Few fans in Oakland think things will get better now that Joe Bugel is gone. They know that until Al Davis lets his coach and front office operate more independently, the problems will continue.
In fact, the Raiders already are acting strangely in their quest for a new coach.
Before Bugel was fired, the Raiders asked permission of the New York Jets to interview Bill Belichick, the former Cleveland coach who is now Bill Parcells’ designated successor and most important aide.
The Jets said yes, but Belichick said no - as a member of the coaches’ fraternity, he declined to interview for a job that Bugel still officially held.
Then they called the Vikings to inquire about the availability of Dennis Green, who has had his differences with some of the team’s owners and has mentioned to friends that he wouldn’t mind going to Oakland.
Bruce Allen, Davis’ right-hand man for football matters, talked to Roger Headrick, the Vikings’ president and one of Green’s supporters.
“It was a very strange inquiry,” Headrick said. “All Allen wanted to know was if Dennis was under contract for 1998. I said, ‘Yes, he is.’ In effect, they were asking me if I was going to fire him.”
Green, who could get out of the last year of his contract for a promotion such as coach-general manager, will probably stay, particularly since he’d never call the shots in Oakland. Headrick says Green will be back and his opponents on the 10-member board were mollified that he finally won a playoff game, the 23-22 comeback win over the Giants two weeks ago.
So where does Oakland go?
According to several sources, Davis is interested in Art Shell, who was his coach from 1989-94, going 56-41, better than any of his successors. Shell is now Atlanta’s offensive line coach.
They also want to talk to Jon Gruden, Philadelphia’s young offensive coordinator, who wants to leave the Eagles - he’s got several offers for a coordinator’s job.
But Gruden, who at 34 is considered a sure bet to be a head coach, may want to bide his time. Shell at least knows what he’s walking into - Davis always has the last word.
Young leaves a legacy
When agent Leigh Steinberg brought a young quarterback to Miami to work out a contract in 1978, George Young was in his final year as personnel director for the Dolphins. Young quickly showed them why he was unique in football.
“George took us on a tour of the city and knew everything even though he was from Baltimore,” Steinberg recalls. “He even got into a discussion on the history of Cuban Jews. I never knew anyone who knew so much about so much.”
That was the essence of George Young, who retired Thursday as New York Giants general manager after 18 years, two Super Bowls and a rebuilding job this year that put the Giants back at the top of the NFC East. In a game where coaches and executives often seem stamped out of the same mold, he is unique - much like Marv Levy, who retired last week as Buffalo’s coach.
Young, 67, is a kindly, thoughtful curmudgeon, an ex-history teacher who never got a phone call he didn’t return - often with a snarling “what the hell do you want?”
What many of them wanted was advice.
“Over the 25 years I’ve known him, George Young has had the strongest single vision of anyone involved with the NFL,” says Steinberg, with whom Young has had his share of contract battles.
“He has had more impact and more strongly articulated opinions on the spirit of the game, and a network of friendships at every level up to owner. I’d call him the NFL’s ‘patron saint.’ ” Through all that, he always had a vision of what the game was supposed to be, both at the team level and in the league, where he served as chairman of the competition committee and where he’ll work now overseeing a variety of football matters.
He was, for example, the most steadfast opponent of instant replay, even when - after replay was abolished - there were calls against his team that could have been reversed. “They even out,” he said.
He also stuck to the methods he used to build two Super Bowl winners, eschewing high-priced free agents for draft choices, then watching the team slide toward the bottom.
As many of those picks, including Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead, Jason Sehorn and Charles Way, blossomed this year and the Giants went from last to first in the NFC East, he knew he could retire.
“When George’s career is evaluated, the first thing that will be discussed is his wisdom,” says Don Shula, who gave Young his first NFL job with the Baltimore Colts in 1968. “You can’t find a more competent or brighter guy.”