TOM CABLE WAS a solitary figure Sunday as the final seconds of the Raiders' 2010 season committed themselves to posterity. He was alone on a crowded sideline, a man and his multi-colored play chart.
It was about as lifeless a scene as you could imagine. The Raiders were 21-13 losers to the Baltimore Ravens. The Coliseum stands were almost empty. Scores of seagulls descended to apply their special signature to the afternoon.
Because Cable is only human, a part of him had to be thinking, "So this is how it ends." But in the short time it took him to congratulate Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and repair to the Oakland locker room, that Cable was nowhere to be found.
First he addressed his players, telling them, according to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, "This is a playoff team and next year we'll be in the playoffs."
Then he addressed the media, where the question of the hour was awaiting him: Does he believe he will be the Raiders coach next season?
"I (do)," he said, "because I see where this team is going and what we've been able to accomplish. Where we are offensively since the Cincinnati game, I think, speaks volumes. Yeah, I'm pretty sure. As sure as I can be."
You want odds? The chances he'll be fired by team managing partner Al Davis are somewhere between "more than likely" and "are you new here?" If it comes to that, it will be hard to summon much indignation on behalf of a coach who led his team to a 9-19 record.
But it says here we'll miss Cable if he doesn't come back, for the following reasons:
Check out his predecessors. Lane Kiffin was duplicitous. Art Shell seemed dumbfounded. Norv Turner appeared to be paralyzed by indecision. Bill Callahan heaped blame upon his players as fast as he could shovel. Joe Bugel was delusional. And Mike White still likes that 1995 team.
Cable seems remarkably authentic by comparison. He's never denied the team's sorry recent history. He acknowledges the Raiders' unique brand of top-down management. He's typically made us read between the lines to find whatever criticism he's had of his players. And anytime he's felt himself getting excessively Pollyannish about his team's potential, he's had the good sense to preface his remark with, "I'm probably the only guy here who thinks this, but "
The reference to the offensive uptick since the Cincinnati game, for example. That happened to be the first game he started a quarterback other than JaMarcus Russell.
Heh, heh, heh.
This isn't to say he's unveiled revolutionary strategy, or that he has unfailingly done the right thing. But when you ask you why he did something, he always has a reason.
Maybe he called a long field goal attempt because he watched Sebastian Janikowski kicking in a certain direction in pregame warm-ups. Sunday he was asked about his use of three-receiver sets.
"We knew (the Ravens) were good on the line of scrimmage," he said. "That's well documented and they've been good for a long time. We thought we could spread them out and it would help run it a little bit. And the matchup we liked was our skill and their secondary."
Sometimes, as with last year's disastrous fake field goal attempt against Kansas City, the answer was as simple as, "We thought it would work." But at least he had a reason he wasn't ashamed to share after the fact.
Cable froze out receiver Javon Walker most of this season. Recall that once upon a time, James Jett started long after he ceased to be productive.
And, of course, he put his job on the line by sitting Russell.
He may pay for that with his job. The hard part will be finding another coach with Cable's aptitude who will actually consider working for Davis.
You want odds? Somewhere between "unlikely" and "Rich Kotite on line 3."
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.