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Don't Close the Deal Unless You're Sober


More by Ed Fulda
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Al Saunders has been an assistant coach in the NFL for a long time. He has been the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator in Kansas City for the past five years and by anyone's standards has done a great job. The one thing he has not been, however, is a head coach in the NFL other than a brief 39-game stint with the Chargers, nearly 20 years ago. Chiefs President Carl Peterson has looked at Saunders twice for the head coaching spot and both times decided against it. Other teams (including the Raiders) have looked at Saunders for their vacancies and also decided against hiring him. Now the Raiders have come sniffing around again and seem very interested in hiring Saunders to replace Norv Turner. I can accept and appreciate Saunders' desire to be a head coach but why the Raiders? Whether it's ego, blind desire, desperation, a desire for revenge against Carl Peterson or a drug or alcohol problem, Saunders needs to step back and think about what he's getting himself into.

Other than the Detroit Lions, the Oakland Raiders have become the least desirable franchise in the NFL. Five coaches have been hired - and fired - in the past 11 years. Jon Gruden lasted four years before he was "traded" to Tampa Bay. Mike White, Norv Turner and Bill Callahan each lasted two seasons. Joe Bugle did a one-and-out. In those 11 years, the Raiders have finished dead last in the AFC West six times. The one constant in the Raiders organization during that 11-year span has been the owner, Al Davis.

As much as it pains me to say it, there was a time when Al Davis was a brilliant football mind. The Raiders were highly successful as a result. Those times are long gone and there is no reason to think that they're coming back as long as the 76-year-old Davis remains at the helm. Make no mistake about it - Davis is still very much at the helm and Saunders' hiring (if it happens) won't change that. Whoever Davis hires will hold the title of head coach, but the real head coach will be Davis. Davis will decide whom the team drafts. Davis will decide which players play. Davis will be the offensive coordinator. Davis will "help" in the selection of assistant coaches. If Saunders thinks Carl Peterson is egotistical and overbearing, he will discover that Davis is at least 10 times worse. Desperation, ego and blind ambition can drive people to do stupid things. But I find it difficult to accept that Saunders is so desperate, ambitious or egotistical to think that he could thrive - let alone survive - under the conditions he would find himself once Davis has him under contract. One has to be cold sober before signing what, at best, could only be described as a deal with the Devil.

Saunders has had a great run in KC as the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator. The players like and respect him. The fans like and respect him. Peterson and Herman Edwards are smart enough to realize that the Chiefs are better off with Saunders than they would be without him. Lamar Hunt is certainly a better owner than Al Davis could ever be. Saunders just needs to realize that there are worse things in life than remaining in KC and becoming the head coach for the Raiders is one of them.






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