|The times have changed, but not Davis
By John Clayton
SAN DIEGO -- With the Raiders, it's all about the players. Al Davis structured an organizational flow chart that centers around the players.
No NFL front office is like it. Titles mean nothing. There are no general managers. There are no vice presidents of football operations. Davis dishes out responsibilities and expects that his office workers will do their best to make the players lives successful.
"The Raiders have a unique way, a Raider way of doing things," senior assistant Bruce Allen said. "Titles don't matter. We don't need no stinking titles. It's a great organization that everybody understands there is one objective. The objective is for the coaches and players to win on the field. That's all that matters."
Just win, baby, has been Davis' manta, but Davis has his priorities for his employees. He caters to players, past and present, and they take priority in every decision.
"Al Davis believes in leadership and responsibility and he wants a person to do his job," said longtime Raiders employee Willie Brown. "We have executive this and executive that. Al believes in giving a person responsibility and they have to do their job. The No. 1 thing is the Raiders. It's not the coach of the Raiders. The owners aren't the Raiders. The front office is not the Raiders. Al Davis is The Raider. Al Davis' responsibility is getting the players in to be a Raider."
Figuring the Raiders' power structure isn't hard. Davis is at the top. He oversees the operation and is there for the major decisions. Amy Trask has evolved from the team's top lawyer into being the "chief executive." She oversees the business and marketing side of the operation.
Allen runs the football front office. Chet Franklin and Mike Lombardi run the scouting department. The Raiders list their titles as simply "Player Personnel." Jon Kingdon is the top scout in a department of nine.
Davis' employees usually stay for a long time, and if someone is a former Raider, then they might have a job for life. Davis believes in the past successes of the team, and he is constantly trying to take care of players by finding them jobs. One of his goals in building a stadium in Los Angeles was to have former players with business backgrounds become involved in stadium-related businesses.
"There is no ulterior motive," Allen said. "We define our organization with the great players who have been here before. We treat them special. We are hoping that the alumni comes down to be a part of what we do. Our thinking is that if the players of today see us taking care of the players of the past, they will have a vision of what it will be like when their playing days are over."
Philosophically, Davis always believed in bringing in veteran players. Veterans appreciate the history of the sport a little more than rookies. Davis has a long history of signing discarded first-round choices from other teams and letting them enjoy the pampered treatment as a Raider.
It's the job of everyone in the front office to make that playing experience comfortable.
"Al doesn't do things like others in the NFL," safety Rod Woodson said. "He looks at how you play and not at your birth certificate. He gives a lot of guys second chances. He'll sign guys who are older and may have bad reputations. That has been the history. He's kind of the black sheep in the NFL. He doesn't follow trends. He asks questions like, 'Can you play and can you fit.' "
Then came Jon Gruden, who brought a discipline and fire to the sidelines. He brought a plan and Davis let him run with it. The Raiders became a playoff team, but Gruden didn't seem to like the structure. He was going to let his contract run out this season and leave.
When the Bucs called to inquire about Gruden, Davis worked out a deal that sent him to Tampa Bay for two No. 1s, two No. 2s and $8 million. With Gruden gone, Davis became more hands on. Those in the front office with the weird titles kept bringing him ideas for the players. Davis endorsed the more aggressive approach and poured that $8 million back into the lockeroom in signing defensive linemen John Parrella and Sam Adams, linebacker Bill Romanwoski and Woodson.
Combine those additions with their best draft in years -- cornerback Phillip Buchanon, linebacker Napoleon Harris, tackle Langston Walker and tight end Doug Jolley -- you can see that the Raiders had their best offseason in almost two decades. It allowed them to survive the league's toughest schedule with an 11-5 record and win top seed in the AFC.
It's the job of those in the front office to keep finding new ways to satisfy the players. Veterans really appreciate that.
"I have gotten to know Al and appreciate him more and more each year that I have been here," quarterback Rich Gannon said. "His energy level is phenomenal. He's out there at practice and watching films. He's a very detailed guy. He knows and evaluates and understands personnel as well as anybody in the business. He is always asking questions about different people and he gets a lot of feedback. One thing we all know is that he's a guy that makes his own decisions and lives with them. Since I got here in 1999, I feel like this team has gotten better each year and he has made a conscious effort to go out and get better players and give us the best chance for a world championship."
For that reason, Davis didn't want to set back the players by going outside the coaching staff for Gruden's replacement. He promoted Bill Callahan. The players supported the move, and now they are in the Super Bowl.
"After Al Davis collects all those players, it's up to the coaches to get them to do what we need them to do," Brown said. "This season probably means more to Al because he's been through so much in the last 19 years. It's been tough. He's been through a lot of stuff with the league and trying to find the right coach to get us here. I don't know why it's taken 19 years. Al has not lost one step. Al is just as sharp today and he was the first day I met him. He knows talent. He knows coaches. He knows everything about it."
Super Bowl week is a partial reward to this season. The Hawaiian Airlines DC-10 will wear the Raider shield all week and make two shuttles up and down the coast to bring family, friends and former players.
"With us, it's whatever we can do for the players," Allen said. "Whatever we can do to make them more productive on the field is our job. Whether its physical therapists, masseuses or whatever, we will do it."
It's a commitment to assist.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.