Sources indicate Ryan was told before the Raiders' final game, against San Diego on Sunday, that he would not be returning in 2008 and had already secured his next place of employment, hardly a surprise but still somewhat remarkable in that just 12 months ago, Ryan received more than just cursory consideration for the head job Kiffin got.
The question is, where now with a defense virtually everyone overestimated in addition to Kiffin? One thing is safe to say about 2008: You will not see 11 returning starters as you did in 2007, because if the defense had played up to the head coach's perception of them, the Raiders might have quadrupled their win total instead of merely doubling it. Kiffin will leave nothing to such chance next year.
"We've got to look at everything," hefrom Sports 1
said. "And it really was disappointing, because I really felt that the defense was gonna be our strength. I never told the offense that, but what I felt was we were going to play great defense. There had been a lot of improvement from two years ago to last year on defense, so I thought we'd continue to build that with returning 11 guys.
Kiffin has promised he will fix a lot of things during the offseason, but fixing the defense has to be his No.1 priority if he expects a quantum leap in the win-loss column. He has to find the right coordinator, use the Raiders' top pick on a step-in starter up front and then sell a revamped scheme to the man upstairs, Al Davis.
There has been considerable speculation that Kiffin will make every effort to hire his father, Monte Kiffin, as the team's next defensive coordinator. It makes perfect sense. If you're an offensive head coach and want to be on the same wavelength with your defense, who better to add to the staff than your dad?
While the elder Kiffin's contract is up in Tampa Bay, where he has spent 11 seasons as one of the league's elite defensive minds, bringing him to Oakland has a few potential obstacles. The first would be salary. Kiffin makes more than his son, about $1.5 million per season. Would Davis consent to paying that (uh, no), or would a man who'll turn 68 in February concede a pay cut for a final-fling chance to coach with his son?
Even more problematic would be the wholesale change in style the Raiders would undertake under Monte Kiffin. Davis believes in man defense to his core, while Kiffin is a strict zone specialist. With four NFL wins to his credit, can young Lane sell his boss on scrapping his long-held ideology about defensive play?
The answer will likely come in how much Davis truly believes the younger Kiffin is on to something in terms of turning around the Raiders. Although Al is keeping a very low profile these days, chances are he does. Kiffin did a reasonably good job this year for someone so lean on experience. He was better than the last three guys, that's for sure, and shows tremendous potential to improve markedly after a year on the job.
Whether the father-son scenario takes root and we'll likely know quickly after the Bucs' final playoff game Kiffin at least should be allowed to interview and hire his own defensive coordinator, along with any other members of the defensive staff that need to be appointed. The young coach seems intent on staying in Oakland, for the time being anyway, and giving him the freedom to choose his entire staff would further cement his long-term tenure here.
But an overhauled coaching approach is only part of the equation on defense. Kiffin understands there must be a talent upgrade as well. Of the 11 starters from the past two seasons, only a half-dozen should feel secure cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, ends Derrick Burgess and Jay Richardson, linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard, and safety Michael Huff, whom Kiffin hinted may be moving from strong to free.
Everyone else will be playing for future employment if they make it that far. It's fairly clear that Warren Sapp has played his last game as a Raider if not his final football game, period. So that's one spot that's definitely open, and one where the Raiders will likely begin their talent rebuild.
More than any other position, Oakland needs a run-stuffing down lineman, and while LSU's dynamic optimum fit Glenn Dorsey already may be gone when the Raiders pick at No. 3 or No. 4, it's a good year for defensive linemen. USC's Sedrick Ellis may be close to Dorsey in all-around ability, and Howie Long's son Chris will also be a top pick in the 2008 draft.
In short, a day after the end of the Raiders' 2007 season, speculation about 2008 is already hot and heavy. Attacking and fixing the defensive issues is the fastest and surest way to make it a happier new year.
Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.