Allen "Al" Davis (July 4, 1929 - October 8, 2011) was an American football executive. He was the principal owner and general manager of the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League (NFL) from 1972 to 2011. Under Davis' management, the Raiders became one of the most successful teams in professional sports. His motto for the team was "Just win, baby." Davis was active in civil rights, refusing to allow the Raiders to play in any city where black and white players had to stay in separate hotels. He was the first NFL owner to hire an African American head coach and a female chief executive. He was also the second NFL owner to hire a Latino head coach. He remains the only executive in NFL history to be an assistant coach, head coach, general manager, commissioner and owner.
1 Early life,
2 Early coaching career,
3 Oakland Raiders coach and general manager,
4 AFL Commissioner,
5 Back with the Raiders,
6 Raiders ownership
6.1 Legal battles,
6.2 Early moves,
6.3 Trading Stabler,
6.4 Marcus Allen benching,
6.5 Davis deals Gruden,
6.6 Losing years,
6.7 Civil rights and diversity,
7.1 The "11th man",
8 See also,
12 External links,
Allen Davis was born in Brockton, Massachusetts on July 4, 1929 to a Jewish family. Louis Davis, his father, worked in a variety of trades in Massachusetts; having found some success in the garment manufacturing field, he moved to Brooklyn in 1934 with his wife Rose and two sons Jerry (born in 1925) and Allen. Louis Davis rented a sixth-floor walkup for his family off Utica Avenue, became very successful in the garment trade, and put his two sons through college before seeking a more comfortable dwelling in Brooklyn's Atlantic Beach area. Although there are a number of stories extant of Louis Davis backing his younger son in anything so long as the boy did not get caught or back down from a confrontation, most of these stories derive from Al Davis. Childhood friends depicted him as more of a talker than a fighter, though very good with his mouth. Young Al's sport of choice was basketball, and he gained a reputation of a hard player, if not the most skillful. As a boy, he was determined to play for Coach Al Badain at Erasmus Hall High School, passing up the opportunity to attend school closer to his house. Although he was only a reserve on the Erasmus team, and did not play much, Davis studied Badain's coaching techniques, and felt he learned much from him--in the 1980s, with Badain ill and in need, he brought the elderly former coach to the West Coast to witness Davis's Raiders in the Super Bowl, and paid the man's debts.
Despite Davis's slight role on his high school team, Raiders media guides later published descriptions of Davis which depicted him as a schoolboy star, only to have the claims scaled back--slightly--in future editions after reporters investigated the matter. His lack of football playing experience (he did play football for his high school fraternity) made him one of the few to be a head coach in the NFL or AFL despite never having played even for the high-school varsity.
Davis graduated from high school in January 1947, immediately enrolling at Wittenberg College in rural Ohio. The school had recruited Davis, though it did not extend him a scholarship. He spent a semester there, occupying himself with baseball and plans to transfer to a higher-profile school. In mid-1947, he transferred to Syracuse University. Although Davis repeatedly tried out for the various varsity teams, the height of his athletic career at Syracuse was warming the bench for the junior varsity baseball team. Frustrated by this, he briefly transferred to Hartwick College, also in New York State, in 1948, but soon returned to Syracuse. Despite Davis' lack of athletic success, he commonly mingled with varsity athletes, many of whom assumed he was also one but on another team. Unsuccessful in his efforts to join the men's basketball team, Davis became interested in football strategy, and haunted the football team's practices until asked to leave by the head coach, suspicious of Davis for taking notes. Davis also took the academic courses in football strategy given by the assistant coaches, and ordinarily attended only by players.
Early coaching career:
Upon graduation in May 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts in English, Davis sought a position on a college football coaching staff while pursuing a master's degree, hoping that this would provide him both with a start on a career and protection from the draft. In job hunting, he would introduce himself as "Davis from Syracuse", likely intentionally from confusion with George Davis, star halfback for the school's football team. Turned down at Hofstra University and by Bill Altenberg athletic director at Adelphi University (both on Long Island), he approached Adelphi's president. What went on between the two men is not known--his biographer Mark Ribowsky suggests Davis used a combination of "bluff and con", but a half hour after Altenberg dismissed Davis from his office, he received a call from the president that he had a new freshman football coach.
