Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was caught off-guard by a claim by owner Al Davis earlier this week that former head coach Lane Kiffin was against drafting Russell last year.
Russell, the first overall pick in 2007, felt he had a strong relationship with Kiffin and said the two often joked with one another. They worked together closely during the offseason and into training camp, and would routinely exchange text messages after games.
But Davis, the Raiders' 79-year-old owner, accused Kiffin of not wanting to draft Russell, a charge Russell found surprising.
"It just kind of came out of nowhere," Russell said Thursday. "I really don't think myself or coach Kiffin or anybody else were looking for that to come out that way."
Davis made the claim during a lengthy news conference Tuesday when the Raiders announced the firing of Kiffin "for cause," and promoted his replacement, offensive line coach Tom Cable.
In his first meeting with reporters in more than a year, Davis said the decision to fire Kiffin was based more on the former coach's criticisms of the franchise than it was Oakland's 1-3 record. Davis also questioned some of Kiffin's coaching decisions and claimed Kiffin objected to drafting Russell.
"Every day it was different, that's the thing," Davis said. "He didn't want Russell. At one time he wanted Brady Quinn. At one time he wanted Calvin Johnson. At one time (he wanted) to trade (the pick)."
Oakland used the first pick on Russell, who missed offseason workouts and training camp during his rookie season while locked in contract negotiations with the team. He eventually signed a $61 million contract, but didn't play until late in the season and started the finale.
Russell was given the starting job this past offseason and worked with Kiffin, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo trying to get up to speed with the offensive playbook.
The relationship between Russell and Kiffin seemed strong enough. At one point in the offseason Kiffin telephoned Russell to give the young quarterback a hard time when reports circulated that Russell's weight had ballooned to 300 pounds.
Through it all, Russell saw no indication from Kiffin that he wasn't wanted.
"Not at all," Russell said. "We always talked, joked around. Other than that, it wasn't anything like that."
Russell last received a text message from Kiffin on Tuesday, shortly after the Raiders announced their coaching change. He is still unsure which side to believe.
"I don't know, I really don't," Russell said. "It really doesn't matter right now. It was said. Can't do anything about it. It's done. You just move on. Like I said, if it was to be true, it would just give me fuel to keep on going."
Russell did not watch the televised news conference announcing Kiffin's firing and acknowledged he was disappointed by the move. He also defended Kiffin's decision to bring him along slowly as a quarterback, a move that has been criticized as the Raiders got off to a slow start this year.
"Hey, with the mistakes I made in the Jacksonville game (last season), if I had gotten out there early, at the beginning of the season, things would have been flying a little faster for me and who's to say, I might have did a lot worse," Russell said. "I appreciate his time sitting me down. I learned a lot from it, and once I got out there, everything kind of slowed down for me.
"I appreciate the opportunity he gave me to play in the National Football League. I wish for him to go out and get him a job, because he's a good guy, a good coach. I don't look for him to sit around long; he should be able to get a job somewhere."
The Raiders have a bye this week and don't play again until a road game at New Orleans on Oct. 12. That gives Cable and Oakland's players a little time to adjust to one another.
"He's an offensive line coach, and with the running game that we have, I'm pretty sure he likes that," Russell said. "But he did say we are going to try and be pretty equal as far as running and throwing the ball. The first day we came in, it was sort of like a shock when we went out to practice, coach Kiffin not being there. But I'm pretty sure guys will react to Coach Cable, since he's been around for a while. It's not hard to get used to a new guy."