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Bill Belichick: Al Davis is no copycat but instead one ‘great mind’

09.30.11 at 4:52 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The National Football League is often called a league of copycats.

Bill Belichick recognizes this. But the Patriots coach says Raiders longtime owner Al Davis is no copycat. As a matter of fact, he is his own man.

He reminded everyone of that on Friday, when asked about the mark Davis has left on the game.

Belichick is a historian of the game, someone who has smartly taken things from other great coaches and coordinators in the past and adapted. What mark did Davis leave on him, defensively, when you look back at Raiders teams from the ‘€˜60s and ‘€˜70s?

“Well, you look at the same thing today, there’€™s not a lot of difference,” Belichick said Friday. “He’€™s really run the defense and to a large extent the kicking game out there for the ‘€˜60s, ‘€˜70s, 80′€™s, 90′€™s ‘€“ 40 years, maybe more than that, I don’€™t know. But he’€™s, again they have their style of play, they have their way of doing things. As much as you can say this is a copycat league and things like that, you can’€™t really say that about them because they’€™ve done the same thing now for decades defensively and to a certain extent, offensively.”

Before becoming one of the most iconic owner in all of sports, Davis established himself as one of the great defensive minds in the game. Yes, Al Davis, the defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders.

“Through the course of my career, I’€™ve had the opportunity, just as luck would have it really, that some people that I was very close to in coaching were in that organization. In talking football, I feel like I know a lot about what they do, how they do it, again through third parties now, not directly, but through third parties. It makes a lot of sense.”

With players like Ted Hendricks, Mike HaynesLester Hayes, Lyle Alzado and of course, Jack Tatum, Davis built a defensive team around two concepts – speed and intimidation. Remember, Davis coined the expression, “the quarterback must go down and he must go down hard.”

“They definitely have a plan,” Belichick said. “I think I understand basically what they’€™re trying to do and how they’€™re trying to do it. I think it’€™s consistent and I’€™ve taken a lot from that. The personnel side of it, the way they look at certain things in the game and what their priorities are. I definitely have tried to look at those and incorporate some of them into what we do. We do things a little bit differently than they do, but that’€™s okay. You just want it to be consistent and you want it to finish at the end game ‘€“ where you want to be. That’€™s what everybody is trying to do. It’€™s well thought-out. I don’€™t think it’€™s a trial-and-error system. It’€™s a proven system, they believe in it and they’€™re going to follow it.”

As our Chris Price pointed out earlier in the week, it was Davis who interviewed Belichick for the Raiders head coaching job in 1998. But what Belichick indicated on Friday, in a very frank and direct admission, he really never had a chance there. Why? Because Davis was the lead defensive guy and he was looking for an offensive mind.

“I thought it was good,” Belichick said. “It was good. It was good experience for me. I went out there after the ‘€™98 season. We had a good couple days of conversation. I told him when I got out there ‘€“ it really seemed like a waste of time because I felt pretty certain that he wouldn’€™t hire a defensive coach, because he hasn’€™t since Eddie Erdelatz in [1960]. It’€™s a parade of offensive coaches out there. He’€™s really a defensive coordinator and has been. You know, it was good because we talked a lot about football and he’€™s very, very knowledgeable about the game, personnel, schemes, adjustments and so forth. He was asking a lot of questions about what we did defensively. You kind of don’€™t want to give too much information there because you know, he’€™s running the defense. He wasn’€™t really too interested in talking about offensive football ‘€“ a little bit.”

Well before he became the butt of jokes for radio talk-show hosts and columnists around the country, he made a name for himself as one of the most important people in the game. His first coaching experience in professional football came as the offensive end coach of the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers from 1960 to 1962.

Then, after the ’62 season, Raiders general partner F. Wayne Valley hired Davis as head coach and general manager. At just 33, Davis was the youngest person in professional football history to hold the positions.

“He’€™s a great mind,” Belichick said. “It was unlike any other interview I’€™ve ever had with an owner because he was so in-depth, his interview was so in-depth really about football, about ‘€˜Xs’€™ and ‘€˜Os’€™ and strategy and use of personnel and acquisition of ‘€“ all the things really that a coach would talk about, that’€™s really what he talked about. That made it pretty unique. But he hired a good coach, [Jon] Gruden. Which is again, in all honesty, the way that I expected it to go because that’€™s been all the Oakland coaches from Art Shell to Mike White, Joe Bugel, [Mike] Shanahan, you know right down the line, Lane Kiffin, they’€™re all offensive coaches. They have their own way of doing things which is interesting but certainly well thought-out and well planned. I’€™m not saying that in a negative way at all, they just have their own of doing it ‘€“ they’€™ve had a lot of success. It was a great experience for me to have those couple days of conversations with him and also some other members of his organization relative, again, to the overall way of doing things.”

Read More: Al Davis, Bill Belichick, Jack Tatum, Lester Hayes
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