Herrera wasn’t the problem


Not sure whether all the glee among fans about longtime Raiders senior executive John Herrera’s departure is amusing or sad.

It’s certainly misguided.

Herrera showed up to work every day, even through times of immense personal tragedy, and backed his boss, Al Davis. He made statements to the press when told to do so _ even when he may not of agreed with Davis. Not that he’d ever admit it. That’s the kind of loyalty Al engendered among many of his employees, for better or worse.

He had one bad moment captured by camera _ an argument with columnist Tim Kawakami when Herrera had produced a story critical of coach Lane Kiffin for media consumption. It was pure, wacky Raiders _ a team employee actually alerting media members about a story which backed the owner at the expense of a head coach on his way out.

But a moment Herrera probably regrets hardly encapsulates his time with the Raiders.

He started out of high school, with Davis only wanting to know if he had his driver’s license, so Herrera could shuttle players, coaches, whoever, to and from the airport and run errands. Herrera set up training camps in Oxnard and Napa, left alone to handle the myriad details. Davis left him in charge of the Irwindale stadium issue, with a full staff at his disposal.

He worked in almost every corner of the organization. Knew Davis well enough that the owner let him use his home in Palm Springs for vacations. He’s probably got a million stories he’ll never tell about the bad side of his boss as well, because Davis was seldom diplomatic and sometimes cruel.

Somehow, maybe it was the Kawakami video, perhaps it was the pro-Raider stances that were his job during losing years, Herrera became the lightning rod for what ailed the franchise. As if things will certainly be better now that he’s gone.

Within a fairly short period of time, Herrera worked through an agonizing time when his wife was stricken with cancer and eventually died, and had a younger brother die of a heart attack. He’s had some health issues of his own, and a little less stress in his life can’t hurt.

Herrera called it a “meeting of the minds” and described the parting as amicable. My understanding is it was a business-side decision, and not made in the football realm. Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen are working feverishly on football and McKenzie has only recently begun worrying about handling the media _ one of Herrera’s duties in the past few years.

I talked to Herrera tonight, and predictably, he had nothing bad to say about the organization which encompassed almost all of his adult life.

“It’s been something I’ve been really thinking about since Al passed away last October,” Herrera said. “I had a great run. I was there 35 years, three different tours of duty. Particpated in three different Super Bowls. I had an unbelievably great relationship with the owner and his family since I was a kid in 1963.”

The common perception, because of a couple of instances, is that Herrera as perennially at war with the media and those who critcized Davis. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most of us understood that when he had an issue with something we said or wrote, he was carrying out orders from the top.

In fact, when Herrera’s wife passed away, media members took up a collection on his behalf and purchased gift cards for food at a local food establishment near where he lived. He had young daughters who were griveing as well, and in those times, preparing food isn’t exactly a priority.

What’s next for Herrera? Getting healthy. Watching his daughters’ sporting events. Herrera re-married four months ago, and his stepson is a pitcher in the Reds’ organization and he plans on seeing spring training.

He’ll still be attending some Raiders’ legends functions. An event for Clem Daniels. A roast for Tom Flores. There are a few opportunities in the sports business.

“I don’t have anything negative to say,” Herrera said. “I’ve been a Raiders fan since I was 14 and the AFL was formed and my family gave up 49ers tickets in 1960. I developed great friendships with players and coaches and front office people. I’m not going to be able to turn any of that off. All I can do is wish them the best.”


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer