already begun changing his clothes when he was called into Callahan's office before the game.

Woodson said he walked out on the coach while Callahan was still speaking. He and Garner flew home and skipped the game. Woodson did not attend a short team meeting Monday morning.

"Why?" he said.

"I didn't give him a chance to finish what he was saying because I knew he was doing it out of spite," Woodson said. "There was no reason for me to sit in there and listen any further to what he was talking about."

Bickering and infighting have been the theme of the Raiders' season.

It didn't help that 12 players were lost for the season with injuries, including 2002 MVP quarterback Rich Gannon, and his backup, Marques Tuiasosopo. Not to mention almost the entire offensive line.

While Callahan does have his supporters among the players, plenty of Raiders believe change is needed.

Raiders owner Al Davis, whose team was not able to live up to his "Just Win, Baby!" motto this season, is not known for his patience with coaches.

Even Tim Brown, the longest-tenured Raider, has his concerns about Callahan.

"I don't know if he's the guy who can bring this team back together," Brown said. "This year, he made things personal with this team. You can't do that. If he's back, it's going to take two to three years to fix this, because nobody trusts a word he says."

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