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Money men (cont.)

Posted: Monday July 2, 2007 12:15PM; Updated: Monday July 2, 2007 4:42PM
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20. Al Davis, Raiders

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Here I was as I wrote this piece, all ready to praise Davis for his new-found spirit of cooperation and conciliation in league matters, when an email arrived from Oakland PR director Mike Taylor entitled, "NFL Network Disregards Raiders Again." That's right, a team coming off a 2-14 season and struggling to fill its stadium is focused on what's truly important -- making sure everyone knows the Raiders were snubbed during the network's recent telecast featuring the league's top 10 single-season performances of alltime.

Tempting as it was to drop Davis about 10 spots, I'll leave him here, in recognition of his football acumen and his surprisingly supportive behavior during the revenue-sharing debate of '06 and last summer's commissioner search. He hasn't even sued anyone lately, at least as far as I know, though the NFL Network's Steve Bornstein might want to run the other direction if he sees an unfamiliar dude walking toward him holding a stack of papers.

21. Georgia Frontiere (John Shaw), Rams

With Frontiere essentially checked out, Shaw, the longtime team president, is the de facto owner. He's a guy I'd like to have a beer with -- which, evidently, makes him a guy who could end up in the White House -- even when we're not of a like mind. To Shaw's credit, after years of front-office dysfunction, he initiated some necessary changes after the '05 season, beginning with the jettisoning of hyper-paranoid coach Mike Martz. Successor Scott Linehan has a chance to be special, and no one rushes through the nearest door when he walks down the hallway.

22. Randy Lerner, Browns

Unlike the Glazers, who bought Man U because it was a shrewd business move, Lerner -- at least as I see it -- bought Aston Villa last summer because he has an incredible passion for footie. That's cool, unless you happen to be a Browns fan. Lerner, who lives in New York, is more likely to turn up across the pond than he is at Browns headquarters, where a source says general manager Phil Savage -- having prevailed in a power struggle against former team president John Collins late in the '05 season -- is now feuding with coach Romeo Crennel. It sounds like somebody needs to be yellow-carded, but who knows if Lerner is even paying attention? The Browns had a promising draft, but this is a dysfunctional franchise.

23. Zygi Wilf, Vikings

When Wilf was about to take over the Vikes in May 2005, then-owner Red McCombs declared, "It looks like Zygi's going to be the biggie." A little more than two years later, the question is, "Big what?" Minnesota's stadium situation is a mess, with no escape from the Metrodome (save a possible move to L.A.) on the horizon. The team's starting quarterback is... uh... who is it again? The head coach is, uh, you know, that bald guy. Meanwhile Wilf, who vowed to cut the players responsible for the infamous 'Love Boat' incident of '05, still pays big money to the prime organizer. "I don't think he realized when he bought the team that this ain't real-estate development," one owner says of Wilf. "This is hard work if you want to turn something around." Suddenly, to Vikings fans, McCombs isn't looking so loony.

24. Alex Spanos (Dean Spanos), Chargers

Last year in this space I took some shots at the elder Spanos and was later informed by PR director Bill Johnston that Alex's son, Dean, was actually running the show. Well, I love Johnston -- and I hear Dean's a great guy, too -- but neither is going to like what I have to say here.

The Chargers, even after their devastating playoff defeat to the Patriots, were set up for an extended run of excellence before Dean's lack of decisive leadership put all of that in peril. Simply put, the dysfunctional (that's Dean's word, not ours) relationship between general manager A.J. Smith and coach Marty Schottenheimer wasn't working, yet Spanos buried his head and pretended everything was hunky-dory. A call had to be made on Schottenheimer right after the season, and Spanos chose to keep him, knowing full well that coordinators Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips would be candidates to fill other openings. Or maybe Spanos didn't know this; he sure seemed blindsided when, lo and behold, both coordinators got snapped up as coaches. Then Spanos offed Schottenheimer, leaving the franchise without all three of its top coaches from '06. At that point he might've fired Smith, too; Smith is a shrewd talent evaluator but clearly failed as a general manager. Instead Spanos rewarded Smith by letting him pick Schottenheimer's successor: Norv Turner, he of the career 58-82-1 record as a head coach. Other than that --and the fact that the team's stadium situation is a disaster (while the Padres play downtown in recently opened Petco Park), and Alex's beloved Republican party is cannibalizing itself -- it was a great year for the Spanoses, rivaled only by that of the Sopranos.

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