The Oakland Raiders are 5-9 entering Saturday's game on Christmas Day at Kansas City with two games remaining. Oakland was 4-12 last season. Since Al Davis has been the owner, three head coaches have had double-digit loss seasons (Tom Flores, 1987; Joe Bugel, 1997; Bill Callahan, 2003). None of them survived. Flores had the most amicable parting. The 1997 team quit on Bugel and the 2003 team revolted against Callahan.
The Raiders would have to win their last two games to avoid a double-digit loss season. If Oakland loses one or both, will first-year head coach Norv Turner be fortunate enough to keep his job after a double-digit loss season, unlike Flores, Bugel and Callahan? The feeling among players in the locker-room is that Turner deserves another shot. Even though a one-win improvement seems virtually negligible, the players view the 2004 season much more enjoyable. Last season, the Raiders were ravaged with injuries and had a season of players and coaches openly feuding with one another.
"We don't have to fight the coaches anymore," Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter said. "It's a more relaxed atmosphere. There's no getting in the media and calling us a stupid team even when we got out and make stupid mistakes. He's giving us a chance to be ourselves."
Porter was referring to Callahan's statement in a postgame press conference last November and the player mutiny. After the Raiders lost 22-8, Callahan referred to the Raiders as "the dumbest team in America."
"I tell you what, man. It's a whole lot better of a situation than we were in last year," Oakland punter Shane Lechler said. "We had a lot of differences; a lot of people's opinions were being expressed. The whole deal with Callahan kind of went down. It was a sour deal. It was a bad deal. It was hard to come to work. It was a bad situation to be in last year. With Norv, the camaraderie of the football team has been great. It's been good to be around."
As for why the camaraderie is better, Lechler added, "I think it's the way he (Turner) treats and respects everyone on the football team the same. There's nobody being put on a pedestal where he has leeway to do this but this guy, if he messes up once he's out of here. He really loves the game of football. I'm not saying Bill didn't love the game but Norv really loves the game. He's got a passion for the game."
Callahan is now the head coach of the University of Nebraska, where he has his own set of problems. The Cornhuskers went 5-6 last season, their first losing season in 44 years and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in 35 seasons. Callahan is trying to transform Nebraska from being an option team to the West Coast Offense. Despite the fact that Callahan and his staff have compiled a highly touted recruiting class, one must wonder how much longer Nebraska fans will be patient.
Raiders center Adam Treu is a Nebraska alum and recommended Callahan for the job after the Cornhuskers fired Frank Solich. Treu believes that the Raiders situation is better in 2004 but added that it's hard to overlook a losing record.
"He (Turner) expects us to act and do the right things," Treu said. "I think every coach does it. Some coaches are more verbal about it. I know that certain individuals might get along better. We had pretty good togetherness last year aside from a couple of people. We have five wins. We still have a losing record. It doesn't feel great."
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com