Battling Tom Cable; Brett Favre, Jeff Tedford; Michael Crabtree; Bill Walsh
The widely reported altercation in which head coach Tom Cable broke the jaw of assistant Randy Hanson (nobody is talking on the record but there are several club and league souces who have confirmed the report) is unprecedented in my 42 years of covering professional football.
Football is an emotional game, and there have often been battles between players. Bill Romanowski, a star linebacker with the 49ers and then the Raiders, was involved in several with opposing players but the worst example of his rage came in a Raider practice when he ripped the helmet off backup tight end Marcus Williams and punched him in the eye, fracturing his eye socket. Williams sued Romanowski and was awarded $340,000.
There have also been scuffles on the sidelines between assistant coaches. Probably the most notable was between Houston defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
But I have never known a head coach to punch out an assistant. But then, Cable isn’t really a head coach. He’s a good assistant, an offensive line coach, who is the head coach for the Raiders only because he will do exactly what Al Davis wants. When Cable talks, you can hear Davis, though without that weird Brooklyn/Southern accent Davis affects. Sometimes, I think Cable has a receiver surgically implanted in his ear, so he will get his master’s words exactly.
Cable is also the only kind of head coach Davis can get these days. No proven coach will come to Oakland. Once, young coaches like Jon Gruden figured they could come to the Raiders and, if they were fired, it was a recommendation. But that’s over now, after the tantrum he threw – and has continued – over Lane Kiffin. I don’t have a high regard for Kiffin, either, but Davis’s actions were beyond the pale.
In retrospect, he should have kept Art Shell, who would have kept a façade of dignity and could have produced respectable teams if Davis had brought in decent offensive and defensive coordinators – and players. Shell is a genuinely tough person and an imposing physical specimen, but in his long career as a Hall of Fame player and coach, he never came close to getting into a fight.
Now, there couldn’t be a more striking difference between the two Bay Area organizations. Mike Singletary is working hard to bring a truly professional attitude to the 49ers. He doesn’t even want players fighting in practice. When the notoriously combustible Vernon Davis got in a fight in practice, Singletary pulled him aside and told him to concentrate his energy on playing.
The 49er players respect Singletary for what he did in his playing career and what he’s showing them as coach. Raider players say all the right things publicly but I’m sure they’re laughing at Cable privately. No coach who loses control like that can expect to get respect from his players.
In typical Raiders fashion, the team tried to keep this secret. Davis has tried to manage the news coming out about the Raiders since he took over in 1963, but it’s impossible now with all the media sources, including the Internt.
I remember one incident in particular when I was covering the team which demonstrated the Raiders methods. In 1969, the Raiders released Billy Cannon in training camp but did not announce it. As it happened, there were no reporters in camp the day Cannon was released, a Thursday, nor for the next day. So, the first time we knew about it was at the Saturday night exhibition game when Cannon was not listed on the program.
Tom Grimes, who was the alleged public relations director, said it was no big deal.
Billy Cannon had been a Heisman Trophy winner in college. He was in the middle of a bidding war between the NFL and AFL and was signed under the goalposts after a bowl game by Pete Rozelle, then the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams. The Houston Oilers sued and won the rights to Cannon. He was later traded to the Raiders, who switched him from running back to tight end, and he was the team’s primary deep threat in 1967, when they went 13-1 and played in the Super Bowl for the first time.
Nah, that was no story at all.
This time around, when the Cable fisticuffs story surfaced, the coach told writers he’d talk to them about it after the afternoon practice. His comment after practice: “It’s an internal matter. I’m not going to talk about it.”
It will be interesting to see what happens next. No criminal charge has been filed because Hanson didn’t file a complaint – knowing that would surely end his employment with the Raiders just may have been a factor in his decision – but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to fine or suspend Cable under the personal conduct provision in the league bylaws.
If the Raiders had handled this in-house and reported it to the NFL at the time, they probably could have avoided this. But Davis has also sought confrontation. Cooperation isn’t in his vocabulary. So now, the NFL is sending out people to investigate the situation.
And, the Raiders continue to be much more interesting off the field than on.
RAIDER E-MAILS: As I told you last week, I’m not on the Raiders e-mail list, along with other critical columnists, but I did get one of their e-mails this week. Because the 49ers have two joint practices in Napa this week with the Raiders, the second today, and play them Saturday night at Candlestick, the 49ers sent out a copy of the Raiders e-mail to everybody on their own media list. I’m on that one, as I am with the Giants, A’s, Warriors, Cal and Stanford.
After I got the e-mail, I as glad I’m not on the Raiders list. It was primarily a restatement of their most recent propaganda, when they label themselves as the “Team of the Decades” because they’re the only team to be in the Super Bowl in four decades. They failed to mention that they were humiliated, 48-21, by Tampa Bay in their last appearances. An oversight, I’m sure. They also failed to mention that since their last Super Bowl, they’ve set an NFL record with six straight seasons with double-digit losses. Another oversight, I’m sure.
