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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

NFL Owners Start Commissioner Search - Gary Myers, NY Daily News

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Paul Tagliabue had just finished an emotional speech to owners, coaches and front office executives summing up his nearly 17 years as commissioner when he was given a spontaneous sendoff, which served as a way of saying thanks for making the rich even richer.

"He probably got close to a five-minute standing ovation," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said yesterday.

Now the 32 owners must find his replacement without tearing the league apart, like they almost did in 1989 before picking Tagliabue to replace Pete Rozelle. This will not be a quick process. There is no sense of urgency after Tagliabue promised he would stick around, if needed, past his preferred departure date of late July.

Tagliabue is holding off naming the owners committee that will conduct the search, but did indicate an outside firm will be hired to interview owners to get their perspective on the structure of the league. A firm will also recommend candidates.

But the owners will do the hiring and Tagliabue will not endorse any candidate.

"I think we need to look at everybody," Jets owner Woody Johnson said. "You have to open it up."

The early leader is Roger Goodell , the league's highly regarded executive vice president and chief operating officer. "I think it's wide open," Texans owner Bob McNair said. "It can be someone no one even knows. The main thing is to get the right person for the position, whoever they might be."

Tagliabue likely will construct the committee to represent a cross section of the league: long-time owners and relatively new owners; big-market teams and small-market teams; influential owners already on powerful committees and owners who haven't had an opportunity to have their voice heard.

The six-owner committee in 1989, which included Wellington Mara as co-chairman, consisted only of owners who had been in the league at least 20 years. That infuriated many of the newer owners and created a "new guard" vs "old guard" split. The new guard became known as the Chicago 11, because there were 11 of them and they came together at what was supposed to be Jim Finks' coronation in Chicago.

But they all abstained, which prevented Finks from getting the required 19 out of 28 votes. It eventually led to two new committees being formed - Mara was on both of them - and Tagliabue being elected on the 12th ballot three months after Finks was rejected.

Steelers owner Dan Rooney was a peacemaker in 1989. Asked yesterday if this process can be as contentious, he said, "I sure hope not."

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