By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
NORTHBROOK, Ill., Aug. 8 -- Roger Goodell, long considered the NFL's commissioner-in-waiting, got his expected promotion Tuesday. The league's 32 team owners elected him to succeed Paul Tagliabue as commissioner, with Tagliabue retiring after a highly prosperous reign of nearly 17 years.
Goodell, the NFL's 47-year-old chief operating officer who had been Tagliabue's top lieutenant, was chosen from among five finalists on the second day of what was supposed to be a three-day selection meeting of owners at a hotel in this Chicago suburb.
"What carried the day was the realization that we had a guy in the league office with 20 or 25 years of a tremendous track record operating business units," New York Giants co-owner John Mara said. "He was known to all of us."
Goodell is the ultimate company man, having joined the NFL office 24 years ago as an intern. Now he becomes the most powerful man in sports, overseeing a league with long-standing labor peace, handsome television contracts and enormous popularity. Goodell agreed to a five-year contract and likely will officially take over around Sept. 1, one league official said.
"I think it's a great challenge," Goodell said. "I'm very fortunate, and I know that. I've spent my life following my passion."
Several owners said they chose Goodell over Washington attorney Gregg Levy, the league's chief outside counsel, on their fifth ballot. The vote, according to sources, was 23 to 8 (with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis abstaining), giving Goodell one more vote than the required two-thirds majority. The owners, by acclamation, then made the vote unanimous.
"It was real close between Roger and Gregg," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said.
The other finalists were Cleveland attorney Frederick Nance; Robert Reynolds, the vice chairman and COO of Fidelity Investments; and Mayo Shattuck III, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Constellation Energy in Baltimore. They were eliminated after three ballots, owners said.
Goodell had been viewed as the heavy favorite to get the job from the moment that Tagliabue announced in March that he planned to retire this summer. A search firm screened 185 candidates, and an eight-owner search committee appointed by Tagliabue narrowed the field to five nine days ago. The owners convened here Monday vowing to elect a new commissioner by Wednesday, and Tagliabue was eager to get out of office and avoid a repeat of the seven-month stalemate that preceded his election in 1989. It took 12 ballots for Tagliabue to be elected, after 23 ballots were required for Pete Rozelle to be elected in 1960.
Goodell and the other finalists made presentations to the owners Monday, then participated in question-and-answer sessions with smaller groups of owners Tuesday morning. The owners began the voting process Tuesday afternoon and reached a resolution about three hours later.
"It's an endorsement of Paul and a recognition of his tenure," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "Roger is very qualified. His skill set is not the same as Paul's is, but this is a recognition that we need his experience and knowledge. . . . He was involved in the labor negotiation. He did much of the heavy lifting in our last TV negotiation. He has an appreciation of what we're doing at the club level. He understands the clubs' issues and problems. I think it's a credit to him that the high-revenue clubs were worried about him, and the low-revenue clubs were worried about him. You spend 25 years in the league and have that, and you're pretty crafty."
Said Houston Texans owner Robert McNair, "We wanted some continuity."
Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a co-chairman of the search committee, went upstairs and knocked on the door to Goodell's room to give him the news that he'd been elected.
"I was doing some work, trying to be distracted," Goodell said. "Fortunately I'd just put my pants on."
Goodell received a standing ovation from the owners when he stood in front of them for the first time after his election.
"I was looking for the best person to be commissioner and I had no doubt in my mind that was Roger Goodell," Rooney said. "He knows labor. He knows TV. He knows the people. He knows the fans."
Tagliabue entered office as a little-known D.C. labor attorney succeeding a legendary commissioner in Rozelle. Tagliabue leaves office having joined Rozelle among the most significant figures in league history.
"The league has always tried to find a better way to do things," Goodell said. "That has been a hallmark under Commissioner Rozelle and Commissioner Tagliabue, and I hope to continue to do that. . . . My theme wasn't that it was the time for the status quo. It was that we had to keep innovating and trying to do things better."
Goodell has plenty of experience dealing with the major issues facing the league. Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, often would communicate with Tagliabue through Goodell during the labor talks. Upshaw, who is close to Tagliabue, also has a smooth working relationship with Goodell. Goodell has been directly involved in almost all the major economic decisions in recent years. He oversaw a round of expansion and has been the point man on the league's negotiations with Los Angeles as it seeks to return to that market.
"My advice to most people is just to be yourself and continue to be thoughtful," Tagliabue said. "As he said, you need to focus on the game and focus on the players. He'll do fine."