In 1952, with his student deferral ended upon receipt of his master's degree, Davis was inducted into the Army. He quickly secured a place attached to a public relations unit near Syracuse, and set about obtaining a place on one of the coaching staff for the military's football teams. General Stanley Scott of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, obtained Davis's services in 1953 as football coach for his base's football squad. Davis coached Fort Belvoir to a record of eight wins, two losses, and one tie (8-2-1), missing a chance to play in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego because of a final-game loss to the nearby Quantico Marine Base. Near the end of 1952, he was called to testify before a congressional committee investigating whether athletes were being coddled in the military. Although most of Davis's team was sent to Korea, he remained at Fort Belvoir until his discharge from the Army in 1954. While coaching in the Army, Davis sold scouting information about his players to National Football League (NFL) teams. One NFL executive who contacted Davis was the Los Angeles Rams's Pete Rozelle, but as Rozelle had been allocated no money, Davis gave him no information.
After leaving the Army, Davis married his fiancee, Carol Sagal, in a Brooklyn synagogue; the couple established a first home in Atlantic Beach, near Al Davis's parents. Davis worked for a year as a free lance scout for the Baltimore Colts of the NFL. He had considerable knowledge of the players he had had on his roster or coached against, and advised the Colts which players to offer contracts to or draft as they returned to civilian life. Davis cultivated the Colts' head coach, Weeb Ewbank, hoping Ewbank's connections would lead to a coaching job for Davis, and these efforts paid off in January 1955, when Davis was hired by The Citadel as an assistant to newly hired head coach John Sauer. In contrast to the glory won by its alumni in war, the South Carolina military academy's football team had lost every game the previous season, and the coach was dismissed in Sauer's favor. Davis stated, in his interview, that he would be able to persuade small-town boys from the Northeast to attend The Citidel, which often had difficulty in recruiting star players because of its regimented lifestyle. He was successful in his recruiting, though not all remained past the first training camp, at South Carolina's Parris Island Marine base.
During games, Davis was stationed in the press box, calling plays which were generally run by Sauer without modification. The Citadel unexpectedly began the season by winning five of its first six games, though it lost the next three to end the season 5-4. Davis received much credit for his role in The Citadel's success, though losing Sauer's regard through too-aggressive self-promotion. The 1956 season was less successful, as the team finished 3-5-1. Sauer resigned at the end of the season; Davis sought the head coaching position, did not receive it, and resigned himself; Ribowsky records that there were allegations of payments and other benefits to players in violation of NCAA rules; he also states that Davis pressured professors to change grades to keep student-athletes eligible to play football. By the time he left The Citadel, Davis had already arranged his next job, at the University of Southern California (USC).
Davis was an effective recruiter as a USC assistant coach, bringing one prospect, Angelo Coia to the Los Angeles Coliseum at night, and as the lights were slowly turned off, asked the student to imagine himself playing there before 100,000 people. Coia played for USC and later worked for the Raider front office. When Davis arrived, USC was on NCAA probation for allowing alumni to surreptitiously give money to players, and had not been permitted to play in a bowl game after the 1956 season; these sanctions hampered Davis's first two seasons at USC, 1957 and 1958, during which the team posted mediocre record. The head coach, Don Clark, came to rely heavily on Davis. Clark and Davis hoped that 1959 would bring a conference championship and the chance to play in the Rose Bowl, but in April 1959 USC was sanctioned by the NCAA again, this time for inducing recruits signed by other schools into breaking their letters of intent. Not allowed to play on television, USC won its first eight games before losing to UCLA and Notre Dame. Despite the defeats, the team was Pacific Coast Conference champions., but because of the sanctions could not play in the Rose Bowl. Clark resigned after the season; although Davis put in for the position, it went to another assistant, John McKay, who did not keep Davis on his staff.
Davis had met Los Angeles Rams coach Sid Gillman in Atlantic City at a coaching clinic; the NFL coach had been impressed that Davis had sat in the front row, taken copious notes, and had asked many questions afterwards. Gillman was fired after the 1959 season, but was quickly hired by the Los Angeles Chargers of the startup American Football League. He hired Davis as backfield coach on a coaching staff which included future Hall of Famer Chuck Noll as well as future AFL head coach and NFL general manager Jack Faulkner. Gillman later stated that he hired Davis for his success both as a coach and as a recruiter, and because "Al had that knack of telling people what they wanted to hear. He was very persuasive." One player whom Davis recommended to the Chargers, and then secured, was wide receiver Lance Alworth. Unwilling to give the NFL San Francisco 49ers, who had also drafted Alworth, a chance to sign him, Davis raced out onto the field at Alworth's final college game and signed Alworth to a contract under the goalpost as 49ers head coach Red Hickey watched helplessly from the stands. Davis later stated, "I knew it wasn't safe to let Alworth go to the dressing room." In 1978, Davis was selected by Alworth to introduce him at his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Oakland Raiders coach and general manager:
Davis' first coaching experience in professional football came as the offensive end coach of the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers from 1960 to 1962.
