Al Davis will be remembered for many of the wonderful things he accomplished on and off the football field. He’ll be remembered as being the face and the pulse of the Oakland Raiders. He’ll be remembered as the guy who ran the Raiders’ organization, from top to bottom, as head coach, general manager and later as the owner of the NFL franchise.
Davis, who passed away at the age of 82 on Saturday, will be remembered as an irreplaceable icon that made “Commitment to Excellence,” a staple devotion of his team’s success. He once served as the American Football League commissioner. His ballclub have been perennial winners. Three of his assembled teams won NFL titles under his watch.
Davis will be remembered as a personnel and player development master, turning players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities such as offensive linemen Art Shell and Willie Brown, into NFL Hall of Fame inductees.
Davis was also considered to be a rebellious maverick, unafraid to legally and publicly challenge the NFL on a variety of matters. He had unprecedented success in that arena, forcing the NFL to back down as he moved his ballclub up and down the California coast until he got the stadium deals he wanted.
As the controlling owner of one of the league’s most successful franchises, Davis impacted the game of football and the NFL on many levels. But perhaps his most significant contribution was blazing a path for minorities to be put in key football personnel positions long before the NFL made diversity hiring a mandate from its 32 clubs.
Davis was light years ahead of the NFL in setting the tone for equal opportunity for a Hispanic and African American to become a head coach in the league. As general manager of the Raiders, Davis gave Tom Flores, the league’s first Hispanic head coach, an opportunity to run his team. All Flores did was spit out a couple of NFL championships for his boss.
In a released statement that appears on the Raiders’ website, Flores spoke fondly of the man that gave him his head coaching shot.
“May he rest in peace,” Flores said. “Forty eight years ago, I met Al, and every once in a while in your life, someone comes along that changes the direction of your life. He did that to me and changed the direction with his passion for the Raiders and professional football. He was a dear man, my mentor and most of all, my friend. I will miss him.”
Despite the success that Flores achieved as the NFL’s first Hispanic head football coach, his employment didn’t generate nearly as much buzz from the media as Davis’ promotion of Art Shell to that position in 1989.
Shell became the NFL’s first black head coach in the modern era with his appointment. Davis, who went into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1992, didn’t stop there, however, with his diversity pining.
That didn’t begin or end at the head coaching position. It also included a look at who was playing quarterback. More than any owner in the NFL, Davis gave ample opportunities for black quarterbacks to join his club and succeed. Some did. Others didn’t.
But Davis gave them an opportunity when other teams and league personnel had already discarded them and threw the signal-callers into NFL abyss. Known for his love of the deep throw and bringing in NFL castoffs, Davis gave Daunte Culpepper, Aaron Brooks, Vince Evans, JaMarcus Russell and current starting Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell a chance to prove themselves as field generals.
And believe it or not, before New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez became a boon for Latino pride, Jim Plunkett had already laid down the groundwork for the former USC star to succeed at the NFL level. Plunkett, a Mexican American, gave Davis and the Raiders two championships as the starting quarterback on the team. Like everyone else associated with the Raiders, Plunkett shared his feelings on what Davis meant to his career.
“The passing of Al Davis saddens us all,” said Plunkett. “He’s been a big part of my life, my family’s life since 1978 when he gave me a second chance and another opportunity to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, which I appreciate very much. He was always encouraging and helpful both on the field and off the field.
“He got me get ready to play as much as any coach out there including coach Tom Flores. He’ll be sorely missed. His contributions to the game of football go on and on. Not only will his fans and his former players and coaches miss him greatly, but the entire league will.”
Always a step ahead of the game, Davis made two bold, personnel moves in the past year that reflects his diversity mantra. Davis hired Amy Trask as the team general manager, the first woman to hold that title. He also made Hue Jackson the second black head football coach of the organization.
Jackson, in his first season as the Raiders’ head coach, was hit hard by the news that Davis is now gone.
“It is with my deepest and most sincere regret that Mr. Al Davis, Coach Davis to me, has passed away,” Jackson said in a released statement. “My thoughts and prayers, first and foremost, go out to his wife and family, then the Raider family and organization. It is because of this accomplished man and his forever love of Silver and Black, the fire that burned in him I will honor and will always and forever burn in me.”