At 31 years of age, Lane Kiffin became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, making him the youngest head coach in NFL history at the time. But the player selected No. 1 overall in the 2007 Draft that would define his brief tenure in Oakland was JaMarcus Russell, who is widely considered one of the biggest busts in NFL history. With time to reflect on his time in the NFL, Kiffin has identified who he would have picked if he had been given the chance.
In an interview on Wednesday's edition of The Dan LeBatard Show, Kiffin revealed that he told then-owner Al Davis that he felt drafting Russell would be a mistake. He felt at the time that Davis was too enamored with the big-armed Russell from his legendary win for LSU over Notre Dame at the Sugar Bowl.
Kiffin said that he preferred Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. But the decision was ultimately Davis' and not Kiffin's to make.
Russell was taken by the Raiders, and Johnson would go No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions.
“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.”
Hindsight is 20/20, but Kiffin was ultimately right to be nervous about Russell. The No. 1 overall pick started just one game as a rookie as the team went 4-12.
Johnson, on the other hand, went on to become one of the most dominant wide receivers in the league.
The following year, the Raiders started out 1-3, and Kiffin was fired during the bye week.
Russell would go 5-10 as a starter that year but would play just 12 games in 2009 before being released. He never played another down in the NFL.
Despite the firing, Kiffin would have little trouble finding work at high-profile jobs afterwards. His next two jobs were as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers and USC Trojans, during which he never had a losing season before being fired from USC in 2013.
Kiffin then joined up with Nick Saban's staff in 2014, and spent three years in Alabama. He was hired as head coach of FAU from 2017 to 2019, winning two Conference USA titles in the process.