Al Davis, whose career started in the AFL, was an assistant coach, head coach, general manager, owner and commissioner. His long distinguished career included three Super Bowl championships with the LA/Oakland Raiders and induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
Davis was an instrumental part of the NFL-AFL merger and a thorn in the side of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle throughout their time together. Due to their head-to-head battles as commissioners of the two leagues, when the merger occurred and Davis returned to the Raiders ownership group, he felt that any decision made by Rozelle involving the Raiders went against them.
His iconic phrase of “Just win, baby” was emblematic of how he hired people, his goal was to hire the best candidate for the job and not worry about their ethnicity or gender. Davis famously hired Art Shell, the first African-American coach in the Modern Era of NFL history and Tom Flores, who would be the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl. Additionally, Davis has been praised for hiring Amy Trask as the team’s Chief Executive in 1997. In all three of these hiring’s, Davis was not concerned with anything other than their ability to get the job done.
Former Raiders coach John Madden often used the phrase “speed kills” which was one of the first attributes Davis looked for in a player. A classic example of this occurred in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Raiders were holding the 7th pick and drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey higher than most felt he should go, especially with Michel Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin still available. While Heyward-Bey showed some flashes it was clear his best attribute was his speed which excited Davis.
The number of players who were with the Raiders who went on to be executives or coaches is a real testament to Davis. Besides Shell and Flores, Gene Upshaw, who would go on to be the executive director of the NFLPA was a member of the Raiders from 1967 – 1981. Additionally, Matt Millen, who played for the Raiders from 1980 – 1988, would go on to be the President and CEO of the Detroit Lions from 2001 – 2008.
Finally, Davis was always ready to give people another chance. When other teams felt a player was washed up or not worth the hassle anymore, Davis would get the last bit of greatness out of them. Players like Lyle Alzado and Jim Plunkett were given second chances to resurrect their careers. Jeff Hostetler, Larry Brown and Desmond Howard parlayed their big Super Bowl games into big money contracts from the Raiders.
In 2011 Al Davis passed away at the age of 82 and the day after his passing, the Raiders played against the Houston Texans. On the final play of the game Raiders safety, Michael Huff intercepted a pass to hold on to the win for the Raiders. On that play, there were only 10 defensive players on the field, which thanks to Raiders lore made it about Davis being the 11th player not about coach Hue Jackson’s inability to get the right personnel on the field.