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ALAMEDA

We had arrived at the key moment of Lane Kiffin?s last-ever Monday news conference as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

The key moment was not when someone asked if Kiffin has gotten feedback about where he stands with the organization. That was the same old stuff and Kiffin had the same old answer.

?No I have not heard anything today. It?s the same story as every Monday when you ask me.?

A few minutes later someone asked this.

?How would you characterize your last conversation with Mr. Davis? Did he give you any indication of his feelings for the job you?ve been doing??

Kiffin stared ahead blandly and answered blandly.

?I?m going to kind of stop these questions here and go from here on out that conversations, or lack of conversations with Al, I?m going to keep between Al and I. I just feel we?re going to open up too many things, and those are conversations that I do or do not have with him that should stay between him and I. I apologize for that.?

?You won?t say when the last one was??

?No, sorry.?

Kiffin finally has learned how to answer correctly and maturely. If he knew how to answer all along, he wouldn?t be likely to get fired today. He wouldn?t be a man with a 1-3 record who had the bad sense to shoot off his mouth, a man with no allies that matter. One thing grownups learn in a workplace: Get the right allies.

I am defending Al Davis on this, but please don?t simplify the issue ? if I defend Al, that means I like Al and I?m his apologist. Give me a break. No one has criticized Al Davis more than I.

But I?m talking about what Kiffin owes Davis and never gave him until Monday. Davis hired him, gave a kid college coach no one ever heard of away from the USC campus the job as head man of a real NFL franchise ? you could debate the word ?real.? Kiffin, whose dad is a veteran NFL man, had advisers and knew what he was getting into. He was not Bambi who wandered into the scary dark forest.

If you work for Davis you accept certain conditions. The owner meddles, the owner doesn?t like you if you lose, the owner makes your life miserable or, worse, ignores you, the owner says bad things about you, often through his flunkies, the work atmosphere is bizarre to the max. All of this is known.

If Kiffin disapproved, he should have stayed with the Trojans and celebrated with the undergrads at the L.A. Coliseum and said ?rah-rah? a lot. Instead, he entered the real world but wasn?t mature enough to adapt.

He accepted Davis? paychecks ? he earns more than most of us ? and when you accept the check you owe something in return. You owe that you?re a good coach, and Kiffin hasn?t proved that at all. Even if you hate Davis and want him to be wrong in his dealings with Kiffin, that does not mean Kiffin has demonstrated the ability to build a winner. If Davis doesn?t care for Kiffin?s work, Davis is probably correct.

And Kiffin owed Davis something else ? loyalty. I know this sounds weird, owing loyalty to a disloyal man like Davis ? although Davis is loyal to the go-fers around Raiders headquarters, loyal to people who, for years, have told him what he likes to hear.

The paycheck Davis signed for Kiffin bought the coach?s loyalty, certainly in public. Kiffin violated the agreement, the code, the etiquette, whatever you want to call it. He fought a losing battle against a greater, stronger force ? like a teenager testing his parents by climbing out the window at night and smoking cigarettes on the street corner.

Kiffin ticked off Davis, over-reached himself by griping about Davis, by griping about the quality of backup players, by griping about the defensive coordinator ? all in public. This was a form of vocational suicide, a man trying to get fired, a man wanting his freedom and his paycheck at the same time.

Maybe that would work in other organizations, the owner paying off the disgruntled coach to get rid of him. But Davis is a power guy, a dominate guy. He can?t dominate on the football field but he dominates in his insular, troubled world, and now he has dangled Kiffin for weeks, played with him.

Kiffin finally learned how to be diplomatic, how to say things are private between him and Davis. He learned to grant to Davis what is Davis?.

But it?s entirely too late.

For more on the world of sports, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at 521-5486 or lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.