Raiders face uncertain future after Davis' death
ALAMEDA, Calif.—The Oakland Raiders will have to replace much more than an owner now following Al Davis' death.
He was the general manager who hand-picked many of the current members of the Raiders. He was the master technician whose football philosophies are still adhered to by the team more than three decades after he coached his last game. He was the iconic figure who turned his beloved franchise into a global brand whose silver-and-black colors are recognized around the world.
Most of all, Davis was the driving force behind a franchise that won three Super Bowl titles and was one of the most successful in pro sports until falling on hard times the past decade.
"His shoes are big," Hall of Fame cornerback and current Raiders assistant Willie Brown said. "It's hard to fill those particular shoes, because he's done it all. ... It's hard to replace a great leader and a legend like Al Davis."
Davis died at age 82 on Saturday. There was no cause of death released. While the Raiders are still mourning his loss, the team played its first game without him in charge since 1962 in Houston against the Texans with a decal simply saying "AL" on the back of their helmets.
"He really was a legend of the game," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "There's not many people who had the kind of impact on the game. He was a commissioner, he was an owner, he was a coach, he was a general manager, and he was passionate about the game of football. He loved the NFL as much as anybody I know."
While it's too early to predict what the Raiders will be like after Davis' death, some things are certain. The team will remain in the Davis family with Al's wife, Carol, being the majority owner and his son, Mark, expected to run the franchise.
CEO Amy Trask will continue in her job and will play a big role in the upcoming transition.
While Mark Davis has been a more visible presence around the team in recent years often attending practice and going to games, he lacks the football acumen of his father. Mark Davis was at the game Sunday in Houston.
Mark Davis has spent much of his time working on getting the team a new stadium and that remains a high priority with the team having talked with the San Francisco 49ers about possibly sharing a stadium.
That means the Raiders will likely have to hire a general manager after decades of Davis making almost all of the important decisions for the franchise.
Al Davis had talked about bringing coach John Madden back to the franchise to help Mark, but a priority will be finding someone to run the day-to-day football operations.
"The Raiders and the entire NFL won't be the same without him," agent Drew Rosenhaus said. "He had a unique style and personality that will never be matched. I will miss him a lot. One of the thrills for me during my career was dealing with a legend like Al Davis. It was a dream come true to communicate with him."
While coach Hue Jackson and the personnel department can probably handle whatever comes up in the immediate future, the franchise will face some big questions in the offseason that likely will need a general manager to resolve.
The most notable decision surrounds quarterback Jason Campbell, who is eligible for free agency after the season. Campbell has proven to be a capable quarterback in his two seasons in Oakland but the team must decide whether to build around him for the future, give rookie Terrelle Pryor a chance or go after another quarterback in free agency or the draft.
There also will be questions if the Raiders will continue to employ the style of play Davis loved so much, especially on defense where New England coach Bill Belichick recently called him the team's de facto defensive coordinator.
The Raiders have always sought speedy cornerbacks who could excel at man coverage and big defensive linemen who could pressure the quarterback. His teams rarely played zone coverage and did not like to blitz, sometimes leading to complaints from head coaches like Lane Kiffin who wanted to use their own defensive styles.
Davis once was a constant presence around his team, attending nearly every practice with a watchful eye and giving frequent tips to players and coaches. He was seen much less frequently recently. He did not attend a single training camp practice and missed a rare road trip to Buffalo last month.
But it was Davis who decided to part ways with coach Tom Cable after last season despite pleas from his players. It was Davis who hired Jackson, ran a draft that has produced a couple of key contributors so far this season and made the key decisions in free agency to keep players like Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt and Kamerion Wimbley while letting All Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha leave without a contract offer.
After eight straight years without a winning record, the Raiders have shown signs of improvement this year and look like a prototypical Davis team with imposing defensive linemen, a big-armed quarterback, a power running game led by Darren McFadden and speedy receivers who can get deep.
"It's kind of sad to see him leave when this team finally seems to be coming of age, and becoming the type of team that he loved," said Tom Flores, one of Davis' former coaches.
AP Sports Writers Chris Duncan in Houston and John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this story.