BUILDING a global brand admired for winning with a singular, distinctive style was his goal from the start. Al Davis always has wanted the Raiders to be impossible to ignore.
Fear them. Love them. Hate them.
Never, ever disregard them.
Yet that's exactly what's happening. The Raiders, who take the field today at the Coliseum to face Baltimore, are concluding their seventh consecutive losing season with their seventh consecutive local TV blackout.
If the same basic crew of coaches and players returns next season, expect an eighth straight losing season and eight local TV blackouts in eight regular-season games.
Davis has yet another opportunity to make the dramatic concession desired by fans and many within the organization. The handprints of the boss are all over the team's descent into irrelevance. We are about to discover how far he is willing to go for a fix.
Can he bring himself to reach out to Mike Leach?
I don't know if Leach is the right man to replace Tom Cable, but I know there is no legitimate reason for Davis to summarily dismiss the most accomplished and creative offensive mind not currently employed in a football capacity.
Though plenty of coaches could instantly restore credibility, none has the slightest chance of being hired in Oakland. Bill Cowher will go elsewhere because he knows the Oakland script. Mike Shanahan won't come because he has a toxic history with Davis. Jon Gruden has no chance because he is resented and detested by Al, even though no coach on the market would do more to invigorate the organization and energize its fans.
Leach is a dynamic alternative. Fired recently by Texas Tech after allegations of player abuse, it's unlikely he'll get a call from a major college, even if he has spent his entire 22-year career at the college level and been wildly successful at every stop.
If Davis could keep a straight face three years ago when hiring an untested USC assistant named Lane Kiffin, he should be willing to jump out of his skull — and his usual salary range — for the chance to capture a talent like Leach.
Davis has been searching for offense ever since 2002. He hired quarterback guru Norv Turner in 2004, traded for game-breaking wide receiver Randy Moss in 2005, summoned old pal Tom Walsh from an Idaho bed-and-breakfast inn in 2006. Since 2007, the Raiders have used the first round to draft, in succession, quarterback JaMarcus Russell, running back Darren McFadden and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
The results have been atrocious. Turner was fired after two seasons; Cable is the third coach since. Moss was traded, Walsh fired. Russell and McFadden have not delivered. Heyward-Bey's rookie year has been a monumental bust.
Oakland's offense ranks 31st among the league's 32 teams, dead last in the AFC. It was 29th and 14th in 2008, 25th and 11th in '07, 32nd and 16th in '06. The end zone often seems 100 miles away. It's as if the offense has become an incurable illness.
Leach, 48, offers, at the very least, treatment. In 10 consecutive winning seasons at Texas Tech, he gained a reputation for offensive innovation, mostly through passing. His teams tend to score in bunches.
Though his base offense, the spread, is closer to the West Coast philosophy than the vertical game Al prefers, the quarterback usually has the option to throw deep. Six times the Red Raiders led the nation in passing.
Davis was a huge fan of the late Sid Gillman, the man primarily responsible for introducing sophisticated passing schemes into pro football. Gillman undoubtedly would have appreciated the way Leach attacks defenses.
Some NFL team, embracing the growing emphasis on quarterbacks and passing, will come after Leach. No team has a greater need than Oakland, though it will take some convincing to bring Leach to the Raiders, even if he is a California native (Susanville) with an affinity for pirates.
Davis, 80, needs to be persuasive. He needs to creative. Is he willing to be? His house has never been in such deplorable condition. It is everything he doesn't want it to be.
The fear is gone, the love is diminishing and the hate has faded into cool detachment, if not outright pity. To those outside the team's bubble, the Raiders are no more relevant than the Browns or the Lions.
Those on the inside, even those staying away, know the Raiders are sick. They're hoping if Davis won't consider a general manager that he might concede the need for the best available specialist to fix his most visible need.
That's Leach. He won't be hard to find.
Monte Poole can be reached at email@example.com.
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