After the 1962 season, Raiders general partner F. Wayne Valley hired Davis as head coach and general manager. At 33, Davis was the youngest person in professional football history to hold the positions. It was at that time that he assumed the image that would define him for almost half a century--slicked-back hair, Brooklyn-tinged speech (the "Raiduhs"), dark glasses and an intense will to win.
Davis immediately began to implement what he termed the "vertical game," an aggressive offensive strategy based on the West Coast offense developed by Chargers head coach Sid Gillman. Under Davis the Raiders improved to 10-4, the first winning record in franchise history, and one more win than they had notched in their first three seasons combined. "Just win, baby" became his mantra and the Raiders' motto. He was named the AFL's Coach of the Year in 1963. Though the team slipped to 5-7-2 in 1964, it rebounded to an 8-5-1 record in 1965.
In April 1966 he was named the American Football League Commissioner. He immediately commenced an aggressive campaign against the NFL and signed several of the NFL's top players to AFL contracts. Other AFL owners, Davis not included, held secret meetings with the NFL, and in July the AFL and NFL announced that they were merging. Because of the compensation AFL teams were required to pay the NFL, and because he believed the AFL would be the superior league if allowed to remain separate, Davis was against the merger. On July 25, 1966, Davis resigned as commissioner rather than remain as commissioner until the end of the AFL in 1970.
Back with the Raiders:
After resigning as AFL commissioner, Davis formed a holding company, A.D. Football, Inc. and returned to his old club as one of three general partners, along with Wayne Valley and Ed McGah. He owned a 10% stake in the team, and was also named head of football operations. On the field, the team Davis had assembled and coached steadily improved. With John Rauch (Davis's hand-picked successor) as head coach, the Raiders won the 1967 AFL Championship, defeating the Houston Oilers 40-7. The win earned the team a trip to Super Bowl II, where they were beaten 33-14 by Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. The following two years, the Raiders again won Western Division titles, only to lose the AFL Championship to the eventual Super Bowl winners--the New York Jets (1968) and Kansas City Chiefs (1969).
In 1969, John Madden became the team's sixth head coach, and under him, the Raiders became one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, winning six division titles during the 1970s. In 1970, the AFL-NFL merger took place and the Raiders joined the Western Division of the American Football Conference in the newly merged NFL. The first post-merger season saw the Raiders win the AFC West with an 8-4-2 record and go all the way to the conference championship, where they lost to the Colts. Despite another 8-4-2 season in 1971, the Raiders failed to win the division or achieve a playoff berth.
In 1972, while managing general partner Valley was attending the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Davis drafted a revised partnership agreement that made him the new managing general partner, with near-absolute control over team operations. McGah signed the agreement. Since two of the team's three general partners had voted in favor of the agreement, it was binding under partnership law of the time. Valley sued to overturn the agreement once he returned to the country, but was unsuccessful. Valley sold his interest in 1976, and from that point onward none of the other partners had any role in the team's operations. This was despite the fact that Davis did not acquire a majority interest in the Raiders until 2005, when he bought the shares held by McGah's family. At his death he owned approximately 67 percent of the team.
In addition to serving as owner, Davis effectively served as his own general manager until his death--longer than any football operations chief in the league at the time. At the time of his death, he was one of three NFL owners who had the title or powers of general manager, the others being the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and the Cincinnati Bengals' Mike Brown. He had long been reckoned as one of the most hands-on owners in professional sports, and reportedly had more authority over day-to-day operations than any other owner in the league.
With Davis in control, the Raiders became one of the most successful teams in all of professional sports. From 1967 to 1985 the team won 13 division championships, one AFL championship (1967), three Super Bowls (XI, XV, and XVIII) and made 15 playoff appearances. Though the Raiders had fallen on hard times in recent years, having gone 37-91 from 2003 to 2010, they are only one of four teams to play in the Super Bowl in four different decades, with the others being the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and New York Giants.
In 1992 Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Team and League Administrator, and was presented by John Madden. Davis has been chosen by a record nine Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees to present them at the Canton, Ohio ceremony: Lance Alworth, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Ted Hendricks, and Madden.
In 2007, Davis sold a minority stake in the Raiders for $150 million and said that he would not retire until he won two more Super Bowls or died.
Davis' generosity was legendary when it came to helping former players in need, although he routinely did so without fanfare. His philosophy: Once a Raider, always a Raider.
