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Just The Sports: Correlation Not Causation

Just The Sports

Friday, February 02, 2007

Correlation Not Causation

In hiring former USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to be the head coach of the Raiders, Al Davis was no doubt trying to recapture the success of other Raiders head coaches who were hired in their early to mid-thirties, including and limited to John Madden and Jon Gruden. Current Denver Broncos head coach is usually mentioned with these two coaches, but he had a less than stellar 8-20 record with the Oakland Raiders. Madden and Gruden amassed records of 112-39-7 and 40-28, respectively, so you can understand why Shanahan does not deserve inclusion into that fraternity.

Although it remains to be seen how well Kiffin will do as an NFL head coach, hiring him because he is a sort of clone for what Jon Gruden was at the time of his hiring by Al Davis shows a flawed logic at best. Attributing all of the Raiders' success to Jon Gruden is also erroneous. Jon Gruden was not a success at the Raiders helm because he had a brilliant offensive mind or the fact his youth may have allowed him to relate better to the players, but because he had a good quarterback named Rich Gannon leading the offense. In some ways, Gruden was lucky to get some of the performances he did out of Gannon.

Gannon, for his entire NFL career, completed 60.2% of his passes. During the three seasons he was the starting quarterback for Gruden's teams, which represented 75% of the seasons Gruden was the Raiders head coach, Gannon improved his regular season completion percentage every year from 59.0% to 60.0% to 65.8%. Gannon improved again in the year after Gruden left, completing 67.6% of his passes in the regular season before injury and attrition ended his usefulness as an NFL starting quarterback.

The fact the Raiders went to the Super Bowl the year after Gruden left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is proof that they did not lose anything great when Gruden stopped being the head coach. What was actually the first of many nails that would be driven into the Raiders' coffin was the loss of a quality starting quarterback. The main differences between the Raiders offense under-Gruden and post-Gruden are the completion percentages of the quarterbacks (59.9% to 57.6%) and yards per pass attempt (7.1 to 6.6). The running game has shown no ill effects since Gruden's departure.

Therefore, what the Raiders have failed to do is not replacing perceived incompetent head coaches. Instead, they have failed to replace Rich Gannon since he played his last full regular season in 2002, trying foolishly to do so with Rick Mirer, Kerry Collins, and now Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter.

Brooks, for all of his athletic ability, is a horribly ineffective and inaccurate quarterback. Walter, though he has yet play in more than twelve games, is not the answer either, as he only completed around 55% of his passes at Arizona State. No amount of coaching, by one young or old, is likely to make him a suitable starting quarterback.

Though it is far easier to hire a new coach than it is to find a good starting quarterback, rectifying their quarterback situation should be the first order of business for the Raiders right ahead of improving the offensive line. And by rectifying their quarterback situation, I do not mean drafting JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn.



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