Raiders hire USC O-coordinator Kiffin as coach

Updated: January 24, 2007, 9:42 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- After four miserable seasons, Al Davis knew the Oakland Raiders needed a fresh start. He couldn't have found a new coach much more fresh than Lane Kiffin.

Lane Kiffin: Coaching Highlights
Lane Kiffin
NCAA:
• 2001-2006: USC assistant coach (offensive coordinator in 2005-06; also recruiting coordinator and receivers coach)
• 2000: Colorado State offensive line coach
• 1997-98: Fresno State graduate assistant

NFL:
• 2000: Jaguars defensive quality control coach

The Raiders officially hired the 31-year-old Kiffin on Tuesday, putting the former Southern California offensive coordinator in charge of restoring glory to a three-time Super Bowl champion that fell to the NFL's worst record last year.

Kiffin, who took the job Monday, became the youngest head coach in club history and the NFL's youngest in several decades. If the job of rebuilding a 2-14 club intimidates him, Kiffin didn't show it while sitting next to Davis in a sharp black suit.

"I'm extremely excited about this opportunity and where I see this place going," Kiffin said at the Raiders' training complex. "It's a historic franchise that has had greatness and has fallen on tough times, but we will bring it back to where it was before. We will do that through hard work. I'm prepared to roll up my sleeves and go to work."

Kiffin, the son of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, has just one season of NFL experience -- as the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive quality control coach in 2000. But the 77-year-old Davis wasn't afraid to hire a coach young enough to be his grandson.

In fact, Davis wanted another talented young offensive mind to lead the franchise where John Madden, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden excelled in their 30s. Shanahan and Gruden won Super Bowls with other teams after leaving the Raiders rancorously when their ideas clashed with Davis' vision for the franchise.

"I think, '31 years old, wow, that's young,' " Davis said. "But you don't have to be old to be great. You have to be good. You have to want it. You have to have a desire, a passion for football."

The Raiders will also retain defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who built an above-average defense last season despite the offense's woes. Kiffin, who left for the Senior Bowl after Tuesday's news conference, plans to hire an offensive coordinator soon.

Youngest NFL Head Coaches
[Debuted In 1970 Or Later]
Year Team Coach Years Days
2007 Raiders Lane Kiffin* 32 123
1992 Bengals Dave Shula 33 101
1998 Raiders Jon Gruden 35 20
1992 Steelers Bill Cowher 35 121
2007 Steelers Mike Tomlin* 35 178
2006 Jets Eric Mangini 35 234
Note: Based on age on date of first game as head coach.
* -- Age on Sept. 9, 2007 (projecting Steelers' and Raiders' first games falls on that Sunday).

And he has plenty of additional work ahead with the Raiders. Davis has fired three coaches in the last four years while attempting to get his club back to respectability, but nothing has worked during the worst four-season span in franchise history.

After losing to Tampa Bay and former coach Gruden in the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, Oakland has endured four straight losing seasons, losing more games than any NFL club and culminating in the NFL's worst record in 2006.

As Davis reflected on what he called the "year of infamy," he realized the Raiders needed a profound change.

"As time went on, I realized that we had to go in a different direction," Davis said. "We have to move the clock back. We have to get youth in the organization, and we have to go ahead and attack and with someone who really means that he will attack."

The Raiders have the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, and now they also have Kiffin in charge of a new offensive philosophy. Oakland managed just 168 points last season -- fifth fewest in a 16-game schedule in NFL history -- despite decent offensive talent, including receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter and running back LaMont Jordan.

Kiffin, a former Fresno State quarterback who played under current California coach Jeff Tedford, is younger than a number of players who finished the season with Oakland, including defensive tackle Warren Sapp, fullback Zack Crockett and receiver Alvis Whitted.

But Kiffin's ambition and confidence won over Davis despite his youth. Though Kiffin revealed little of his personality in his first public appearance in Alameda, he isn't worried about giving orders to players who are his chronological peers.

"Players don't care about age," Kiffin said. "Players want to be coached. Great players want to get better, and that's what we're going to do. We will be upfront with our players. We will be honest. We will have high standards for them, and that's what they want."

Davis fired Art Shell after the disastrous season and apparently became fixated on hiring a young offensive mind to succeed him. This strategy has worked for Davis before: Madden was just 14 months older than Kiffin when he took over the Raiders in 1969, and the Raiders compared Kiffin's hiring to Madden's appointment in the fourth sentence of their news release Tuesday.

Gruden was 34 when he took over in 1998, and Shanahan was just 35 in 1988. Even Davis became the Raiders' head coach at 33 years, 6 months in 1963 -- more than 12 years before Kiffin was born.

Kiffin joked that he had spoken to Gruden about the job.

"[I] asked him if he's interested in becoming the Raiders' offensive coordinator. He said he had to talk to [former Raiders executive] Bruce Allen," he said.

The Raiders chose Kiffin following serious talks with Steve Sarkisian, Kiffin's 32-year-old fellow USC assistant. Kiffin and Sarkisian worked with Pete Carroll and Norm Chow to create the impressive offense of the back-to-back national champion Trojans.

"His expertise and the success he's had with our offense will play to the strengths of the Raiders personnel," Carroll said. "It will be exciting to see it unfold. His ability to get the most out of his players has been obvious."

Both Kiffin and Davis showed they've still got work to do before they're in a mutual groove. Kiffin must still learn the Raiders' organization-wide reverence for their past successes.

"We're not here to discuss the past, because that has nothing to do with where we're going," Kiffin said in response to queries about disgruntled receiver Porter.

And Davis accidentally referred to his new coach as "Lance" before correcting himself.

Meanwhile, at USC, Brennan Carroll, son of the head coach and the Trojans' tight ends coach, will take over Kiffin's role as recruiting coordinator, Pete Carroll.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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