|What might have been: Bill Belichick, Oakland Raider?||09.27.11 at 7:50 pm ET|
Bill Belichick and Al Davis, together with the Raiders? The mind reels at the possibilities.
After being let go by the Browns following the 1995 season and prior to being named the head coach of the Patriots in January 2000, Belichick spent time working as an assistant with the Jets and Patriots. But it that same span, he also had interviews with the Cardinals and Raiders for their top jobs. And while he was one of six finalists for the Arizona job in 1990 that ended up going to Joe Bugel, the courtship from the Raiders appeared to run deeper.
Oakland actually took two runs at Belichick as a head coach in the 1990s. The first time came in early 1997 as the Patriots were in the midst of a Super Bowl run. Belichick was an assistant on that New England team — he was an assistant head coach and defensive backs coach — but was coveted by a handful of teams who were looking to fill coaching vacancies. Davis and the Raiders were forced to wait on Belichick — NFL rules at the time prohibited a team from even expressing interest in a coach still involved in the postseason. (That rule has since changed.) But Belichick finally get a chance to sit down with the legendary Oakland owner after New England’s season ended.
“It was a pretty interesting interview to be talking X’s and O’s with an owner,” Belichick told reporters in 2008 prior to the last regular meeting between the Patriots and Oakland. “Al’s had six decades in the NFL, so he has as much history and knowledge about the game, what he wants, and what’s going on in the game during that time as anybody. We talked a lot about strategic football, X’s and O’s, as well as overall organizational stuff, and personnel and philosophy.
“It was great to sit down and talk with him,” Belichick added. “We shared some views and conversations on different aspects of technical football. It wasn’t a big social interview. It was much more detailed and specific to football.”
The Raiders went with Bugel, but came calling again in 1998 after they fired him after just one season (this story says Belichick’s two-part interview concluded on Jan. 14, 1998). As the process continued, Belichick’s name was leaked one of three finalists, a group that included Jon Gruden and Art Shell. According to reports, Raiders CEO Amy Trask pushed for Oakland to hire Belichick, but Davis ended up going to Gruden, who spent four seasons in Oakland. Meanwhile, Belichick would spend three seasons as an assistant with the Jets before eventually taking the head coach job with the Patriots in January 2000.
It’s fun to speculate about what might have happened to the Raiders’ franchise if Belichick had landed by the Bay: Would Davis have yielded personnel decisions to Belichick? Could Belichick have delivered the same sort of dynasty with Oakland that he helped create in New England? And what would have happened to the Patriots?
Both sides made their decisions, but those conversations between Belichick and Davis may have paved the way for a working relationship that continues to this day — the Patriots and Raiders are frequent trade partners, including blockbuster deals over the years between the two teams that have seen stars like Randy Moss and Richard Seymour swap New England for Oakland and vice versa.
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