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White Tornado
Michael Silver
June 03, 1996
Al Davis is still cutting a destructive swath as the Raiders try to revive their proud heritage
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June 03, 1996

White Tornado

Al Davis is still cutting a destructive swath as the Raiders try to revive their proud heritage

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Davis favors players whose most striking attribute is raw speed and obscure players whom he has discovered. Three examples are tight end Andrew Glover, a Raiders starter the past two seasons who caught only 10 passes as a senior at Grambling; defensive back Dan Land, a converted running back with excellent speed: and defensive back James Trapp, who won the NFL's Fastest Man competition in 1995.

"Teams would watch our waiver wire," five-time Pro Bowl wideout Tim Brown said last summer, "because the word around the league was that the Raiders were going to release football players and keep the guys Al likes."

In 1988 Davis ordered Shanahan to play Willie Gault, a former Olympic sprinter, ahead of Brown. Shanahan refused because Brown's superiority to Gault was so obvious in practice. "That was the biggest fight we ever had," says Shanahan. "No one had ever stood up to him. Everyone there is afraid of him, so that's the behavior he expects."

Even after he was fired, Shanahan says Davis tried to bully him. "He told me that if I went to the Broncos, he wouldn't pay me the $250,000 he owed me [under the terms of his contract]," Shanahan says. Shanahan resisted, saying, "I have a contract." According to Shanahan, Davis replied, "I'll get you." Shanahan went to the Broncos, as quarterbacks coach, anyway. He still has not received a penny from Davis. According to league spokesman Greg Aiello, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled three years ago that Davis was required to pay Shanahan the $250,000, but Davis appealed the decision, saying he had lent Shanahan about $200,000 that had not been repaid. The matter is under review.

Davis's treatment of Shanahan's successor, Hall of Famer and former Raiders tackle Art Shell, was equally heavy-handed. Sources say Davis meddled with game plans during the week and sent notes to offensive coaches requesting specific plays during games. "Some strange play would appear during a game," Jamie Williams says, "and players would look up to the press box and say, 'That was Al.' "

After hiring White to replace Shell before last season, Davis seemed to make a conscious effort to remain in the background. However, in an interview last fall, White conceded that Davis regularly faxed him plays and called him with suggestions, sometimes in the middle of the night. (White canceled an April interview with SI because, according to his assistant, he was instructed to do so by Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen.)

During this off-season Davis persuaded assistant head coach/offense Joe Bugel, who was being wooed by new Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, to stay with the Raiders. There were those aggressive free-agent signings of Maryland and Larry Brown, who was MVP of last January's Super Bowl, to large deals. And with Hostetler's health restored and the addition of Dudley, a 245-pounder who runs 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, the Raiders' offense looks even more dangerous than it did in the first half of last season, when it was the NFL's top-rated unit.

But can a team thrive in a workplace filled with confusion and paranoia, one in which team officials, according to Moss, Jamie Williams and other former players, eavesdrop on interviews and locker room conversations and report back to Davis? "Players say the walls have ears," Skrepenak says. "I think Al can find out information, because locker room talk always got back to the head coach."

Nor are the coaches immune to Davis's snooping. Shell says two or three unnamed assistants "backstabbed" him before his firing. "You'd go into staff meetings," says one former assistant, "and the whole thing was orchestrated for people to turn on each other. And the more you discredited people to Al, the better off you were." According to one former assistant, Davis would use film sessions to criticize play-calling. During reviews of plays that failed, Davis would solicit an opinion from a coach who wasn't involved in the call, and that assistant would have no choice but to criticize his coworker.

In such an environment it's tough to sell a team concept. "We have to look at the organizations that have won Super Bowls in recent years and how they got that way," says Raiders defensive tackle Chester McGlockton. "Then, from our owner on down, we have to get our house in order."

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