ESPN reported this morning that Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will be fired at the end of the week, and that he’ll make an immediate move to the New York Jets.
Ryan, however, appears ready to land on his feet. According to New York-area reports, New York Jets defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is expected to lose his job. And the Tribune reported that according to sources, Ryan will succeed Sutton in New York.
I had heard that his removal was something the Raiders were going to be debating during the off-season, but I don’t think I actually believed it would happen. I know Ryan failed for two seasons to build a defense with the capabilities to stop the run, but he also brought defense back to the Raiders that us fans haven’t seen since Howie Long played. The Raiders d-line lacks size at the defensive tackle position that might have altered the entire defenses season, but Ryan doesn’t help things by not making any individuals accountable.
It’s easy to see why Ryan engenders such loyalty among his players. On the infrequent occasions he does meet with the media, Ryan acts as size XXX flak jacket, taking all criticism and refusing to blame any player in public.
I’m not sure if pointing fingers is something that would’ve made me respect him more, mainly because his players played hard for him every game, and wanted to play hard for him every game. The defense has been one of the few bright spots at times, and probably because Ryan has been around longer than any other coach on the staff, surviving the firings of two head coaches. He had gain respect from players mostly because he was the guy that drafted them. Each of the Raiders last three head coaches, including the current, was hired to control the offense and to leave Ryan to build the defense.
“There’s always the fear of the uncertain and the fear of the unknown with a new guy in place,’’ Asomugha said. “I think we’re pretty comfortable with what’s going on right now.’’
“It’s tough. Rob-O is our guy,’’ safety Huff said. “Rob-O brought me here. I love playing for him. So any time you hear all this stuff, when you don’t know who is going to be here next year and all that, you feel bad for him because he’s a great defensive coordinator and a great guy. Hopefully we can play well for him this week.’’
Inside Bay Area
There is a rumor that could make this entire transition a lot easier. The three coaching staffs prior to Kiffin’s regime (Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell) were each taken apart before a successor was named. But the addition of Tampa Bay Bucs D-coordinator, and father of Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin, Monte Kiffin, might premeditate the removal of Rob Ryan.
Why is this a great move? One word: speed. The Tampa-2 (Cover-2) defense that Papa K runs would be the perfect fit for a secondary littered with 4.2 40 speed. The Raiders-D under Ryan only ran zone schemes about 20% of the time, giving the Raiders defensive backs more of a chance at man-to-man coverage. At first glance it seems like a good decision for guys who run faster than 90% of the receivers in the league, but I don’t think it’s been the best decision. Papa K’s scheme will show opposing quarterbacks throwing lanes that don’t exist.
Imagine Peyton Manning looking down field: he sees Dallas Clark about to break his route 5 yards from the line of scrimmage and into what looks like an opening right down the middle of the field. The thing is: Michael Huff’s playing in zone, not manned up at the line with Clark, he’s back behind the Kirk Morrison, spying on Manning until Clark makes his break into Huff’s area of the zone-D. But this is where the Raiders separate themselves from a team like the Bucs (very little elite speed, just smart players); Huff’s 4.24 speed finally makes an impact on his career as he jumps the route, intercepting the pass.
Now Papa K’s cover-2 does take great football instincts, but that’s where it gets real. Being a great athlete and a great football player are two totally different things, and in the past, the Raiders have failed to draft the best football player available and instead drafted the best available athlete. Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff (Thorpe award winner, for best DB in the nation) were both great football players in college, while Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt (track star at the University of Houston) were great athletes. Al Davis struggles to let go of great athletes (James Jett), but a scheme like Kiffin’s would force out any player that doesn’t have the right intelligence, no matter how athletic they are.
Here are a few obstacles that Carl Stewart from Inside Bay Area found, and one good one, Monte Kiffin’s a free-agent at the end of the Buccaneers season:
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