The old college try

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
Fourteen years ago, a group of bleary-eyed sports writers stumbled in each morning for a 7 a.m. press conference for the Aloha Bowl in Honolulu.

Stanford coach Dennis Green would take the podium, and at some point would be asked about rumors he would be soon coaching in the NFL. C’mon, guys. Keep your eye on the ball. I’m returning to Stanford. We’ve got a game to play this week, Green would say.

Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross, a more folksy sort, would ignore the podium and ask media members to join him at a table for a more informal chat. Like Green, he would be asked about rumors he would soon be coaching in the NFL.

Nice that you’d ask, Ross, would say, but no, he was returning to Georgia Tech. Hadn’t heard a thing from any team, not that he knew of.

Not long after everyone was back on the mainland, Dennis Green was named coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and Bobby Ross was named coach of the San Diego Chargers. Which brings us to Fresno State coach Pat Hill, and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.

Hill was fairly above board, setting a window of opportunity then agreeing to a contract extension lasting through 2010. He interviewed with the Houston Texans and talked to the New Orleans Saints. There was discussion on some level with the Raiders and personnel exec Mike Lombardi, although no one knows how serious it got.

Petrino, a notorious job seeker in the Larry Brown mold, got wind of reports he’d talked with the Raiders – including one in ANG Newspapers which said he’d been in town – and had his school release a statement reaffirming his commitment to Louisville.

It’s worth noting the statement failed to say two things:
1) It didn’t happen.
2) I wasn’t there.

Petrino has issued statements like this before, only to allow to be courted by Florida and LSU at a later date.

The point is, there is a fairly standard procedure when it comes to college coaches who are considering going to the pros. This doesn’t make Petrino any different than most college coaches, although slightly more overt. They keep saying they’re staying. Right up to the point when they leave.

And although the Raiders are maddening in their secrecy, they can be forgiven for working even more behind the scenes than usual where college coaches are concerned.

To announce a pro coach has been in town is a no-lose proposition. If they were smart, they’d make him available to the media like the Houston Texans, allowing the applicant to say all sorts of great things about the Raiders. The interest on both sides is not a bad thing.

But to announce talks with a college coach affects recruiting, boosters, and the more delicate balance of a college program.

This doesn’t mean Petrino is headed to the Raiders. He could be a legitimately hot candidate next season for either an NFL or major college job. He’d make more money than he would in Oakland and also get more say when it comes to personnel and assistant coaches.

He’d be going to an income-strapped franchise which is heading into the uncertainty of a future which at present does not include a collective bargaining agreement with a salary cap. You can safety assume that those reasons, and not a vague “reaffirmation” of a commitment to Louisville, have a lot more to do with why Bobby Petrino won’t be in Oakland in 2006.

Al and Al
The bottom line regarding Al Davis and Al Saunders? If Davis wanted Saunders as coach, he would have hired him.

Saunders canceled a trip to the Bay Area to sign with Washington, but there’s no guarantee he would have gotten a job offer. Davis may have even been hoping he could somehow coax him into being an offensive coordinator.