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Al Davis: Still in Charge

ALAMEDA, Calif – So the great man, clad in leather and self-professed wisdom, gave us his new coach, a great many opinions and in true fashion enough explanation and justification to make it sound as if history was very much a mirage.

Yes, Al Davis, who had “THE OAKLAND RAIDERS,’’ in tiny letters on the left side of his wrap-around jacket, as if anyone were confused by his affiliation, affirmed the appointment of the individual chosen to lead the team while concurrently belittling the guy who previously had the job most would describe as unenviable.

Tom Cable, a gentleman not quite loaded with star power, had the word “interim’’ deleted from his work status, officially now the Raiders’ fifth head coach in eight years.

He was allowed to answer a few questions and tell us after taking over from Lane Kiffin four games into the ’08 season that this was “a dream job,’’ and he plans to lead the Raiders, who have been dreadful, into the playoffs.

But as always when Davis, the man in charge, comes down from his second-floor redoubt at Raider Central, the show belongs to Al, who six months from his 80th birthday has lost none of feistiness or any of his style.

He once proclaimed, “I am the Raiders,’’ and surely that idea will exist as long as Al does.

The critics contend Al Davis football is as out-of-date as the leather helmet, that the Raiders, after six consecutive seasons of at least 11 losses, are a sad reflection of what was and never will be again.

That no matter who is designated as coach -- Cable, Lane Kiffin, Art Shell, Norv Turner, Bill Callahan -- Davis pulls every string and calls every shot, meaning the other guy has no chance and no future.

By the time Cable and Davis faced the hyperventilating media Wednesday, the Raiders already had nearly their full supply of assistant coaches, an indication of course Davis had done all the selections without a peep from Cable.

Ah, but Al argued we observers were absolutely incorrect. “He hired the assistants,’’ said Davis referring to Cable. “I did not hire one. I want the doubters in here who think I hired them to know it’s not true. ‘’

What is true is Davis despises Kiffin, whom he fired “for cause.’’ Having moved on to the University of Tennessee, Kiffin is going to court to obtain the back salary Davis refuses to give him.

Asked if Kiffin had received the money, Davis snapped “F***, no. What are you talking about? He was bad. He was a liar. I tried to reason with the guy. I thought we could get something out of him. I guess my stubbornness was there. All he ever wanted to do was get out, get his money.’’

Davis, of course, brought in Kiffin at the start of the 2007, telling everyone what a bright young man he was. But the love affair went sour quickly enough, and Kiffin now refers to the Raiders as dysfunctional.

“You ever ask him what the dysfunction was?’’ is the Davis response. “Crisis? What crisis? The dysfunction was caused by Lane.’’

The everlasting question is who would want to work for Al Davis. Everybody, says Davis, whose mantra of “Just win baby,’’ contradicts the Raiders’ record. That “Team of the Decades’’ slogan is almost embarrassing.

The Davis theory on offense is to emphasize the vertical game, wide receivers deep catching balls from a quarterback who has time to throw. When the the offensive line was composed of Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, that worked wonderfully. But this is 2009 not 1969.

“If you think it doesn’t work,’’ said Davis, of his strategy, “look at Pittsburgh. You got to throw the ball deep. No one can win without throwing the ball deep.’’

JaMarcus Russell, who was played a season and a half after being the No. 1 pick in the ’07 draft, can throw very deep. When he’s not being sacked. Whether Russell matures into the quarterback Davis thinks he will be remains problematical.

Davis took a virtual poke at former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who just joined the Seattle Seahawks, “We had the worst pass offense in the league three straight years,’’ said Davis.

Davis ripped Warren Sapp, the former lineman turned TV commentator, who previously had ripped Davis.

Al said he wasn’t opposed to entering a joint stadium venture with the San Francisco 49ers but would have to know the economics of the project before making a commitment.

Cable appeared satisfied merely to be in the presence of his excellency, pointing out, “I’m going to be able to be taught by the guy who probably knows more football anyone in the National Football League.’’

Which could be a blessing or a curse.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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