Imagine it for a second: The Patriots and Raiders hit the field at Gillette this Sunday afternoon for a Week 3 clash. On one side, there’s Cam Newton, Stephon Gilmore and the rest of the New England roster.
And on the other sideline, front-and-center for Las Vegas?
Head coach Bill Belichick.
Over the years, we’ve had a lot of fun with the “what if?” possibility of Belichick sticking with the Jets in 2000. But almost 25 years ago, Belichick was courted by Al Davis for Oakland’s vacant head coaching job. And while the two never worked together, a shared love of the history of the game — as well as a willingness to tweak the league office — would have made a terrific pairing.
Where did it start? After the Raiders finished 4-12 in 1997, head coach Joe Bugel was on the hot seat, so much so that as soon as the season ended, speculation immediately began that Belichick, then an assistant with the Jets, would be/should be in consideration as a replacement. Belichick wanted no part of the job as long as Bugel still held the position, but after Bugel was fired, Davis flew Belichick out to the Bay Area for a series of interviews. Belichick had multiple meetings with Davis before the Raiders ultimately ended up going with Jon Gruden.
While multiple reports indicate Belichick was a finalist for the job, it remains to be seen just how serious a candidate he really was. Davis may have used the chance to try and gain some intel on an opponent; Belichick later said Davis spent much of the time quizzing him about his defensive tendencies. Belichick recalled being cautious, as even then, as Davis had a heavy hand in Oakland’s defensive play-calling.
“You kind of don’t want to give too much information there because you know, he’s still running the defense,” Belichick said in 2011 when remembering his interview.
At the same time, Belichick said his conversations with Davis were “unlike any other interview [he’d] ever had with an owner” for a variety of reasons.
“He’s a great mind,” Belichick said. “He was in 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 want to talk about.”
He didn’t get the job, but even with the rivalry between the Patriots and Raiders, both Belichick and Davis were always extremely complimentary of each other, with Belichick issuing a statement when Davis passed in 2011.
“While I am saddened by the news of Mr. Davis' passing, I will forever be heartened and enriched by the many personal interactions I had with him over the years. His winning, his football knowledge, his passion for his team and contributions to the league made him one of the all-time greats. By striving for the highest level of excellence with our respective teams and the game itself, we will be honoring the memory of Al Davis.”
Of course, these days, the idea of Belichick anywhere but New England or North Jersey seems almost preposterous. But as a member of the Raiders, partnered with Davis? The mind reels at the possibilities. A pair of forward-thinkers working together to take over the NFL — two like-minded individuals always angling for an advantage who love nothing more than winning. Think of it: Just Win, Baby is replaced by It Is What It Is. Do Your Job becomes the new Commitment to Excellence. And inevitably, the Raiders end up retaining their iconic status and are a perennial playoff team the last two decades.
There were probably multiple reasons why the courtship ultimately failed. After a five-year run as a head coach in Cleveland that resulted in him being fired by Art Modell, Belichick knew he absolutely had to make his second tour as a head coach work or risk being labeled a career assistant. In addition, Belichick was considered to be Bill Parcells' heir apparent with the Jets. (We all know how that ended up.) And regardless of the deep admiration both had for each other, Davis and Belichick might have been hesitant to yield any control of the day-to-day football operations to anyone.
Of course, there’s also no way of knowing if Belichick could have found a quarterback like Tom Brady, or if he would have stuck around for the last 20 years or so like he’s done in New England. But from this viewpoint, at the very least, the Davis-Belichick tandem would have been endlessly fascinating — not unlike Belichick’s take on his interviews.
“It was a great experience for me to have those couple days of conversations with him,” Belichick said.
“I thought it was good. It was good. It was good experience for me,” he added. “We had a good couple days of conversation.”
Ultimately, Belichick might not have won six Super Bowls with the Raiders. But at the very least, he could have made silver-and-black hoodies just as much of a part of the Black Hole wardrobe as Darth Vader masks, face paint, and shoulder pads with spikes.