Al Davis, Scot McCloughan, Warriors Sale, World Cup, Shaun Hill
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 23, 2010

IT WAS illuminating but sad to see the video of Al Davis in his early career with the Raiders, as he was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame last night. I was covering the Raiders for part of that time, and Davis was really at the top of his game. He knew everything, made great decisions and understood how to build a team. John Madden, who was Davisís presenter, supplied one example, the drafting of Gene Upshaw in 1967 specifically to block Buck Buchanan of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raidersí chief roadblock to supremacy in the old AFL.

Now, Davis is a caricature, hanging on to power though his decision-making is terrible, unwilling to listen to anybody who disagrees with him.

Thankfully, he was not at the BASHOF proceedings, so he couldnít deliver one of his rambling speeches. Madden accepted for him and wisely concentrated on Davisís early years with the Raiders and AFL, as did the video. Youíd never have known that Davisís career extended beyond about 1980 from what was presented last night.

Madden also rewrote his personal history with Davis, insisting he was great to work for. I was around, as a beat writer for Maddenís first three years and then as a columnist, and I know better. There were frequent conflicts between them over players, and Maddenís early retirement from coaching came for two reasons: 1) His fear of flying; and 2) Being beaten down by all the conflicts with Davis. Iím not sure thatís the right order of importance.

But, Madden doesnít burn bridges, unlike Davis, and he is grateful for the chance to become a head coach at 32, which gave him an early start on building his career. Heís stayed close to Davis, who presented him for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Knowing the controversy that swirls around Davis, Madden insisted that the BASHOF people got it right by inducting Davis. I concur. In fact, Davis is a much more logical inductee than former 49er owner Eddie DeBartolo, though Eddie is much more popular with Bay Area fans now. DeBartolo brought in Bill Walsh and he eventually backed Walsh with family money Ė which was not a factor in the 49ersí first two Super Bowl wins Ė but he had nothing to do with the operation of the team. Davisís resume is much more impressive. It includes turning the Raiders from a laughingstock into a dominant team in the 1965-85 period, forcing the merger of the AFL and NFL with his guerilla tactics as AFL commissioner and setting an unfortunate precedent by moving the Raiders to Los Angeles. Though I wish fervently (and in vain) that he would step back now, that resume is what has deservedly landed him in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and BASHOFís.

Other highlights from the night:

--USF soccer coach Steve Negoesco was funny though humble when his exploits were listed, including starting a youth soccer program in San Francisco, for which he was not paid, while simultaneously coaching the USF team to multiple championships. ďI must have been crazy,Ē he said. ďI had a wife and six children at home. I was only sleeping five hours a night.Ē

Negoesco also had the best line of the night, talking about the American national teamís surprising recent success in international play. ďWhen you go into a game, you always want to know what style of play the other team uses. Other teams donít know what the Americans are doing because the Americans donít know, either.Ē

--Broadcaster Marty Lurie had a long introductory talk about all that Campy Campaneris had done, but Campy gave a very short acceptance talk in English. Campaneris didnít get the recognition he deserved when he was playing, in large part because he didnít speak English and so, wasnít interviewed by reporters who had no Spanish. Apparently, he still hasnít learned enough to feel comfortable speaking it. Tito Fuentes (Lurie reminded us that Campaneris and Fuentes were the last players to leave Cuba legally) learned it quickly, as did Giants players like Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou, who also speaks French, making him tri-lingual.

--The segment on R. C. Owens had brief mentions of his basketball career. R.C. was a college teammate of Elgin Baylor for one year at the College of Idaho and, before he joined the 49ers as a rookie in 1957, played for the Buchan Bakers on a tour of Europe and was in the training camp of the Minneapolis (now Los Angeles) Lakers.

Sports anchor Mark Ibanez did a good job as the banquet emcee. ďI was asked if I could talk five minutes on sports,Ē he said. ďIf you watch Channel 2, you know thatís about a week and a half for me.Ē Later, Ibanez kidded about his ancestry, saying that his first time at the banquet, he was confused and came in through the kitchen. ďI said my name was Ibanez and I was here for the banquet. They handed me an apron and a plate of food.Ē

SCOT McCLOUGHAN: I was on a conference call with 49er team president Jed York just before I went to the BASHOF event and, frankly, wondered why I bothered. York answered most questions by saying McCloughanís departure was a ďpersonnel matterĒ and he couldnít give details. It was obvious that this had nothing to do with football decisions. I have an opinion on what happened but I wonít write anything until/if itís confirmed.

There was some information on related subjects that came out. York said Trent Baalke, the director of player personnel, will oversee the draft, Mike Singletary will not have a bigger role and Parage Marathe will not be a candidate to be the general manager. The last two pieces of information are welcome news. Singletary is too emotional to be heavily involved in draft decisions, and Maratheís expertise is in contract negotiations and the salary cap, when there is one. York also said he would not be the general manager, but I knew from a one-on-one with him last spring that he didnít think he should be involved in football decisions. Heís smarter than his dad in that respect; in one of my first conversations with John York, he told me he had some advice for Steve Mariucci.

