When news broke that the Oakland Raiders interviewed Mike Shanahan, many NFL observers paused and scratched their heads. For Raiders’ announcer Greg Papa, it was more than just confusing … it was flat out wrong.
Among all of the rivalries that pervade the NFL, perhaps one of the most notorious and heated was the one between Shanahan and Al Davis, who hired Shanahan to coach the Los Angeles Raiders after Shanahan spent four seasons as the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator. Shanahan and Al Davis butted heads repeatedly, with the back-and-forth becoming so intense that each one is said to have fired assistants hired by the other.
Davis fired Shanahan four games into his second year, and Shanahan still claims that the Raiders owe him money. After a stint as the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator, he eventually made his way back to the AFC West as the head coach of the Broncos, where he routinely ran up the score on the Raiders.
Of the people Al Davis hated (and there were many on that list), Shanahan stood head and shoulders above the rest. So it’s not surprising that Papa — who was very close with the late Raiders’ owner, as you’ll see in a bit — was unhappy. However, it was a little surprising to see just how offended Papa was by the notion of Al’s son even interviewing Shanahan.
Papa argued with Rod Woodson and Bill Romanowski about Shanahan during the most recent edition of the “Football Hour” on 95.7 The Game’s “The Wheelhouse.” We transcribed the discussion, which was both interesting and enlightening to anyone interested in Raiders history/politics. Papa argues why it’s important to keep Al’s wishes at the forefront, and the two former Raiders don’t understand why anyone would be so concerned with a dead man’s wishes after so many losing seasons.
PAPA: I have no problem with Mike Shanahan as a football coach. I think, at a time, he was the best play-designer and play-caller in pro football. And when the Raiders played him, I feared him. I knew he would isolate the weakness in the Raider defense. He would attack it, he would wait and do it at a pivotal moment of the game. His football acumen, I do not deny. I think he made a bad mistake in Washington, playing RGIII.
ROMO: Whoa, whoa, whoa, let me help you there …
PAPA: Hold on. In the playoff game when he was hurt, he should’ve played Kirk Cousins. It set him back the next year, and that’s where it all unraveled.
You don’t have to sell me on Mike Shanahan. He can coach 31 other teams in the league. He cannot coach the Raiders, in my opinion. As close as I am with Al and was with Al, and knowing the animosity that he felt toward Mike Shanahan, the fact that we’re having this discussion is beyond disrespectful, to me. To me, it’s just not worth it. It’s not worth it to have him revitalize the franchise. It’s not like this is a different ownership group. It’s Al’s wife and Al’s son that are running it. And to run it in such a regard that would show him no respect, it just would not be worth it. You don’t have to sell me about Mike Shanahan. I know what a great coach he is. I don’t want him coaching the Raiders, Bill, and I made that clear to you.
WOODSON: But is that a personal thing?
PAPA: Yes, it’s a personal thing. Yes. Yes.
ROMO: Take yourself to his grave and start digging.
PAPA: Sometimes it’s personal. Al did things that are personal. He’s not the only football coach in America. This is highly personal, yes! It’s highly personal. There are certain people that crossed the line, and you can’t go back. He thought about Jon Gruden, he did. I think he was patching things up to Jon, to some respect.
ROMO: Oh, bullcrap he was.
PAPA: Yes he was, Bill. Yes he was. This is different. It is personal. It’s absolutely personal.
WOODSON: This is what I would say to Mark. I love Al Davis, I really do. He treated me tremendously well at the time I was with the Raiders. But Mark has to make a decision based on the future of the franchise. Now, if the future of the franchise is to bring back the best available coach and if that coach in his mind is Mike Shanahan, then you bring him back to turn this thing back around. If you don’t want to bring him back because he’s not the best coach available, then you don’t bring him back.
ROMO: I agree with that.
WOODSON: I understand that Al and Mike Shanahan had something, whatever it was they had against each other. Mike against him, Al against … I don’t know.
PAPA: He hated his guts for 20 years, Rod.
WOODSON: I got that. I do understand that. Mark has to make sure that he’s making the right decisions for the future of the Oakland Raiders franchise. Now, if some people take it personal, where Mike, if he does get hired and they think it’s a slap in the face to Al Davis, then Mark is going to have to make amends with that. But if he is the best guy available, and he can turn this franchise around, and Mark believes that, but he doesn’t make the decision to hire him because of the animosity that was between him and his father, I think would be unfair to his company. I really do. I mean, I do get it.
ROMO: Great point. Great point.
WOODON: Just make sure you aren’t making something so personal that you don’t have the clarity of what’s right for the future.
ROMO: Because winning is what is important to the Raider Nation. They haven’t had it for 10+ years. It has gone downhill. It hasn’t gone, like, gradually. It has gone downhill. This is an opportunity here, with a young quarterback, a great offensive mind. You have a great linebacker on the other side that you can build a defense around. Some good young corners — potential good young corners. You have $65 million to spend. Do you trust Reggie McKenzie with that $65 million based on what he spent the money on last year? For me, you just look at what a guy has done in his past, and that scares me. Could he resurrect that and change and make great choices this year …
PAPA: Hey Bill, when you left the Broncos, and Mike Shanahan let you go, and Al Davis hired you as a Raider, did you ever talk to Al Davis about Mike Shanahan? I’m sure you did.
ROMO: Never once. Never brought him up.
PAPA: Did you have a feeling about what Al thought about Mike Shanahan?
ROMO: But here’s what I did, I went to Bill Ca … I knew that, but I’m a spiritual guy, OK?
PAPA: It doesn’t matter what you thought or what Rod thought, or what I thought. Did you know what Al thought about Mike Shanahan?
ROMO: The guy you’re talking about is not alive right now. OK? Hey, God love him and I hope he is resting. I hope he’s in a great place. And I believe he is. But guess what? This is about Mark Davis and his legacy. OK? And Mark needs to make, as Rod said, the best decision for him and the Oakland Raider organization. What happened 25 years ago, 26 years ago, is gone. With that mentality, Greg, with that same mentality, if you keep making decisions based on past people that your dad didn’t like, you probably wouldn’t hire anybody. Because he didn’t like very many people, unless he could control ’em. So, based on that you’re going to be losing again next year, and the year after, and the year after. You’re not going to get a stadium built, and the organization is going to go downhill even further.