Lane Kiffin looks back on having No. 1 pick in NFL Draft, says he didn't think JaMarcus Russell was ready
Before Lane Kiffin entered the world of SEC football, he was an NFL head coach. The late Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, made Kiffin the youngest head coach of the NFL’s modern era by hiring the 31-year-old Kiffin in 2007.
As most football fans know, when it comes to the draft, head coaches have input, but the picks are ultimately decided by the front office. Oakland had the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Kiffin, still days away from his 32nd birthday, offered his thoughts on who the Raiders should select, but Davis had other plans. It turns out Davis should have listened to his head coach.
Kiffin recently recounted to Dan LeBatard that he wanted to draft Calvin Johnson, but Davis was set on drafting former LSU QB JaMarcus Russell.
“This is nothing against JaMarcus,” Kiffin said. “It was midnight the night before the draft. I said, ‘We’re going to pay this guy $63 million and he’s not ready for it.’ I said I wouldn’t be ready for it at 21. He’s not ready for that and hasn’t played very much. And Mr. Davis is obsessed with the Sugar Bowl game when he beat Notre Dame. He watched that game on TV so he was just obsessed with that.”
While Russell’s Sugar Bowl game was one for the ages, it did not turn out to be a preview of his professional career. Russell is now considered one of the biggest No. 1 busts in NFL history.
“Calvin Johnson was there. I said, Calvin Johnson is the best receiver I’ve ever seen, ever, work out in my life. This guy is going to be one of the best ever. But he was just set in his mind, and obviously it was his franchise, so that’s the direction we went,” Kiffin said.
From an SEC perspective, it’s fun to wonder what might have been if Davis had listened to Kiffin. If the Raiders draft Johnson instead of Russell, Kiffin may have lasted longer in Oakland instead of going to Tennessee (and, later, USC, Alabama, FAU and Ole Miss).