The Oakland Raiders enter Sunday night's road game against the Denver Broncos with a 3-7 record, the same that they had last season after 10 games. One reporter in a group of several asked Raiders running back Tyrone Wheatley Wednesday if this season is better than 2003 despite the record being the same.
"It's a very hard question," Wheatley answered. "It's one I don't carry around in my thought process."
For good reason, Oakland finished last season 4-12. It was a year full of injuries, off-the-field troubles and ugly feuding between players and coaches. So far, the third item is the only one missing from last season.
"You have to understand last year was a totally different situation," Wheatley said. "You know, totally different situation. Of course, it's going to be a different vibe. Guys are a little happier. The losses are the only thing that makes the locker-room as gloomy as it is."
The Raiders have six games remaining (Kansas City twice, Tennessee, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Denver) and would have to win out to even have a puncher's chance at qualifying for the postseason. Those teams have a combined 31-29 record that is somewhat misleading based on the fact that Kansas City is 3-7 just like Oakland. Denver and Atlanta lead their respective divisions while Jacksonville is 6-4. Tennessee is 4-6 but if quarterback Steve McNair is healthy, that game will be anything but easy. Beating Kansas City once is possible and maybe Tennessee.
The NFL epitomizes the idea of "you never know" but barring something unforeseen, Oakland appears headed for a second-straight double-digit loss season. The Raiders are facing their worst two-year stretch since Al Davis came aboard in 1963. Oakland was 2-12 and 1-13 in 1961 and 1962 respectively.
The question begs, are we in for another offseason overhaul? That question is being pondered more as the season continues. Wheatley was the latest to offer his take.
"I'm not at that point yet," Wheatley said. "I still have six games left. The powers that be upstairs don't send me a memo everyday saying this is what's going to happen so why should I worry about that?"
Don't bet against another offseason purge happening.
In fact, that purge could include another head coach for the sixth time since the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995.
One can reason that Norv Turner, who replaced Bill Callahan in January, should remain as the head coach his system is such a drastic change over the one that Jon Gruden and later Callahan orchestrated. One can also argue that when a team changes as drastically as Oakland did it will take time to jell. Perhaps a lot had to go right for the Raiders to go from 4-12 to say 10-6. On the other hand, 7-9 or 8-8 should have been the minimum expectation.
In addition, the defense Willie Shaw and later Chuck Bresnahan established was thrown out the window. However, the results have not been overwhelmingly better under Rob Ryan.
To be fair, Turner probably might deserve another shot but it's not a two-inch putt that he'll get it. Under Davis, three coaches have had double-digit loss seasons and none survived after the season. Joe Bugel (1997) and Callahan (2003) were sent on their way after 4-12 seasons. Tom Flores did not last after a 5-10 campaign in 1987 but that parting of ways did not have the ugliness of Bugel and Callahan. Flores is a color commentator for Raiders radio broadcasts.
Maybe Turner deserves another shot but Davis has never been one to preach patience. This might be the time to make an exception.
If the Raiders and Turner part ways, there will be plenty of candidates. After all, there's always a young, up-and-coming coordinator waiting for a chance to be a head coach. The question is, do they want to come to the Bay Area, which used to be a market players and coaches viewed as a destination place? Now, they run from the Bay Area and not to it. Keep in mind, it's open for discussion which Bay Area NFL franchise is in worse shape – the Raiders or the San Francisco 49ers?
That is just one example of a credible coach spurning the Raiders. Green might not be Vince Lombardi but he is at worst, a solid coach. One thing in Turner's favor is that his offensive philosophy is on the same page with Davis' beliefs – power football combined with the vertical passing attack. Those beliefs are a departure of the West Coast Offense of Gruden and Callahan.
Oakland might not have the players-coaches feud of last year but don't bet against new ones of both forthcoming next season.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org