WARRIORS SALE: The news that the Warriors are up for sale was greeted enthusiastically by fans. Whoever buys the team, the new regime should be an improvement.

When Chris Cohan took over the team, he first tried to run it himself, which is always a mistake for an owner. Unfortunately, when he stepped back, Cohan made equally bad mistakes in selecting those who should be in charge. Team president Robert Rowell, who should be the first to go when the team is sold, is the latest.

Whoever buys the team, I hope he also says goodbye to Don Nelson. Perhaps if Nelson still lacks a win or two to get the all-time NBA record, he could be the coach of record at the start of next season until he gets the record, but he should step down immediately when he reaches that mark. It would be even better if he could get the record in what remains of this season, so the Warriors could just turn the page. Nelson has had a great career but, for his own sake as well as everybody else, itís time to move on.

MARCH MADNESS: Calís loss to Duke in the second round was predictable; the Bears lack of size was devastating against a Duke team that was, as always, well prepared.

We all knew that this was a down year for the Pac-10, reflected in the No. 8 seed Cal got in the Regional. Too many stars left the league, some of whom had only played one year, which is a reminder that the NBA needs to change its rules. The age requirement of 19 years has only created a group of high school players who go to college for one year and then opt for the pros.

The NBA needs to change its rules to something like baseball, where a player can opt for the draft after high school but, if he goes to a four-year college will not be eligible until heís been there three years. College ball should not be used simply as a stepping stone for the pros.

For those of you who havenít already seen it, I wrote on the NCAA tournament in todayís Examiner.

SHAUN HILL: One of the things I learned early in my career was that players sometimes look good when theyíre unknowns but fail when others learn what they can and cannot do. Weíve all seen hitters who light up the scoreboard when they first come up but fall off when pitchers learn how to get them out; think, John Bowker. When Rick Barry was a rookie, he had no outside shot. He was still very good but his tenure depended on his developing that shot, which he did.

Probably the best example from my early career was Steve Spurrier, who was a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Florida and a first round draft choice of the 49ers in 1967.

Spurrier sat on the bench behind John Brodie, an excellent quarterback, until Brodie was injured in 1973, to the delight of the Chronicle beat writer at the time, who had as little understanding of the game as the current one.

Spurrier had some early success, including a game against the Minnesota Vikings in which he completed 31 of 48 passes for 320 yards. He had a superior football mind, as he later proved in his coaching career. Gene Washington once told me that if heíd had even an average arm, heíd have been a solid quarterback. But, he had a weak arm. Watching him, I wrote that he wasnít the answer for the Niners; Spurrier didnít talk to me for years after that, but I was right. Maybe thatís why he wouldnít talk to me. When Brodie came back, he took over the starterís role and Spurrier was later traded to Tampa Bay.

The problem that quarterbacks with weak arms face is that the defenses donít have to cover as much ground. Spurrier couldnít throw the deep out, so defenses didnít have to worry about defending that. Shaun Hill canít throw deep with any consistency, so when teams learned that, they brought their defenses closer to the line of scrimmage. Hillís play declined as the season progressed last year and he had to be replaced. Now, heís been traded to Detroit for a seventh-round draft pick. Heíll be fine there, but he would have been a distraction here because there are still many fans who think he should have remained as the starter.

Alex Smith still has to prove himself. Heís shown flashes of great play but heís also had some abysmal outings. That wonít do. A winning quarterback has to be consistently good. Can Smith do that? The jury is still out, but he has the physical ability to be an excellent quarterback and so, the 49ers have to give him that shot this year. They knew Hill could never be the quarterback they need.

SOCCER MANIA: On our trip to South America, the World Cup was huge news because, especially in the southern half of the continent, soccer interest in unbelievably fervent. ďWe donít have to have a war with Argentina because we have soccer instead,í said an Uruguayan tour guide. Good thing for Uruguay because Argentina is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world in land size. Uruguay is hardly bigger than Rhode Island.

In this country, though, soccer interest is mild, despite a strong effort to promote it on every level from youth soccer to professional leagues.

I was very close to soccer earlier. I covered the Oakland Clippers in 1967 and í68 and in the early Ď80s did the color on San Jose Earthquakes games, working with Hal Ramey on radio and Joe Starkey (believe it or not) on TV.

Being that close to the scene, I saw two major problems with American soccer. In reverse order of importance, here they are:

1) Soccer is a game like baseball in that it demands a high level of skill to be interesting. I covered high school baseball at the start of my career, and it was pretty dreadful. American soccer is more like minor league baseball in quality. Players simply donít have the skill level to move the ball down the field, so most of the game is played around midfield, which is boring.

2) Youth soccer is over-organized. In the countries where soccer is king, thereís a real passion for the game. Kids start kicking a ball around not long after they start to walk. If they donít have a ball, theyíll improvise; Iíve seen kids kicking rocks inside socks in European countries. In this country, itís a suburban, after school activity. Kids are driven to the games by their parents, usually mothers. When they get to high school, they usually gravitate to the American sports of baseball, football and basketball.

Itís been 43 years now since soccer people started a strong effort for both professional and youth soccer, but thereís been no significant change in the sportís appeal to American fans. Itís hard to believe there ever will be.

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