KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a conversation about Raiders coach Lane Kiffin in mid-August, Raiders managing general partner Al Davis said, "He's not the guy I hired."
From the outset of training camp, Kiffin has fired back almost on a daily basis by reminding everyone that he lacks the autonomy to do the job he was hired to do.
The endgame is coming soon, according to several front office people who have witnessed the war of wills unfold between the 79-year-old Davis and 33-year-old Kiffin over the past nine months or so.
Those people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say Davis is at wit's end and prepared to fire Kiffin before season's end, perhaps as soon as Monday, regardless of the outcome of today's game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He has been contemplating a course of action for many weeks.
Davis was unavailable for comment. Kiffin could not be reached for comment. However, on Wednesday, Kiffin had this to say to the Kansas City-area media:
"You have to look at the history," Kiffin said. "History is what it is, that (Davis) doesn't keep people very long. We don't have a general manager. Everything goes through (Davis). That sets up a difficult situation at times. Knowing who the owner is, you know from Day 1 there's no job security."
Davis has fired a coach during a season only once in his 46-year career with the Raiders. That came in 1989, when he jettisoned Mike Shanahan after only four games. He promoted Art Shell to replace Shanahan.
Davis has numerous candidates in place on his coaching staff, though it remains unclear who would be the favorite.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan interviewed for the vacancy in 2007. Receivers coach James Lofton has interviewed for the job at least twice. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp canceled a scheduled interview for the vacancy in 2004 so that he could join Jim Mora's Atlanta Falcons staff. Advance scout Paul Hackett was a head coach in college. Running backs coach Tom Rathman is a Davis favorite.
Davis reached his current state even before the Raiders were humiliated by the arch rival Denver Broncos 41-14, at home, in front of a sold-out crowd and a national TV audience Monday night.
His once-rosy relationship with Kiffin deteriorated soon after the Raiders completed a 4-12 season in Kiffin's first year as an NFL coach last year.
Kiffin wanted Ryan removed. Davis balked. Kiffin, in essence, asked to be fired if he couldn't have control over player personnel and the makeup of his coaching staff. Davis, in essence, told Kiffin that he should quit if he didn't like it.
Time passed, but it didn't do much to heal the gaping wound. Kiffin went about his business as if nothing happened, content to stick around and see what transpired.
By that time, he didn't have many options within the coaching fraternity, be it the NFL or college. So, why not bide his time, get some additional experience, add another line on the resume and re-evaluate at season's end?
A rash of personnel and coaching moves by Davis further rankled Kiffin, still seething over being forced to retain Ryan.
Davis hired Lofton without Kiffin's knowledge, according to a person close to Kiffin. The Raiders contend that Kiffin was apprised of the hiring and found out long before the ink dried.
Davis also signed off on moves that included a trade for cornerback DeAngelo Hall, re-signing defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to a contract that guaranteed him $18.125 million and signing injury-prone wide receiver Javon Walker to a contract that guarantees him $11 million this season.
Kiffin's discontent grew with each development, to the point he voiced his displeasure on a regular basis.
Last week, Kiffin distanced himself from his team's defensive meltdown against the Broncos by saying Ryan and Davis conspire on the game plans. Ryan countered by saying he is in sole control of the defense and that Kiffin has input.
Kiffin also decried the lack of talent at his disposal, as well as Davis' failure to make enough roster moves during training camp so that Kiffin could foster the kind of competitive atmosphere he desired and field enough healthy bodies to accomplish the things he viewed as critical during practices.
This conceivably was done so that he had a built-in excuse if things went awry this season and would be labeled a brilliant coach if he fashioned a successful season without doing things his way.
Now, it appears as if there's no turning back. Those people in the front office say Kiffin has alienated himself from everyone who doesn't run, pass or block. His lone known ally is director of football development Mark Jackson.
Jackson came to the Raiders at Kiffin's insistence. They formed a relationship during their several years together at Southern Cal. He, too, has fallen from favor with Davis in recent months and has been stripped of his power.
Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden faced a similar crucible when he brought the Raiders to Arrowhead Stadium for the 1999 regular-season finale. The Raiders upset the Chiefs that day. In the process, they kept the Chiefs from making the playoffs and saved Gruden's job.
At this point, not even a convincing victory today is apt to help Kiffin. At best, it might buy him a couple of more weeks, those people in the front office said.
No one questions Kiffin's work ethic or his football acumen. In the end, his great undoing might be that he engaged Davis in a battle waged by many of his predecessors, with one stark difference: Kiffin overstepped his bounds and went public.
Of course, no one saw this coming the day Davis hired Kiffin. Then again, when Davis inadvertently misspoke during Kiffin's introductory news conference by saying, "I'm here to talk about Lance," perhaps, even then, Davis subconsciously realized he hired the wrong guy.
Contract Steve Corkran at firstname.lastname@example.org.