Al Davis meets with Saunders

Updated: January 3, 2004, 11:53 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

With his franchise perhaps approaching a critical crossroads, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis interviewed Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders in Kansas City on Friday, a source close to the situation confirmed for ESPN.com.

Because of league anti-tampering rules, which stipulated that coaches working for teams with a first-round playoff bye had to interview by the end of Friday, the two sides were facing a tight deadline. Davis only received permission to interview Saunders from team officials on Wednesday afternoon.

Davis was facing more than just a Friday deadline, however, given the possible exits of some key front office officials. As first reported by ESPN.com on Thursday night, senior assistant Bruce Allen, who handles most of the contract negotiations in Oakland and also managed the Raiders' cap, has interviewed for the Tampa Bay general manager position.

Should he land the Tampa Bay job, Allen could take Raiders standout personnel scout Mike Lombardi with him. Coupled with the mid-season retirement of longtime Davis confidant Al LoCasale, and the dismissal this week of head coach Bill Callahan, the Raiders football operation could be in a significant state of flux.

That might in part explain why Davis, who typically prefers inexperienced head coaches running his team, is interested in a veteran like Saunders, who was head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1986-88. He compiled a 17-22 record in that period.

The Chicago Bears also interviewed Saunders on Friday, beating the league deadline by a few hours.

Saunders, 56, also has the aggressive approach to offensive football that Davis covets. The Chiefs are a power running team with a vertical passing game, the kind of attack Davis has long championed. Plus he works for a team in the AFC West and Davis' record in coaching searches is that he often interviews assistants from other division franchises.

It was reported earlier in the week that Saunders rejected an offer to become head coach at the University of Nebraska. That is unclear, though, since Nebraska officials and even Saunders' agent suggested he was never formally offered the position.

One of the league's best offensive minds, Saunders is in his second stint with the Chiefs. He worked as an assistant in Kansas City 1989-98 under Marty Schottenheimer, moved to the St. Louis Rams in 1999 for two years, then went back to the Chiefs in 2001.

Under his direction, the Kansas City offense has been one of the NFL's most potent. The unit led the NFL in scoring this season and was second in overall yards.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.