Question: How many imperious, heavy-handed master manipulators are employed by the Oakland Raiders?
Answer: One more than Lane Kiffin wants you to believe.
That will soon be a trick question. Kiffin's reign as Raiders head coach will almost certainly end today. Don't be shocked if he fails to make it to the opening kickoff.
He'll be long gone by Monday, and he'll leave Oakland with the same reputation as a secretive, calculating schemer that he has been trying to hang on Al Davis during the past several months.
That's not to be confused with a golden parachute. But hey, these are tough economic times.
You could argue that Kiffin deserved to be ash-canned on merit. Though the Raiders have been eminently more watchable during his 19 games on the job than they were under predecessor Art Shell, their 5-14 record tops only Kansas City, St. Louis and Miami.
You could argue Kiffin foolishly initiated the endgame with his series of subtly scathing remarks calling into question Davis' skills as an evaluator of talent and painting him as a serial meddler.
Now the point is beyond debate. Now we can see Kiffin as he would have us see Davis — as the manipulator, the iron first, the teller of untruths. Thanks to the dogged reporting of the all-knowing Steve Corkran, we now understand:
This is interesting in that it demonstrates Kiffin would not tolerate behind closed doors what he continues to practice in the great wide open. After the Denver game, Kiffin famously noted that he isn't included in defensive game-planning. Yet he won't abide someone questioning the Raiders' preparation for a game in which they fell behind 41-0.
In these and other ways, Kiffin has been playing his plight just a little too cute for his own good. He remarked that his uncertain job status was having an effect on the players. Yet he has refused to seek clarification from Davis. (Hint: He's the elderly gentleman in the sweat suit.) This past week Kiffin spoke about the effect this drama was having at home, where his wife is pregnant with the couple's third child and real estate agents (Kiffin says) are making cold calls in hopes of snagging some business.
No doubt this is stress a mother-to-be doesn't need. That said, Kiffin is the son of a coach. He should understand as well as anyone how that game is played, how with greater reward comes a greater risk of personal upheaval. Davis is the guy who fired Mike White on Christmas Eve. If Kiffin didn't know that, he should have.
Nothing about his Raiders experience should have surprised him. He knew any number of people — from his father, Monte, Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator, to Pete Carroll, his old boss at USC and a twice-fired NFL head coach — who could have enlightened him about the, um, unique manner in which Davis operates.
And yet Kiffin has consistently portrayed himself as a victim of an overbearing autocrat. Nice try kid, but no sale.
He's about to get what he's been wishing for, but in a manner he might not have expected. L'affair Hanson has given Davis enough grist for charges of insubordination, breach of contract, maybe even jaywalking and driving with underinflated tires. That may or may not be sufficient grounds to invalidate the balance of Kiffin's contract. Kiffin might want to consult Mike Shanahan on that.
But there's a bigger lesson to be learned here: Never try to scheme a schemer. Especially one with a corner office.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.