December 8, 2014
Al Davis Goes After Sean Payton
Parcells: A Football Life, by Bill Parcells & Nunyo Demasio (2014)
After the 2003 season, Raiders' owner Al Davis needed to hire a new coach. He had his eye on Bill Parcells' QB coach with the Dallas Cowboys, Sean Payton.
Having played a key role in helping his mutual friends consummate an improbable marriage in Dallas, Al Davis took special note of the team's turnaround. The Raiders boss was particularly impressed with Quincy Carter's progress in an offense lacking a top runner or a first-rate wideout. So on firing his head coach, Bill Callahan, after a 4-12 season, Al Davis gained permission from the Cowboys to interview their top two offensive coaches: Mo Carthon and Sean Payton. Despite preferring to keep thm, Parcells felt compelled to let his assistants pursue a head-coaching opportunity, and even recommended the duo to his longtime consigliere.
Bill Callahan happened to be Sean Payton's friend and ex-Eagles colleague, but only two years removed from being demoted as Giants offensive coordinator, Payton was thrilled by Davis's interest. One of five candidates discussing the head coach opening with the Raiders chief in early January, Payton arrived at the team's headquarters in Alameda, California, with a bad case of the jitters. A few moments before meeting pro football's eminence grise, the forty-year-old coach walked into the bathroom and took three deep breaths while saying to himself, "I belong here. I belong here. I belong here."
In mid-January Payton was the only candidate flown back to Oakland for a second round of interviews with Al Davis and personnel executive Mike Lombardi that spanned four days. By the end of Payton's trip, Davis all but officially offered him the job. Despite his inclination to accept, Payton needed to fulfill his promise to discuss the matter with his wife.
Heading to the airport for a flight to Dallas on Tuesday, January 20, Payton checked his voice mail, which included three messages from Parcells bent on finding out his quarterbacks coach's decision firsthand. As Payton walked toward his flight gate a TV monitor airing ESPN showed his face next to the Raiders logo while reporting that he was set to sign a four year deal with Al Davis. Later that night Beth Payton expressed reluctance to her husband, but after sleeping on it, Sean Payton awoke early in the morning aching to be a head coach. After persuading his wife, Payton purchased a black suit and silver tie - Raiders colors - in anticipation of his introductory press conference. He also contacted some coaches to gauge their interest in being part of his imminent new staff.
The switch to the Raiders seemed so inevitable that Dallas's equipment manager cleaned out Payton's locker, but when he arrived at his office the next day, Payton checked in with three head-coaching friends who had ties to Al Davis: Carolina's John Fox, Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden, and Bill Callahan ... After Payton heard their takes, he received a phone call from Parcells.
"Listen, Sean, I want to talk to you for a minute like you were my son, not like I'm the head coach and you're my assistant. These other people that you're close to in the industry: what do they think you should do?"
Bill Parcells had described Sean Payton to Al Davis as being energetic and driven with an unusually sharp offensive mind. But in attempting to dissuade his quarterbacks coach, Parcells told Payton that he needed more grooming. A few minutes after Payton hung up, he received a call from Jerry Jones requesting his presence at the owner's mansion in Highland Park. When Payton arrived, the two went into Jones's library. During their conversation the owner focused on how much the organization values its quarterbacks coach. By the end of the get-together, Payton's desire to join the Raiders had evaporated.
Driving home, Payton called his wife about his change of heart, eliciting tears of delight. Then he telephoned Parcells about his final decision, followed by a call to Jerry Jones. The next morning, minutes after Payton arrived at his office, Stephen Jones walked in with a new contract; it included a $500,000 raise, part of a three-year deal worth $3 million as an assistant head coach keeping the same duties.
After Al Davis found out, he dialed Bill Parcells to complain. "Why didn't you just tell me you wanted to keep him?"
Davis hired Dolphins offensive coordinator Norv Turner for Oakland's lead job, and Parcells was delighted about keeping Maurice Carthon, too.