Davis was long considered one of the most controversial owners in the NFL and was involved in multiple lawsuits involving Los Angeles, Oakland, Irwindale and the NFL. In 1980 he attempted to move the Raiders to Los Angeles but was blocked by a court injunction. In response Davis filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL. In June 1982 a federal district court ruled in Davis' favor and the team officially relocated to Los Angeles for the 1982 NFL season. When the upstart United States Football League filed its antitrust suit in 1986, Davis was the only NFL owner who sided with the USFL.
In 1995 Davis moved the team back to Oakland. Davis then sued the NFL, claiming the league sabotaged the team's effort to build a stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood by not doing enough to help the team move from the antiquated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to a new stadium complete with luxury suites. The NFL won a 9-3 verdict in 2001, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard Hubbell ordered a new trial amid accusations that one juror was biased against the team and Davis, and that another juror committed misconduct. A state appeals court later overturned that decision. The case was thrown out July 2, 2007 when the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the verdict against the Raiders stood. This was the last of several lawsuits the Raiders had outstanding against the league and its stadium landlords.
In the mid-1990s, Davis sued the NFL on behalf of the Raiders, claiming the Raiders had exclusive rights to the LA market, even though the Raiders were in Oakland. Davis and the Raiders lost the lawsuit.
In 2007, NFL Films chose the feud between Davis and the NFL and Pete Rozelle as their number 1 greatest feud in NFL history on the NFL Network's Top Ten Feuds, citing almost a half century of animosity between Davis and the league. Some believe that the root of Davis' animosity towards the NFL and his former co-owners in the AFL was the surreptitious way they pushed the AFL-NFL merger behind his back.
Davis introduced the Raiders' signature logo in 1963 in a unilateral move as head coach and general manager. In the 1960s as AFL Commissioner, Davis initiated a bidding war with the NFL over players. But it was his return to Oakland in 1967 that allowed him to reach his true calling. That season Davis made a number of roster moves, including landing Buffalo Bills quarterback Daryle Lamonica, a back-up for starter Jack Kemp on two AFL champion Bills teams. Another move at first thought to be desperate was the signing of former Houston Oilers QB George Blanda, who was already 39 but was still a very solid placekicker, and had played on the first AFL champion teams with Houston, as well as for the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Colts before that. Davis correctly identified Blanda as a mentor for Lamonica as well as a solid special teams man despite his advanced age. That year he also drafted guard Gene Upshaw, the cornerstone of the Oakland offensive line well into the 1980s. Lamonica propelled the Raiders to a 13-1 won-loss record in the 1967-68 season, and they coasted to the league championship with a 40-7 victory over Houston, although they were defeated easily by the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II. Oakland under Davis would go on to win the other two last AFL Western Division titles before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
During the first years of the new league format Oakland was a dominant franchise, winning the AFC West Division every year except 1971, and was kept out of the Super Bowls between 1970 and 1975 only by phenomenal Baltimore Colts, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers teams. Indeed, during the nine-year span from 1967 through 1975, the Raiders were eliminated by the team that won the Super Bowl on seven occasions (Green Bay in Super Bowl II at the end of the 1967 season, Super Bowl III champion New York in the 1968 AFL Championship Game, Super Bowl IV champion Kansas City in the 1969 AFL Championship Game, Super Bowl V champion Baltimore in the 1970 AFC Championship, Super Bowl VIII champion Miami in the 1973 AFC Championship Game, and Super Bowl IX and X champion Pittsburgh in the 1974 and 1975 AFC Championship Games). Finally, in 1976, the Raiders won their first title in Super Bowl XI under Davis's homegrown head coach John Madden. From 1970 to 1981 Oakland was able to reach the AFC Championship Game seven out of eleven years, and won two Super Bowls in that period. They also captured additional division titles during that period.
In the 1980 offseason star QB Ken Stabler attempted to renegotiate his contract with the Raiders. A veteran gunslinging quarterback, Stabler had won the Raiders' only title until then and had been a mainstay since his 1968 signing with the team as a protégé of Lamonica. Davis angered much of the Raider community by dealing him to the Oilers for quarterback Dan Pastorini, a trade many regarded as selfishly seeking revenge while strengthening the team's top AFC rival. Although Pastorini was injured in week 5, the move paid off when replacement veteran Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to a first-place tie with San Diego for the best AFC West record and the wild card spot for their first playoff appearance since 1977. The Raiders subsequently became the third second-place team to play in the Super Bowl, joining the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs and the 1975 Dallas Cowboys, and they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV, enabling them to become the very first wild-card team to ever win the SB. Davis, a preseason goat in Oakland for the Stabler deal, was vindicated (the Raiders even defeated Stabler's Oilers in the wild-card round of the playoffs, 27-7).
Marcus Allen benching:
Marcus Allen, the most valuable player in the Raiders' Super Bowl XVIII victory, was ordered to be benched by Davis for two years following a contract dispute. Davis only commented, "He was a cancer on the team." Allen said that Davis "told me he was going to get me." He added that "I think he's tried to ruin the latter part of my career. He's trying to stop me from going to the Hall of Fame. They don't want me to play." Davis called Allen's charges "fraudulent," and then-Raiders coach Art Shell said only he decided who plays. The Raiders released Allen in 1992, and he played the last five years of his 16-year, Hall of Fame career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Davis deals Gruden:
Davis dealt his head coach Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for Tampa Bay's 2002 and 2003 first-round draft picks, 2002 and 2004 second-round draft picks, and $8 million in cash. His replacement, Bill Callahan, led Oakland to an 11-5 record and their third consecutive division championship. The Raiders reached Super Bowl XXXVII, where they faced Gruden, who led Tampa Bay to its first Super Bowl berth. The Buccaneers won in a 48-21 blowout, in a matchup that was termed the "Gruden Bowl".
Following their Super Bowl loss, the Raiders failed to make the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons from 2003 to 2012, with double-digit loss record seasons in seven consecutive years from 2003 to 2009. The team cycled through multiple head coaches. Their 2007 first overall draft pick, quarterback JaMarcus Russell, was called by FoxSports.com "the biggest draft flop in NFL history". Davis was largely blamed, and his motto of "Just win, baby!" was mocked by many. Russell was released by the Raiders in 2009 and remains a free agent to this day.
The 2011 Raiders' record was 2-2 at Davis' death. The day after his death, the Raiders defeated the Houston Texans on a final play interception by safety Michael Huff in the end zone. The Raiders finished the season with a record of 8-8 and missed the playoffs, after starting the season 7-4.
Civil rights and diversity:
Davis breached several civil rights and diversity barriers during his career with the Raiders. In 1963, the Raiders were scheduled to play a preseason game in Mobile, Alabama. In protest of Alabama's segregation laws, Davis refused to allow the game to be played there and demanded the game be moved to Oakland. He also refused to allow the players to travel to other cities to play games where the black and white players would have to stay in separate hotels.
Davis was the first NFL owner to hire an African American head coach, Art Shell, and a female chief executive, Amy Trask. He also hired Tom Flores, the second Latino head coach in the league.
Davis died, aged 82, at his home in Oakland at 2:45 a.m. PST on October 8, 2011. Nine days later, a private service and funeral was held for Davis who was interred at Chapel of the Chimes. In the days following the funeral, The Associated Press obtained information pertaining to Davis' death. The death certificate, issued by Alameda County, disclosed Davis had died from "an abnormal heart rhythm, congestive heart failure and a heart muscle disease". Davis previously underwent heart surgery in 1996. Davis was also afflicted with skin cancer and had undergone throat surgery in the days preceding his death.
There was an overwhelming outpouring of support and grief in the wake of Davis' death. John Madden, who had remained close to Davis since their first meeting in 1966 lamented, "You don't replace a guy like that. No way. No damn way. You look at the things he's done that no one ever did before, being a scout, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, commissioner and owner." The Sunday following his death, the Oakland Raiders adorned their helmets with a sticker which read "Al" in Davis' memory. A league-wide moment of silence was also observed. Despite the widespread remembrance of his accomplishments, Davis' position as a controversial figure lives on as part of his legacy. Rick Reilly was particularly adamant that the questionable personnel decisions he made later in his career and his arrogant, brash personality should not be forgotten amidst sportswriters' praise of him as an innovative owner.
Davis is survived by his wife, Carol, and their only child, Mark, a graduate of California State University, Chico. Mark assumed his father's old title of managing general partner of the Raiders and owns the majority of the team with his mother. Carol suffered a serious heart attack in 1979 and was hospitalized for three weeks but was able to make a complete recovery.
Davis' mother Rose had lived to age 103. She died in 2001, having outlived her husband Lou by 40 years.
The "11th man":
The day after Davis' death, the Raiders played the Houston Texans. Oakland was leading the game 25-20 late in the fourth quarter. On the final play of the game, free safety Michael Huff intercepted quarterback Matt Schaub in the end zone to preserve the victory. The Raiders had only 10 defensive players on the field for the play. The play was referred to as the "Divine Interception" with media speculating that Davis was the 11th player on the field in spirit. Raiders coach Hue Jackson said Al Davis "had his hand on that ball."
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