Another Raider legend passed from the scene, but this one wasn’t a raging defensive end or a wacky outside linebacker.
It was promotions director Mike Ornstein, the blunt-spoken, contentious, living embodiment of the Raider ideal in an administrator’s body, whose 13-year career came to an abrupt halt Tuesday. The club announced it as a resignation, but Raider sources said that Al Davis fired Ornstein after a meeting Monday night.
“I wasn’t fired,” Ornstein said. “I think Al will tell you that. We mutually parted, is the way he said it.”
In addition to their other oft-chronicled problems, the Raiders have been in the throes of a front-office exodus, as the attendant gloom around them takes a toll. Already gone since the start of last season from the skeleton crew that Davis prefers were long-time traveling secretary Ken LaRue; publications director Steve Hartman and community affairs director Gil Lafferty-Hernandez.
Ornstein had talked recently of leaving, and Davis is said to have become aware of it. In addition, Davis was said to have held him accountable for leaks to the press during the Super Bowl, when Ornstein was the lone Raider official in Miami.
Thus ends one of the more interesting “promotions” careers. A New York City native, as is Davis, Ornstein started as John Madden’s secretary in 1976 and moved up from there.
He won undying fame before the 1984 Raider Super Bowl victory in Tampa by ordering Irv Cross of CBS off the sideline--while Cross was on the air. CBS was the network of the hated National Conference and Ornstein was not one to tiptoe around Davis’ foes.
Nor anyone else. In 1986, Ornstein punched his fellow senior administrator, John Herrera, at the Raider training camp in an argument over who had used a movie projector last. Herrera later swore out a complaint, and the dispute had to be settled in court. Ornstein held his breath but Davis shrugged the whole thing off.
Ornstein was then acting as the team’s publicist, too, but gave the job up when a couple of losing seasons threatened to finish off his already tenuous relationship with the press corps.
After the team’s 1984 wipeout loss at Chicago, he grew angry at what he perceived as a lack of decorum by writers in the press box and was overheard--and subsequently quoted--as saying he hoped their plane flight home crashed.
However, when not in one of his killer funks, Ornstein, known as Orny, could also be personable and gregarious. He was one of Davis’ most devoted courtiers, and sometimes attended religious services with him. Davis was said to prize Ornstein because he was tough and he got things done.
Ornstein haunted the sidelines at practices, in the style of Davis, applauding the players enthusiastically as they ran their drills. During games he often sat in the press box near Davis and loudly cheered and moaned his way through games, play by play, with the rest of the Raider inner circle. During off-seasons, he coached the Raider basketball team--and excoriated the Rams’ basketball team for any writer who needed an incendiary quote.
As much as any of the Raider insiders, Ornstein lived for the team, and when it fell on hard times, his funks grew longer. He started looking around and made little secret of it.
“I’ve been in this place, off and one, for 13 years,” Ornstein said from his Raider office late Tuesday afternoon.
“I love this place. I love the people. We have a lot of ups and downs. We have our ups and downs, but basically it’s a good job.
“But it’s time to make a move, if I ever want to get ahead in administration, become a general manager some day in the league. Because there’s only one boss here. I just felt like it was a good time.”
Davis was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
The Raiders live on, but it isn’t ever going to be the same.