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Amid Heavy Speculation, Flores Retires : But Raider Press Conference Fails to Yield Clue as to His Successor

Times Staff Writer

Tom Flores, who has coached the Raiders for nine seasons, retired from coaching Wednesday in the wake of a 5-10 season, the team’s worst in 25 years.

Despite heavy speculation that the Raiders had called a morning press conference to announce not only Flores’ retirement but the name of his successor -- most likely the first black head coach in the history of the National Football League -- there was no announcement about the new coach. Al Davis, the team’s general managing partner, said there would most likely be none until March, when the NFL has its annual meetings.

Flores, 50, led the Raiders to an 83-53 record in regular-season games and two Super Bowl titles, in 1981 and 1984, but the team has slipped badly in recent years, losing 14 of its last 19 games.

Davis said, however, that Flores would remain in the Raider family as a special adviser.

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The club’s major weakness has been at quarterback. Veteran Jim Plunkett has been hampered by injuries -- he was on the injured reserve list all last season, and neither Marc Wilson nor Rusty Hilger has provided consistency at the position.

Flores said that the decision was his alone, a point that Davis emphasized.

“No one asked Tom Flores to retire,” Davis said. “He made his own decision.”

Said Flores: “I needed some time to reflect,” adding that when he agreed to coach the then-Oakland Raiders nine years ago, he and Davis had agreed he would hold the post for 10 years.

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Flores also said that he had set himself a personal goal of 100 games won during that period. Because of the team’s poor showing last season, that goal was no longer possible, he added.

“It’s time for me to step aside ... because I just feel it,” Flores said. “I’m not burned out, but I am tired and it’s time for me to get away from it all for a while to do some business.”

That apparently means that Flores intends to concentrate full time on his beer distributorship. Flores, who spent 25 of his 28 years in professional football with the Raiders as a player, assistant coach and head coach, ruled out a coaching job with another team.

“I don’t know what the new challenges will be, but I’m ready to face them,” he said.

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Names of a possible successor to Flores mentioned in media speculation included Dennis Green, 38, the receiver 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 1979, 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.

However, a Raider source said: “Willie Brown is not ready.”

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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.

It had been speculated since late in the Raiders’ 5-10 season -- their worst since their 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 last fall’s strike and 4-8 with their regular players, only their third losing season under Davis and second under Flores, who coached them to Super Bowl victories in 1980 and ’83.

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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 his team’s success -- an 8-1 record -- during the strike-shortened season of 1983. His career coaching record is 91-56, including the three strike games this season, and 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.

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