Sports Uncovered

What Bill Belichick remembers from interviewing for Raiders job in 1998

What Bill Belichick remembers from interviewing for Raiders job in 1998

The Raiders were in the market for a new head coach back in 1998. Joe Bugel was let go after one 4-12 season, and owner Al Davis interviewed several candidates to run his team and help return it to prominence.

Davis was the final say and sole decision-maker on these matters, but he asked his CEO, Amy Trask, for her opinion on the candidates available.

“That was the one coaching search in which Al ever involved me,” Trask said in a Jan. 2019 episode of the Raiders Talk podcast. “I met with the candidates, and he asked me after I had met each one who I recommended he hire. Without any hesitation whatsoever, I said Bill Belichick.”

Davis didn’t end up going with Belichick, but still ended up making a great hire. Jon Gruden was the guy, and the young offensive wizard helped take a downtrodden group to .500 twice before vaulting it into the AFC’s upper echelon.

Gruden took the Raiders to the AFC title game following the 2000 season and got jobbed by the Tuck Rule in a 2001 divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots and their second-year coach -- Bill Belichick.

Though Trask was thrilled with the Gruden hire and his subsequent contributions to the organization, the Patriots dynasty proved that she made a great recommendation.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Barret Robbins' Mysterious Disappearance]
 

Belichick wasn’t ever a frontrunner for the Raiders gig. He was a defensive specialist and Davis has a long history of hiring offensive minds dating back to Tom Flores. The Raiders' defense, however, largely remained under Davis’ purview.

Belichick has great reverence for Davis and remembered his interview with the Raiders legend fondly in an interview before the Raiders and Patriots played in 2011.

"He's a great mind," Belichick said, via NFL.com. "It was unlike any other interview I've ever had with an owner because he was so in-depth, his interview was so in-depth really about football, about 'Xs' and 'Os' and strategy and use of personnel and acquisition of -- all the things really that a coach would talk about, that's really what he talked about. That made it pretty unique."

[RELATED: The real story of Robbins' Super Bowl disappearance]

Belichick, who was the Jets defensive coordinator at the time of his interview with the Raiders, said he knew during the interview he wasn’t going to be a top candidate, but he still enjoyed the conversation with a brilliant, detailed football mind.

"You know, it was good because we talked a lot about football and (Davis is) very, very knowledgeable about the game, personnel, schemes, adjustments and so forth," Belichick said. "He was asking a lot of questions about what [the Jets] did defensively.

"You kind of don't want to give too much information there because you know, he's running the [Raiders] defense. He wasn't really too interested in talking about offensive football."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Kyle Shanahan picking Jimmy Garoppolo over Tom Brady was Bill Belichick's aim

Kyle Shanahan picking Jimmy Garoppolo over Tom Brady was Bill Belichick's aim

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, will shine a fresh light on some of the most notable moments and figures in sports. The sixth episode tells the story of "The Bill Belichick You Don't Know," profiling a different side of the New England Patriots' iconic coach.

Few in NFL history can claim to have done something Bill Belichick hasn't. Let alone, do something Belichick wanted to but couldn't.

Kyle Shanahan finds himself in that category after a 2020 NFL offseason that closed the books on the longest-running dynasty in sports. With Tom Brady wanting to come to the Bay Area and finish his career in San Francisco, Shanahan weighed the pros and cons of bringing in a 42-year-old Brady and shipping out Jimmy Garoppolo. In the end, Shanahan chose Garoppolo over Brady, believing he gives the 49ers the best chance to win a title.

A plan Belichick wanted to execute in New England a few years ago.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

For 20 years Belichick and Tom Brady ruled the NFL with an iron first. Both self-made, strong-willed men, Brady and Belichick put their differences aside in the name of winning, believing they were stronger together than apart. But, as is often the case, bitterness festered as the years went by. Belichick's harsh personality wore on Brady. Each wanted more credit for the success of their dynastic run. Each believed they had more to do with the six Super Bowl titles than their partner.

Belichick, known for being cold and calculated when building a roster, started to sense the end was near for Brady early in the last decade. He drafted Garoppolo with the 62nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Brady's successor was in place.

Brady threw a wrench into Belichick's plan and started swinging back at Father Time. The Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl during Garoppolo's rookie season, with Brady carving up the Seattle Seahawks' vaunted defense en route to a win (with some help from Pete Carroll). With Brady's competitive engine pushed to full throttle, Garoppolo was stapled to the bench as Brady continued his assault on Joe Montana's status as the GOAT.

Even with the Patriots back to winning Super Bowls, Belichick knew Brady's clock was ticking. He didn't want to be left holding the bag when the legendary quarterback went off the cliff.

With Brady suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season due to the Deflategate scandal, Garoppolo got his chance to lead the Patriots. He won his first two starts, throwing for 502 yards and four touchdowns. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 and was unable to start the final two games of Brady's suspension.

Still, Belichick reportedly was ready to hand the keys over to Garoppolo. Brady, who had maintained he could play well into his 40s, wasn't close to hanging it up. Brady made it clear he had plans to be the team's franchise quarterback well into the future, something that owner Robert Kraft was more than happy to accept. It didn't sit well with Belichick, who had been grooming Garoppolo to take over, and the young quarterback was set to be a free agent after the 2017 season. Paying two quarterbacks starter money wasn't in the cards for the Patriots.

