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Kiffin-Davis relationship continues to take shape in Oakland

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Coaching the Oakland Raiders comes with challenges unlike those that other NFL coaches face.

Lane Kiffin, the latest to hold a job that seems to continually change hands, describes it as "very unique."

That's a diplomatic way of describing what it's like to deal with the hands-on approach of his boss, Al Davis, who hasn't exactly shown the greatest patience with his last several head-coach hires. And Kiffin was all about diplomacy at the NFL Annual Meeting this week as he publicly discussed for the first time what has been, well, a very unique offseason following his rookie year as a head coach at any level.

The highlight (or lowlight) for Kiffin was a report -- which the Raiders say is untrue -- that Davis wrote him a letter asking for his resignation. To say the least, that set an awkward tone for every encounter Kiffin has had with the media since last season's 4-12 finish. He made himself as scarce as someone in his position could possibly be while he and the Raider staff coached in the Senior Bowl (where much was made about the fact the clothes he wore didn't have the Raider logo). He was practically invisible at the NFL Scouting Combine at Indianapolis.

Speculation has been rampant about just how much input, if any, Kiffin has had during the Raiders' highly aggressive offseason shopping. The idea to retain defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, whom Kiffin said "felt it was in his best interest to go somewhere else" after last season, was Davis'. So was the idea to hire James Lofton, former Raider receiving great and Pro Football Hall of Fame member, as receivers coach.

Talk around league circles is that the only reason Kiffin hasn't been fired is the $4 million he would be owed for the balance of his three-year contract, and that he could very well find himself out if the team doesn't show significant improvement through the first half of the 2008 season.

Regardless, Kiffin, along with the Raider logo on his silver golf shirt, was front and center during the AFC coaches' breakfast with the media. He didn't offer details about what did or didn't happen between him and Davis, beyond saying, "…where's smoke, there's fire. Obviously, there was something."

Obviously. Whatever it was, however, isn't terribly relevant now because the Raiders are moving forward with Kiffin. And Kiffin made it clear that he was moving along with them.

"Besides just to tell you guys so that you guys know what happened, I don't really look back on it and worry about it or think about it all the time because that's going to do us no good," he said. "It's no different than what you tell your players when they get beat in the first half or they fumble the ball or they throw an interception.

"You've got to move on and don't worry about what happened before."

Makes sense. So does Kiffin's attitude toward questions about whether the Raiders overspent for the free-agent additions of receiver Jevon Walker, center John Wade, and safety Gibril Wilson, and for the trade for cornerback DeAngelo Hall. "That's not my concern," Kiffin said. "I'm excited that we've got some quality players that we could add to our roster and see how we can put them together."

Something tells me Kiffin might have gotten a little helpful advice from some of his predecessors, including Jon Gruden. Gruden had a successful run with the Raiders before parting ways with Davis and ending up in Tampa Bay. Not coincidentally, Gruden's defensive coordinator is Monte Kiffin, Lane's father.

Like the 32-year-old Kiffin, Gruden was a young head coach who had his share of disagreements with Davis. It was especially helpful to Gruden that then-Raiders general manager Bruce Allen, who holds the same job with the Buccaneers, acted as a mediator between owner and coach.

"Sometimes Bruce would come in with four or five things that I knew were from Al, as opposed to Al coming in," Gruden recalled. "Obviously, I would feel a lot more comfortable saying, 'Come on, Bruce. That guy's going to play right corner? Come on, man. You're going to move that guy to tight end? You go tell the team that. If I tell them they'll look at me like I'm a dufus.' After that, Bruce would go back to Al and maybe that was the end of the story or maybe it wasn't. Maybe I never got into some of those other discussions because Bruce was the middle guy.

"Al wanted to be heavily involved on the defensive side of the ball, but one place where I had to draw the line was to have him sitting in a meeting with my defensive coaches when I was meeting in a different room with the offensive staff. I wanted to be in there with him. Not that I was going to be able to stop him from saying anything he wanted to say. That was his absolute right as the owner of the team. I just didn't want a situation where he would suddenly be showing up and chastising the defense or making changes or proposing changes when I wasn't in the room.

"There really was a lot of give-and-take with Al. I remember one time he said he wanted us to play a 'Nine Technique,' where the defensive end would line up on the outside shoulder of the tight end while angling to the inside. I talked to one of our defensive coaches about it and he said we couldn't play a Nine Technique with the personnel we had, that the times we had done so in the past it didn't work. I put together a tape showing the times when we played Nine Technique that the tight end was able to run up and block the linebacker and the tackle fanned out and blocked the end. I gave it to Al and said, 'There are a lot of Nine Techniques on this tape. Here are some concerns of our staff.

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"He didn't seem offended by it at all. In fact, I think he loved it. I liked it, too. The greatest thing that came out of working for Al was that he made me learn defense. Otherwise, I would just have to always agree with him and I really don't think he was looking for that. He was looking for a good, informed, in-depth football discussion."

Despite his youth and the fact he previously worked as an assistant coach on the collegiate level (USC), Lane Kiffin is more than capable of having such discussions with the 78-year-old Davis, whose accomplishments as a former assistant coach, American Football League commissioner, and club owner earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Kiffin might not share Gruden's dynamic personality, but he does have his confidence. He is not afraid to let his boss know when he disagrees with him.

"Are we going to see eye to eye on everything?" Kiffin said. "No, no. I don't think anybody is, especially when you have two people who haven't worked together very long and have an age difference.

"But in the end, we come out together and do the best we can to put ourselves in the best position to win."

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