DRAMA QUEEN RETURNS: My hopes that Brett Favre had finally retired were dashed when he decided to come back with the Minnesota Vikings yesterday.
Favre has had a great career and will certainly be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he’s eligible, but this will he, won’t he routine in the offseason has gotten very tiresome. I don’t think it’s indecision on Favre’s part. He just loves the attention and, as long as he strings it out, he gets it. Otherwise…well, there are no big media outlets near his farm in Mississippi.
This move is a gamble by the Vikings but it’s worth taking because they really don’t have a quality quarterback without Favre. Tarvaris Jackson is a good athlete but inconsistent. The Vikings brought in another nonentity, Sage Rosenfels, but neither Jackson nor Rosenfels had been consistent in practice.
It was a good economic decision, too; the Vikings had a surge in season ticket sales after the announcement that Favre was joining them.
But, I don’t think it will turn out well for the Vikings. Favre tailed off badly in late season last year because he has a tear in his rotator cuff. The chances that he can perform at a high level for very long are very slim.
CAL BEARS: Jeff Tedford divides practice into 15-minute “quarters”, usually more than 20 of them.
This year, Tedford is trying something new: At the end of each quarter, the offensive and defensive units sprint to the different ends of the field, gather in the end zone and let out very loud cheers. The idea is to promote team unity.
That is still another reason why I think Tedford is a perfect fit as a college coach and will never go to the pros. I can’t imagine a pro coach doing that, not even Singletary, who does some pretty hokey things at times. Tedford genuinely enjoys talking with his players and tracking their academic and social progress, along with their play on the field.
He also seems to be settling in nicely at Berkeley. The facility improvement he has always said is key to his staying is finally underway, and it’s significant that he’s stayed even though the project was delayed much longer than he was originally promised.
This will be Tedford’s eighth season. Since World War II, only Pappy Waldorf has had a longer tenure, 10 seasons, and Pappy’s last winning season was his sixth. All seven of Tedford’s seasons have been winning ones, and I’m confident this one will be, too. The most successful college programs have coaches who have stayed for long periods because, in college football, success breeds success. Top high school players want to come to schools with successful programs, so recruiting becomes easier.
Cal football since World War II has had many more arid periods than fruitful ones. Only Waldorf’s first six years could be considered a truly golden era, but we’re in the middle of another one now.
MICHAEL CRABTREE: The current estimate is that Crabtree won’t sign with the 49ers until the start of the season. That will hurt the team, but it will hurt him even more.
Apparently, Crabtree wants the kind of money that the Raiders gave Darrius Heyward-Bey as the seventh pick, reasoning that he’s the better receiver. I agree with him, but the relevant point is that he was drafted 10th. The 49ers are offering the kind of money a 10th pick gets, and they won’t come off that. Nor should they.
Meanwhile, Crabtree is losing valuable practice time, which makes it unlikely that he’ll be a factor before midseason. And, he’s acquiring a reputation as a malcontent, which could come back to bite him.
The supposed threat that he would sit out the season is meaningless. If he did that, he would lose a year’s salary and, if he went back into the draft next year, teams would be very leery of dealing with him. Almost certainly, he’d be offered less than the 49ers are offering him now.
One of my readers argued that certain players are worth more than their draft positions, but I would agree with that only with a quarterback, who is clearly the most important player. A wide receiver doesn’t change the game unless he has the right quarterback throwing to him. Even Jerry Rice needed Joe Montana and Steve Young to put up his record numbers, and Gene Washington lost his chance to be a Hall of Famer when John Brodie retired and was followed by a succession of inept quarterbacks remembered only by the most fanatical of 49er fans.
BILL WALSH: My admiration for Walsh continues to mount, even after his death. He not only planned his own memorial service, including the guest list, but now he’s had a book published posthumously. I thought only Robert Ludlum could do that.
Walsh’s book, “The Score Takes Care of Itself,” was written with his son, Craig Walsh, and a motivational speaker/author, Steve Jamison, and gives his philosophy of leadership. He is a bit more candid about his relationship with Paul Brown and Al Davis than he was publicly in life, because he never wanted to burn bridges. As he often told me confidentially, he learned how not to do that by being around Davis.
Much of what he says is covering old ground – a lot of it from the book we did together in 1990, “Building a Champion,” but it is very definitely Walsh, reading as if he were speaking. He remains the most complex and admirable man I’ve known in sports.
TV: I’ll be a guest on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast tonight, along with Jim Plunkett and Jamie Williams. Greg Papa is the host. We’ll be talking about the upcoming 49ers-Raiders exhibition, among other things. The live telecast will come right after the end of the Giants-Reds game in Cincinnati; the taped version will air at 11 p.m.
PAY COLUMNS: In September, I will be going to a pay system for my website. The system isn’t fully established yet, but I will give at least two weeks notice before doing it, so keep watching this space. The charge will be $12 a year ($1 a month) and I have a PayPal account where you can pay.
For those who don’t want to use PayPal, I will also be setting up a post office box, so you can mail me a check and I’ll put you on a list to get my column as an e-mail.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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