A Raiders' Mystery: Will Flores Retire? : Press Conference to Answer Speculation: Is New Coach 1st Black?

Times Staff Writer

The Raiders, remaining characteristically mysterious Tuesday night after inviting the media to a press conference today for a "significant announcement," are likely to announce the retirement of Coach Tom Flores.

Television network ESPN broadcast, via reporter Jim Gray, that Flores would retire. Both Flores and Al Davis, the team's managing general partner, were reached by various members of the media Tuesday night and both refused to confirm or deny Flores' departure.

One source stressed that Flores would "retire," rather than "resign," a resignation implying that he would seek another job in football. Flores' retirement would probably mean that he would concentrate full time on his beer distributorship.

Other Raider officials added to the intrigue by repeatedly suggesting to the media that everyone bring cameras. That, of course, triggered speculation that a new coach would be on hand, since pictures of Tom Flores are no new commodity.

Further speculation was that--given Davis' penchant for breaking new ground with blockbuster moves--that the new Raider coach could be black, the first black head coach in the modern-day National Football League.

Names mentioned in various media speculation included Dennis Green, 38, the receivers coach of the San Francisco 49ers who was head coach at Northwestern University from 1981 through '85; Tony Dungy, the 32-year-old defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Willie Brown, Raider defensive backfield coach and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Art Shell, Raider offensive line coach.

Brown, 47, became an assistant coach when he retired from playing in '79, the year Flores was promoted to head coach.

Davis' track record is to promote assistants such as John Madden and Flores to the top job.

A Raider source said: "Willie Brown is not ready."

As for defensive coordinator Charlie Sumner, 57, the source said: "Sumner is obviously the best qualified, but the age factor isn't in his favor."

Madden, now a CBS pro football analyst, has said that the Raiders' "coach of the future" is Shell, 41, a former player and since '83 an offensive line coach with the club.

Gene Upshaw, the former Raider--now a Hall of Famer--who is executive director of the NFL Players Assn., was invited to Los Angeles by Davis to attend today's press conference. When reached for comment, Upshaw insisted he didn't know what it was all about.

"It's the best-kept secret I've ever seen," Upshaw said.

Flores, contacted at home Tuesday night, would say only: "You're gonna have to speculate. Some guys are gonna write what they feel, but I can't comment."

It had been speculated since late in the Raiders' 5-10 season--their worst since a 1-13 mark in 1962, a year before Davis joined the franchise as coach and general manager--that Davis would move Flores into the front office.

The Raiders were 1-2 during the strike and 4-8 overall, only their third losing season under Davis and second under Flores, who coached them to Super Bowl victories in 1980 and '83.

No NFL coach has been fired this season as owners of losing teams took the effects of the 24-day player strike into consideration.

No NFL team has hired a black head coach, either--an issue that intensified this year with the Al Campanis and, most recently, the Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder episodes.

Flores, 50, was honored as NFL "coach of the year" for the latter success gleaned from an 8-1 strike-shortened season in '83. His career coaching record is 91-56, including the three strike games this season, and he has an 8-3 record in playoff games.

Flores, a native of Fresno, played quarterback for then-College of the Pacific (now University of Pacific) and the Raiders before playing his last four seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

He returned to the Bills as quarterback coach in '71, came to the Raiders as receivers coach in '72 and was appointed head coach in '79.

Bill Robertson, who as a Coliseum commissioner was instrumental in bringing the club from Oakland to Los Angeles and who is close to Davis, said Tueday night that he suspected something important was about to happen.

"I haven't talked to Al about it at all, although I had the feeling there was something in the air this week," Robertson said. "I knew he was doing something, but I didn't feel comfortable asking him about it. But I had the feeling that he expected me to ask him.

"I guess the reason I didn't ask him is if it leaked, I didn't want him thinking it was coming from me.

"I can see Tom resigning. He's comfortable. He has a Coors' franchise."

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