Sapp comments may support Kiffin's claim Davis tampered with defense
If you follow the three-day trail from Sept. 10 to 12 that led to the firing of Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin this week, Warren Sapp's words on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" could support Kiffin's anticipated grievance against Raiders owner Al Davis.
"Al Davis is the total bottom line, buck stops right there," said Sapp, who played for the Raiders from 2004 to '07. "I remember one time we had a defensive game plan because we were struggling against the run. We were going to get our safeties and put them up in the box and almost have a nine-man front. We practiced this thing 80 percent of the time on Wednesday and Thursday. We showed up that Friday morning, [defensive coordinator] Rob Ryan came in and he looked like someone had just shot his dog. He said he [Davis] pulled it on us. ... He snatched the teeth out of our defense."
In the Sept. 12 letter Davis shared with the media Tuesday to explain his firing of Kiffin without pay, he referred to a "fabrication" the coach made over Davis' input into the defense.
On Sept. 10, following Oakland's 41-14 season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos, Kiffin was asked by the media why the Raiders didn't blitz more often on defense.
"Well, we talked about it early in the week," Kiffin said. "Rob [Ryan, the defensive coordinator] and the owner are always in communication. For the most part, I let Rob do his thing over there. He has a belief in certain things and he has a conversation with the owner about that. So, that wasn't the way the game plan ended up the other night."
The next day, Sept. 11, Ryan unexpectedly had his own news conference, claiming that what Kiffin said "is just wrong and I want to make sure you got it right. I meet with the owner in the offseason. He's the boss, he's the man that hired me, and that's been well-documented. I don't meet with him on game plans or come up with all this. It's amazing when things like this come out when we have a bad week. Put it on me, that's where it belongs. I'm the man that runs the defense."
A team source said Davis ordered Ryan to refute Kiffin's claims.
One day later, Sept. 12, the letter Davis gave Kiffin included the following content:
"In regards to your recent fabrications about the defense, during the final cuts you made every cut on offense and every cut on defense except for [Fred] Wakefield on defense and [Seth] Wand on offense. Furthermore, during the game Monday night [defensive coordinator] Rob [Ryan] played your Cover-2 defense and we got killed on an approximately 50-yard touchdown pass and an approximately 70-yard gain that led to a field goal.
"You meet every week with the defensive coaches to go over both the past game and to get a general feel for what will happen during the week in practice. You have the ability and authority to provide your input during those meetings and the preparation of the game plan. I do not have weekly meetings with Rob -- you do.
"During the week no one has ever told you what to do on either offense or defense. In addition, no one has ever told you during a game what to do on either offense or defense and you call every play on offense. During a game if you want to blitz more, all you have to do is let Rob know what blitz you want and he will do it."
In firing Kiffin "for cause," Davis terminated the coach without pay with a balance on a contract reportedly between $2.6 million and $3.5 million.
Kiffin's attorneys are expected to file a grievance with the NFL on whether Davis is obligated to honor financial terms of the contract.
A voice mail was left for a Raiders spokesman seeking a response to Sapp's comments that Davis indeed is involved with the defense. As of Thursday evening, the Raiders had not returned the phone call.
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.
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