Davis' salesmanship has been instrumental in putting 19 new players on this year's Oakland roster. He inherited a few good men, it is true, players like Jim Otto, the All-League center, Clem Daniels, the closest thing to Jim Brown in the AFL, and two quarterbacks, Cotton Davidson and Tom Flores, whom Davis likes to alternate. But most of the other players who have been a help to the team followed Davis to town. Art Powell, the finest end in professional football according to Davis, was a free agent, having played out his option with the New York Titans, now Jets. Powell had offers from many teams in both leagues, but chose Oakland and Davis. "He convinced me that his ideas on what an end can do jibed with mine," Powell says. "He allows me more flexibility. I think I can reach my peak under him." In Oakland's first eight games this season, Powell caught 43 passes, six of them for touchdowns.
One of the first moves Davis made when he took over as coach in January was to trade for Archie Matsos, a very good middle linebacker. Davis sent Buffalo three players, none of whom made the team. Matsos, a garrulous young man of Greek extraction, has been wonderful. "He lets me call the defensive signals," says Matsos. "It's the first time I've ever been allowed to do that. No hand signals from the side or anything."
Not all of Davis' player changes have required salesmanship. A week before the opening game against Houston it was clear that Davis would have to cut one offensive tackle from the squad. The Raiders had two experienced offensive tackles who had looked miserable during the exhibition season. Everyone wondered which would go and which would stay. Davis aggressively released both and signed on Frank Youso, a former New York Giant who had just been cut by Minnesota. "That really jolted the team," says an Oakland official. "It made them realize that no one's job was secure. It was a dangerous move to make, bringing in a new man just before our first game. If Youso hadn't worked out, Al might have lost the confidence of the team." But Youso did work out, and the team has come to look upon Davis as some sort of miracle man.
Although Al Davis is a young man, he has been coaching for 14 years. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that Davis has been coaching since he was a boy, playing stickball on the streets of Brooklyn. "I don't want to give the feeling I'm above and beyond," Davis says, "but I've always had the perception to understand these games. Do you follow me? I was the organizer."
Davis graduated from Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, then went to Syracuse University. "I really wasn't much of an athlete," he insists. "I played a little football and baseball, but it would be inaccurate to say I starred or anything like that." Davis had a restless college career. "I didn't get along too well with coaches—you follow me. I didn't feel that I was understood." After a year at Syracuse he shifted to Wittenberg in Ohio for a semester. He thought he would like Wittenberg's athletic program, didn't, and moved on to a small college called Hartwick in upper New York state. He stayed there two weeks before returning to Syracuse, where he graduated. "I majored in English," he says, "but it was pointless. I remember thinking, what am I studying English for when all I want to do is coach."
Davis began his official coaching career in 1950 at Adelphi College on Long Island. He was 21. He was there two years, then went into the Army and, as a private, coached a powerful Fort Belvoir football team. Out of the Army, Davis became an assistant with the Baltimore Colts, moved on to The Citadel as line coach, then out to Southern California as an assistant in 1957. Davis' recruiting provided the Trojans with much of the manpower that made them last year's national champions.
When the American Football League was formed in 1960, Davis traveled down the California coast to San Diego. Then, last winter, Wayne Valley and Ed McGah, the principal owners of the Raiders, having decided to stick it out in Oakland for at least another season, hired Davis. Or at least they tried to hire him. Davis refused the first offer. And the second. "I didn't care for the setup," Davis explains. "This organization hadn't given anything. Besides, I didn't need the job. I still don't." It was only when the owners agreed to give Davis a three-year contract as coach and general manager that he accepted.
Davis can afford to be independent, partly because he is in demand and partly because he is a wealthy man. How wealthy he will not divulge. It has been reported that when his father died a couple of years ago Al inherited three-quarters of a million dollars. Davis scoffs at the figure, saying it is way too high, yet he drops little hints that indicate money is no problem with him. One day a waitress was trying to figure out the cost of a concoction Davis likes to drink. It consists of milk, two raw eggs and a few splashes of chocolate syrup. Impatient, Davis said: "I don't care what you make it. I don't need money, I need points."
Not a bad-looking kid
Discussing how he met his wife, a tall, beautiful New York girl named Carol, Al says, "A friend introduced us when I was coaching at Adelphi. He thought she could handle me. You know, I wasn't a bad-looking kid and not a poor boy."