Tagliabue May Face One Final Issue

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 22, 2006

NEW YORK, Aug. 21 -- Paul Tagliabue, perhaps the most powerful man in sports, said he intends simply "to disappear" after his retirement as NFL commissioner becomes official next week.

But Tagliabue, who will be replaced by Roger Goodell, isn't quite ready to walk away quietly. In an interview Monday with reporters in a boardroom at the NFL's offices, he fired back at veteran broadcaster Bryant Gumbel for critical remarks about the league and said it's possible that the league will replace Gumbel as an announcer on the NFL Network.

Gumbel sharply criticized the league, team owners and NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw on his HBO show last week.

"I think things that Bryant Gumbel said about Gene Upshaw and the owners are about as uninformed as anything I've read or heard in a long, long time and quite inexcusable because they are subjects about which you can and should be better informed," Tagliabue said. "Having looked at how other people have had buyer's remorse when they took positions, I guess they suggest to me that maybe he's having buyer's remorse and they call into question his desire to do the job and to do it in a way that we in the NFL would expect it to be done."

The league-owned NFL Network is scheduled to carry regular season games for the first time this season. The eight-game package of games on Thursday and Saturday nights begins on Thanksgiving. Gumbel was hired for play-by-play duties.

Tagliabue said that he, Goodell and NFL Network President Steve Bornstein will discuss Gumbel's status. The owners elected Goodell, the NFL's chief operating officer, as Tagliabue's successor on Aug. 8. Tagliabue said that his final day in office will be Aug. 31 and that Goodell officially will take over at 6 a.m. Sept. 1 because there are night preseason games Aug. 31.

The final decision about Gumbel "is up to Roger," said Tagliabue, who added: "I'll talk to Roger and Steve Bornstein about the talent at the NFL Network. At least until next Thursday, I'll have those conversations. After that, it will be Roger and Steve."

Pressed on whether he will recommend that Gumbel be dismissed, Tagliabue said, "I've said what I'm going to say on the subject."

An HBO spokesman said Gumbel had no comment.

On "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" last week, Gumbel addressed his closing remarks to Goodell and told the new commissioner to have Tagliabue, before he cleans out his office, "show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw's leash. By making the docile head of the players' union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch."

Upshaw said Monday he had no response to Gumbel's "irresponsible comments."

Upshaw has been criticized in the past by others, including former baseball union chief Marvin Miller, for his close relationship with Tagliabue. But their relationship has produced long-standing labor peace that has been a significant ingredient in the NFL's prosperity, and several owners said that when they ratified the latest extension of the sport's collective bargaining agreement in March, they felt Upshaw had outmaneuvered them and gotten them to guarantee the players too much money under the salary cap system.

Gumbel also told Goodell on HBO to remind owners "that they are already making obscene amounts of money," and said that Tagliabue was "legislating individuality out of the NFL."

Tagliabue praised Goodell as a highly qualified replacement, and said he will make sure to step aside and allow Goodell to lead. Under the terms of his contract, Tagliabue is to remain a senior consultant to the league after his retirement. But he plans to travel in India and China this fall and perhaps live in China temporarily, and he said he will offer his input only to Goodell and only when Goodell asks.

"I think generally the best way to run an organization is for the person who's running it to be in charge and for the people who have had responsibility for running it previously to disappear for the most part," Tagliabue said. "I think it just provides clarity as to where the responsibilities are, both externally and internally. It eliminates any potential for anybody to try to solicit second opinions. This is not like practicing medicine. You don't look for second opinions."

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