Dickey: Kiffin autonomy good for Raiders 

Because Al Davis seems to regard new Raiders coach Lane Kiffin as a younger version of himself, he has given Kiffin authority to revamp the coaching staff. That’s the best news for Raiders fans in years. At the news conference announcing Kiffin’s hiring, Davis twice alluded to his time as an assistant coach at Southern Cal, when he was only slightly younger than Kiffin is now. Davis was known for his recruiting, and Kiffin, too, was regarded as a good recruiter at USC.

Historically, Davis has hired the assistant coaches — or kept the ones he had — though Art Shell was able to bring in his friend Tom Walsh as offensive coordinator last season. Both Shell and Walsh were hopelessly locked in the past, totally unsuited for their jobs.

This year, though, the Raiders are doing an almost total purging of their staff. Even Fred Biletnikoff is gone, though that was his decision. He will probably remain on the payroll in a consulting role.

Meanwhile, according to insiders, Kiffin has been the one making decisions on new assistants. Davis is involved, of course, and Kiffin has no doubt talked to his father, Monte, the highly regarded defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay. But Kiffin reportedly got assurances from Davis that he would have more autonomy than the coaches since Jon Gruden. So far, Davis has kept his promise.

This gives Kiffin a chance to get the respect of his players, which is critical. When players know that Davis is calling the shots, the coach is doomed. See Joe Bugel and Norv Turner for recent examples. At age 31 and with no pro head-coaching experience, Kiffin can succeed only if the players think he’s his own man.

It’s also important from a physical standpoint. The old staff just wasn’t getting it done. It was time for new assistants, and a mostly younger staff.

The key signing was offensive line coach Tom Cable, because the Raiders’ biggest weakness last year was their offensive line, which gave up 72 sacks.

Shell earned Hall of Fame honors as an offensive tackle. So did Jackie Slater, the offensive line coach last season. But the two taught outmoded techniques to the Raiders’ linemen.

Even 20 years ago, linemen had specific targets for their blocks. Now, with all the stunting and blitzing, a lineman may be blocking air if he looks for a specific man. Teams have gone to zone blocking, so if a defensive lineman drops off the line, the offensive lineman can pick up the blitzing linebacker or defensive back who comes through that hole. Shell and Slater were reluctant to use zone blocking.

Cable is a veteran coach but still relatively young at 42. His experience is varied, even including a time as head coach at the University ofIdaho. He spent his last two years at Atlanta, working with the Raiders’ new offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp. Obviously, they’ll be on the same page.

There is still much work ahead for the Raiders. They have to get rid of Randy Moss. They have to bring Jerry Porter back into the fold. They have to decide whether they’ll trade down or keep the No. 1 draft choice — and who to pick if they keep it.

But Davis has taken a vital first step by giving his new coach some autonomy.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

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