As New England coach Bill Belichick prepares to lead his team on the field in Oakland on Sunday, he’s reflecting on the time he interviewed to become the Raiders’ head coach.
Belichick had just finished his second season as the Jets’ assistant head coach under Bill Parcells, and Raiders owner Al Davis had just fired head coach Joe Bugel after one 4-12 season. Belichick says it was a pleasure to meet with Davis.
“It was good. It was a good experience for me. I went out there after the ’98 season,” Belichick said on Friday. “We had a good couple days of conversation. It was good because we talked a lot about football, and he’s very, very knowledgeable about the game, personnel, schemes, adjustments and so forth. He was asking a lot of questions about what we did defensively.”
Davis coached the Raiders himself from 1963 to 1965, and in the nearly half century since then he has earned a reputation as a hands-on owner who, for better or worse, wants to get personally involved in how the coach does things. Belichick confirmed that that was his perception of Davis.
“You kind of don’t want to give too much information because, you know, he’s running the defense. He wasn’t really too interested in talking about offensive football,” Belichick said. “He’s a great mind. It was unlike any other interview I’ve ever had with an owner because he was so in-depth. His interview was so in-depth, really, about football, about Xs and Os and strategy and use of personnel and acquisition, all the things really that a coach would talk about, that’s really what he talked about. That made it pretty unique.”
Davis ended up hiring Jon Gruden, and Belichick said that’s what he expected: Although Belichick was happy to get another head-coaching interview three years after he was fired as head coach of the Browns, he never expected Davis to hire him.
“It really seemed like a waste of time, because I felt pretty certain that he wouldn’t hire a defensive coach, because he hasn’t since Eddie Erdelatz in ,” Belichick said. “It’s a parade of offensive coaches out there. He’s really a defensive coordinator.”
It’s fascinating to think how the last decade in the NFL might have been different if that interview had gone differently. Does Belichick turn the Raiders into three-time champions, as he has done with the Patriots? Where would New England have turned a year later when their coaching job opened up again? If Davis had hired Belichick, much of recent football history would have changed.