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Sumner: Shanahan Wasn’t Up to Task

Times Staff Writer

The shake-up of the Raider coaching staff is over, but not forgotten. Fired defensive coordinator Charlie Sumner broke his silence Tuesday, lashing out at Mike Shanahan for making him a “fall guy,” adding that he didn’t think Shanahan was ready to become a head coach.

“I really think I’m being made the fall guy and I think this was a set-up deal from the beginning,” Sumner said.

“From the way it’s turned out, I think this has been in Shanahan’s mind from the beginning. I don’t think he liked the idea of having to keep people around there that he didn’t want.

“I don’t think (Shanahan) was ready for all the stuff that came about--or any of it that came about.”

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Replied Shanahan:

“I’m sorry Charlie feels that way. Charlie and I had a good working relationship. I had a lot of respect for Charlie as a person and what he’s accomplished in the profession. But I felt that a change was needed in the best interests of the organization.”

Whatever else Sumner’s comments mean, they suggest that whispered-about strains in the staff, between the holdover coaches and the newcomer from arch- rival Denver were real, all right.

Shanahan was allowed to hire only two assistants a year ago. He fired Sumner and Willie Brown last week and there was widespread speculation more were going, too.

It’s not as if the Raiders needed any new problems, since their old ones have proved so persistent, but here it was.

This closest-knit, most tradition-conscious of organizations always promoted from within until owner Al Davis nudged Tom Flores into retirement, held an open call and hired Shanahan. Coaches such as John Madden and Flores, who learned their football at Davis’ knee, were in total agreement with him philosophically, and had been brothers-in-arms with the assistants.

Shanahan, though, was his own man and came from the highly-structured Broncos, where the relaxed Raider approach to practice would have been considered chaos.

Sumner, an old Raider, served stints under Flores and Davis, himself, but he’s at liberty now.

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“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it,” Sumner said from his Bay Area home, “and I just didn’t think the thing shook out the way it was supposed to.

“I know one thing: He wasn’t ready for that job. That became more obvious as the season went along.

“I kinda wondered what was going on out there (on offense) and I started noticing, I guess it was in the New Orleans game (midway through the season). It was obvious (the offensive staff, which Shanahan headed) weren’t ready. He wasn’t ready for the next play, that kind of stuff. . . .

“He was never ready with the next play. Our 25-yard offense was for . . . “

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The Raiders were struggling on both sides of the ball. Three weeks before the Saint game, they were buried by the Cincinnati Bengals, whereupon Davis convened a Sunday night staff meeting and threatened to fire two defensive assistants on the spot. Shanahan reportedly cooled Davis down the next day.

The Raider defense, with two new starters in the line and as many as three in the secondary, rallied during a 3-game winning streak, peaked at San Francisco, where it held the 49ers to 219 yards in a 9-3 victory, but fell apart down the stretch.

Sumner says he knew his job was in jeopardy at season’s end, and he was right.

“I dropped by to see Al right after the season for a minute about something else, nothing out of the ordinary,” Sumner says. “We talked a couple of minutes and then he asked me a surprising question.

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“He said. ‘What happened between you and Shanahan?’

“I said, ‘Nothing that I know of.’ In fact, I was his most ardent supporter when he came in. Hell, I want to win.

“I asked Al why he asked that. He said, well, he thought that something had happened, because Shanahan wanted to get rid of a bunch of guys.”

Sumner knew about Davis’ post-Bengals rage but doesn’t think Davis did him in, finally.

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"(Davis) is an excitable guy,” Sumner said. “He says a lot of things from time to time in the heat of the battle.

“When I went back last Tuesday, Shanahan said, ‘Well, how do you want to handle this?’

“And I said, ‘Handle what? I’m fired, aren’t I?’

“He said, ‘Yeah.’

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“Then I said, ‘Well, put it in the papers that I’m fired.’

“Then I said, ‘Well, you know there’s been some innuendoes that you and I had some differences. If that’s true, I don’t know anything about it. If there was something you didn’t agree with or something else you wanted done, you should have told me about it.’

“He said, ‘Well, in my experience, I’ve never seen people do things the way y’all do them.’

“I mean, hell, we’ve been doing it that way for a long time.”

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It’s a new day, and so far, a challenging one, all around.


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