With conflict reportedly festering between Brady, Belichick and Kraft, Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo, according to a report from ESPN's Seth Wickersham. The demand left Belichick dejected and furious that Kraft had intervened in football operations, per Wickersham's explosive report.

When Belichick called 49ers general manager John Lynch and the 49ers, he reportedly first offered Brady to the 49ers instead of Garoppolo, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. Lynch previously has said he asked Belichick about Brady and got a laugh out of Belichick, We'll probably never know how everything went down.

Either way, it ended with Belichick shipping Garoppolo, the quarterback he wanted to start the next phase of his reign with, to San Francisco for pennies on the dollar. Make no mistake, Belichick was ready to move on from Brady for some time before the Garoppolo trade.

Belichick saw the writing on the wall, and knew Brady's play would drop off. The iconic coach doesn't feel nostalgia for the times of old, nor did he feel indebted to Brady. Football is a business. Bottom line. Belichick makes cold, calculated decisions better than most.

He wanted to choose Garoppolo over Brady. He wanted to win with Garoppolo and believed he could. He was denied the opportunity.

[RELATED: Brady became 49ers villain by being reminder of greatness lost, opportunities missed]

Two seasons after Garoppolo was shipped across the country, Brady packed up his bags and left the cold of 1 Patriot Place for the sunshine of Tampa Bay. He discarded the Patriot Way to enjoy his remaining years of football on one of the NFL's least iconic franchises.

It wasn't his first choice. Brady reportedly wanted to come home to the Bay, and bring a title to the franchise he cheered growing up. Once again the choice was between him and his former protege. Shanahan and Lynch discussed it, played out the scenarios and ended up walking the road Belichick wished he could travel.

They chose Garoppolo, fresh off a Super Bowl berth, over Brady, who has lifted the Lombardi Trophy six times.

It's not easy to say no to an icon. It's hard to turn your back on a GOAT. It's even more difficult to do so for a 28-year-old quarterback with only 26 career starts. It's a move Belichick, who rules with no personal attachment, was ready to make, believing he had gotten all he could from Brady and that it was in his and the Patriots' interest to put Garoppolo under center.

For Shanahan, his decision was based not on the idea that Brady was done, but in that Garoppolo has yet to reach his peak. The two share a bond, one found between offensive-minded head coaches and their quarterback. One Brady and the defensive-minded Belichick never fostered. Shanahan believes in Garoppolo and knows he can get better with another full year in the system under his belt.

Shanahan did what Belichick wanted to but couldn't. He chose Garoppolo over Brady.

Now, comes the hard part: Winning a title and proving that was the right decision.

Raiders claim Jon Gruden, Buccaneers knew their plays in Super Bowl XXXVII

Raiders claim Jon Gruden, Buccaneers knew their plays in Super Bowl XXXVII

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

The Raiders arrived at Super Bowl XXXVII prepared to reclaim their rightful place atop the NFL. Only their old coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccanneers stood in their way.

The Silver and Black were confident in a victory. They were armed with the No. 1 offense in the NFL, and weren't scared of the Bucs. By now you're aware of the story. Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins went missing the night before the game and the Raiders were trounced 48-21.

After the thrashing, the excuses started flowing from the Raiders. The fingers were pointed at Robbins for going missing and at coach Bill Callahan for his drastic last-minute game plan alteration. But while Robbins' disappearance -- which is the focus of NBC Sports' latest episode of their Sports Uncovered podcast series -- had a big impact, many Raiders believe the Gruden effect played a bigger role, believing the Bucs knew what plays they were running.

"Every level of the defense knew what we were doing," former right tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "They knew what to look for when we checked versus a blitz. They knew where we were going with the ball. They knew Rich's rotation."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

"You have never played a football game where 95 percent of the plays, the other team, they can guess what plays you are running based on scheme," Mo Collins recalled in 2011. "But these guys, we was breaking the huddle, and they was calling out our formation, and bossing over to our formations." (Mo Collins died in 2014. He was 38.)

If the Bucs did know the Raiders' plays, the blame should fall on Callahan for not switching up the checks from when Gruden coached the Raiders the year prior.

"I played with some of them after the fact," former defensive tackle Sam Adams said. " And they're like, 'We cannot believe you're using the same checks, and the same terminology.' We -- I mean Gruden ran practice saying, 'He's using the same stuff that he put in.' Come on. How can that be?"

To members of the Bucs, though, all this talk are just excuses for the beating they laid on the Raiders.

"It's the same offense that Jon Gruden ran when he was there," former Bucs defensive tackle Booger McFarland said. So, we practiced against the same offense for a year. So, if you're not going to change any of the same audibles that Gruden uses in Tampa, that's on you."

[RELATED: Al Davis never got over Super Bowl loss to Bucs]

The Raiders walked into Qualcomm Stadium without their Pro Bowl center, and with a game plan that was barely 48 hours old. They left with their tail between their legs.

Looking back on the loss, none of that mattered. The Raiders were instilled as four-point favorites, but that line was off.

That was always Gruden and the Bucs' Super Bowl to win.