If Tom Cable weren't an elite NFL survivor, he would have been sent away from the Raiders long ago and the 2010 team would have gone belly-up as usual in mid-November.

He's still coaching the Raiders, by the way. They're 6-7 after Sunday's frenetic loss in Jacksonville, still with an outside shot at the playoffs.

And the team hasn't quit, despite more than a few chances to do so.

This does not mean Cable is a great NFL coach, of course. In fact, if Cable were an actual elite NFL coach, he wouldn't want any part of this thankless job.

But through ups, downs, quarterback decisions, owner intrusions and other ritual Raiders weirdness -- and some of his own personal issues -- Cable has proved that he is uniquely adaptable to the strange situation.

He's not so weak that the players can walk all over him; but he is not so strong that he is ever seen as being insubordinate to the Greater Al Davis mandates.

Cable wins just enough to keep it interesting. But he doesn't win enough to make him a hot candidate anywhere else.

Really, Cable is the best at this job since Jon Gruden hung in there and thrived for four rollicking seasons (then hit the eject button).

And Cable is miles better at it than Lane Kiffin, Art Shell, Norv Turner, Bill Callahan, Joe Bugel and Mike White could ever hope to be.

The others got demoralized and humiliated by Davis, who enjoys the sensation. Cable just sticks to the job, stubbornly, fiercely and not without some artful dodging of controversy.


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Case in point: Monday, Cable brushed off a Yahoo! Sports report that he and Hue Jackson, Davis' hand-picked offensive coordinator, have a tense relationship and that Cable never wanted Jackson hired.

"That's stupidity "... whoever wrote it," Cable said. "We had a lot of fun with it upstairs."

But, when asked directly if he had the authority to overrule Jackson's play-calls, Cable deftly sidestepped the issue.

"I don't need to (overrule)," he said. "He's good at what he does. He did a hell of a job yesterday."

It's no secret that Davis hired Jackson in large part to take a look at him as a replacement for Cable, not merely as the offensive signal-caller.

Jackson's arrival has been a benefit to the Raiders, and the offense surely has been more electric than in years past.

But it would not be a shock if Jackson's camp is getting a little antsy about the timing and commitment to a potential ascension.

That's the way it was set up -- by none other than Al, of course.

For a survivor like Cable, the appropriate move is to just keep plugging along and remain as publicly credible as he can without infuriating Al.

It's a fine line, no doubt. It's good for the team for as long as Cable can pull it off, as this season's leap has displayed.

"We're on the step now of becoming one of those teams that talks about getting in the final 12 (of the playoffs)," Cable said. "But you have to do it. You have to break through that last barricade.

"That will be a success to me, if we're one of those 12. If not, I'll look at it and say there are a lot of successes in it, and there's a lot of good that came out of it.

"The next step ultimately has to be winning our division and being a playoff team."

Cable has had some intra-franchise victories -- dumping JaMarcus Russell, keeping his job after the Randy Hanson incident and the domestic-violence reports -- which explains the support he receives from the locker room.

Players keep playing hard for a coach who has backbone, which is not what the Raiders had with Turner, Shell or, at the end, Callahan.

And Cable also has rolled with his Al-mandated defeats -- Jackson's hiring, the Jason Campbell-Bruce Gradkowski quarterback carousel, and a few others.

I believe that Cable has excelled at coaching in the gaps that Al leaves him. Cable hasn't agitated for more power, or whined about working under such a mysterious leader.

You can get a lot of work done before the early afternoon, when Al makes his presence felt at Raiders HQ.

If you do solid work, most times, Al won't overturn everything you've done to that point. Just a few things. You can walk the fine line as Raiders coach.

So far, Cable has done this better than anybody since Gruden, and it's about time we acknowledge it.

Contact Tim Kawakami at tkawakami@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5442.