Malcolm Glazer’s quiet legacy.
Glazer, who died Wednesday at 85, was a stealth owner if there ever was one. The longtime owner of the Bucs—he bought them from Hugh Culverhouse in 1995—very seldom spoke publicly, and he’d gotten even more reclusive after suffering a stroke eight years ago, leaving the operation of the team to sons Joel, Bryan and Edward.
Tampa Bay won one Super Bowl under Glazer’s ownership, the Jon Gruden-led title 12 years ago, after Glazer made the difficult decision to fire Tony Dungy and go with new blood. But it’s Dungy who is part of Glazer’s real legacy, both to the Bucs and to the game. The Glazers, in their two decades as owners, have hired three African-American coaches—Dungy, Raheem Morris and Lovie Smith. No other owner in NFL history has hired as many African-American coaches. That should be the significance of Glazer’s run in the NFL—he was colorblind at a time when many teams, and owners, in the league were not.
“Yes, it is notable,’’ Dungy said over the weekend. “He hired me when there was still trepidation by some people. And he may not have made the final decision on Lovie, but he set the tone in the organization and he put the mindset in his sons to look at people impartially. He and I had many conversations about relationships and how you treat others. That was very important to him.”
The Glazers have hired five coaches. Dungy turned the franchise from sad-sack losers to annual contenders. Gruden finished the job. Raheem Morris largely failed, lasting three years. Greg Schiano didn’t have a long-enough chance (two years), but he failed too. Now Smith takes over. No one around the NFL will remember many impassioned speeches by Glazer. But his actions spoke louder. The league should hold him up as an example of hiring the best guy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
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The graying of the league.
NFL ownership is aging. Four teams in the last eight months have had a transition in ownership with the death of principal owners. And 13 other teams have principal owners who are more than 70 years old. The recent deaths:
Oct. 21: Tennessee owner Bud Adams, 90.
March 9: Detroit owner William Clay Ford, 88.
March 25: Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson, 95.
May 28: Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer, 85.
And the aging: Virginia McCaskey (Chicago) 91, Alex Spanos (San Diego) 90, Tom Benson (New Orleans) 86, Dan Rooney (Pittsburgh) 81, Bill Bidwill (Arizona) 82, Mike Brown (Cincinnati) 78, Jerry Richardson (Carolina) 77, Bob McNair (Houston) 76, Stephen Ross (Miami) 74, Robert Kraft (New England) 73 on Thursday, Jerry Jones (Dallas) 71, Arthur Blank (Atlanta) 71 and Pat Bowlen (Denver) 70.
Of course, in many of the places where owners are aging, teams have strong family plans in place. Dean Spanos is a well-respected presence at league meetings for the Chargers, as is Art Rooney II for Pittsburgh, Katie Blackburn (Mike Brown’s daughter) for the Bengals, Michael Bidwill for the Cards, Jonathan Kraft for the Patriots and Stephen Jones for Dallas.
John Mara has emerged in a leadership position in the league now, and Clark Hunt too, after the deaths of their influential dads Wellington with the Giants and Lamar with the Chiefs. It’ll be interesting to see who’s next to take power in league circles as the graying of the league continues. I think Jonathan Kraft, Art Rooney II and Blackburn—all very smart, all well-respected in their ways—will be ones to watch over the next decade.
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Arthur Blank is very bullish on expanding the NFL’s borders.
My Q&A with the Atlanta owner:
The MMQB: What’s the short- and long-term future of the NFL in Europe?
Blank: The games in London, I think are a tribute to the NFL, a tribute to the fans there, the quality of the game—and I think that it’s proved conclusive that fans will come out when they see the real players playing games that are really meaningful, as opposed to NFL Europe. So I think—and all three of the games for 2014 sold out immediately, 240,000 tickets—the league, as you know, has been in discussion about a fourth game, in discussion about games beyond that. There’s been discussion about potentially having a franchise in London. I’m very optimistic. The approach that the international committee and the commissioner have taken is, ‘Let’s do London right, and then move from there to potentially somewhere else.’ I’m sure there are wonderful cities in Europe, and elsewhere.
The MMQB: Is it more likely there would be a franchise in London or that there would be six to eight games a season?
Blank: I think it will lead to [a team]. I think it will start with an increased number of games. That will be translated into a very successful series of games, and eventually, I think a franchise. And maybe more than one. London’s a big city … I think eventually having that many games says that we really are playing a season in London, so we probably ought to have a team here. I think it will be a natural progression to a team.
The MMQB: In how many years?
Blank: Less than you’d think. The success has been remarkable, and I don’t see any reason why it’s going to slow down.
The MMQB: How about Los Angeles? This is the 20-year anniversary of the last NFL game there.
Blank: I think there will be one or more teams there in the future. Clearly, in terms of the media market, it’s not made a difference. We’ve had great success—all of our media partners are thrilled with the ratings, etc. But I think to not have one or more teams in L.A., over an extended period of time, on the surface it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So I think that eventually there will be a team in L.A. It’s a matter of getting the stadium puzzle, getting the public/private partnership puzzle—getting all that worked through and worked out. I can’t see the NFL ignoring the city long-term. The public/private partnership balance in the state of California is pretty tricky these days. You talk to the 49ers. You talk to the Chargers. [San Diego president] Dean Spanos could probably write a book on it.
The MMQB: What worries you about the future of the league? Overexposure? Pricing fans out?
Blank: You have to worry a little bit about overexposure. When I grew up, it was Sunday at 1 o’clock. That was it. Now it’s Sunday at 1, Sunday evenings, Monday night, Thursday night—it’s a lot. Clearly the demands for the product are incredible, so I’m not being critical. I think the league has exposed their product appropriately and increases exposure at a reasonable rate, because of the demand. You talk to the over-the-air broadcasters and they can’t live without it. What worries me in any successful business is a word called complacency. Complacency in any organization can creep in. It depends on the leadership to make sure that it doesn’t creep in. I think that Roger will not bow down to that. I think the people who he surrounds himself with, and the owners, they feel that way. But that’s always the danger. This is a competitive world for people’s time. It’s a competitive time for their financial resources. My sense of Roger after eight years … Roger is always running scared. I don’t mean that in a negative way. When I was running Home Depot, I’d be the same way. You’re always looking for things that could be issues. It’s required even more so when the organization is doing extraordinarily well. By every measure, the NFL is doing extraordinarily well. But you can’t take anything for granted. Anything. I think the minute you do is the minute you start getting in trouble.
At Home Depot, I’ll tell you a little side story—we used to bring in people from the outside all the time. We were growing the company at an incredible rate. We’d bring in some senior executives periodically and they would always come back and say to me that you would think that this company is on the verge of bankruptcy. We were growing the company at a rate of something like 48 percent a year. We’d bring in people who’d look at us and say, ‘You guys spend all your time focusing on things that are opportunities and things that are wrong. You can’t even believe how successful this company is.’ My sense in the NFL is that there is a tremendous amount of time spent looking at things that we can do better, as opposed to celebrating the successes of the league. I think that’s healthy and required when you have the kind of success that we have.