Cable’s future uncertain despite Raiders progress
ALAMEDA – The Oakland Raiders ended a run of seven straight losing seasons, dominated their division and rediscovered the big-play offense that had been so lacking in recent years.
Whether all of that is enough to help coach Tom Cable keep his job for another season is the first major question owner Al Davis must answer heading into an eighth straight offseason that begins before the playoffs start.
Oakland (8-8) ended the season with a couple of notable accomplishments. By winning the season finale 31-10 at playoff-bound Kansas City, the Raiders avoided an eighth straight losing season and completed a perfect run through the AFC West, sweeping division rivals Kansas City, San Diego and Denver.
That was the first time the Raiders had a perfect record in the division since their Super Bowl season in 1976 and the first time since the 1970 merger that a team won all its division games and did not make the playoffs.
“We certainly got this thing back on its feet and we’re very proud of that,” Cable said Monday. “You can’t call us losers anymore, at least from this point forward. That’s a huge accomplishment for this team, particularly for the guys who have been around here for a number of years, and the organization itself. It gives everybody, the city of Oakland, everybody in football, something to look forward to as we move forward.”
Whether Cable will be part of that moving forward will be determined in the next couple of weeks. He has a 17-27 record since taking over as interim coach from Lane Kiffin in 2008 and has earned the admiration of his players, who credit him for a culture change around the team.
Cable got a new contract after his interim season that expires in two weeks, meaning the Raiders must decide whether to exercise the two-year option on his deal or allow him to leave. The team must notify Cable by Jan. 17 whether it plans to exercise the options for 2011 and ’12 at $2.5 million per season.
If Davis chooses to pass on the option, he will begin the search for the team’s seventh head coach since the 2001 season. With 44 games as coach, Cable has lasted longer than anyone in that position since Jon Gruden spent four years as head coach before leaving for Tampa Bay.
Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler, who has played for six coaches since joining the Raiders in 2000, said it would be a shame if Cable is not back.
“I seriously believe that it would set us back again,” Lechler said. “I can’t go through another head coach. I just can’t. I’ve been through too many of them. And they all come in here and say the same thing, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to turn this.’ No, you’re not. I’d rather be with the guy that’s here right now, and we’ll roll with him.”
But once again Oakland goes into the offseason with uncertainty at head coach. Since keeping Norv Turner following the 2004 season, there have been questions every offseason about whether the head coach would return. Turner was fired following the 2005 season and Art Shell was fired a year later. The tension between Kiffin and Davis led to talk about whether Kiffin would resign after his first season in 2007.
The Raiders interviewed candidates after the 2008 season before deciding to stick with Cable and there were weeks of uncertainty a year ago about whether Cable would stay. ESPN and NFL Network are reporting that it’s “unlikely” Cable will return in 2011, although there were similar reports a year ago when Cable stayed.
“I’d like for it to just go away and have Al and I sit down and discuss it, which we will,” Cable said. “I know what we’ve done. I think everybody else who knows football knows what we’ve done. Whoever says it or writes it probably doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.”
One of the leading contenders would figure to be offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was brought in by Davis a year ago to take over the play-calling duties from Cable.
The improvement on offense has been stark, with much of it owed to the decision to release former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell in the offseason and acquire Jason Campbell.
Led by a breakout season from running back Darren McFadden and big plays from rookie receiver Jacoby Ford, the Raiders finished sixth in the league in scoring with 410 points. That more than doubled last year’s scoring total and was the sixth-most points scored in a season in franchise history.
“You got to start somewhere, we feel like this is a great starting point for us,” Campbell said. “We’re going in the right direction. We didn’t come here to be 8-8, to go undefeated in the division. We came here to go undefeated in the division and go to the playoffs. There are still a lot of goals to shoot for in the upcoming season.”