Tom Flores is thinking about the phone call again, word that the former NFL coach with two Super Bowl titles and nearly 100 career victories has been cleared to take the next step on the road to Canton.
In the 22 years since the Fresno native and Sanger High/Fresno City College alum last coached a game, eight times he has been a nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seven times, he has failed to make it past the initial cut.
“Some things, Flores says, “don’t make sense.”
The eighth try arrives Wednesday, when this year’s list of 94 modern-era nominees – including Flores and fellow coaches Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Chuck Knox, Buddy Parker, Richie Petitbon, Dan Reeves, Clark Shaughnessy and Dick Vermeil – is cut to 25 semifinalists. From there, 15 finalists are chosen in January before the Class of 2017 is named in February.
Four months shy of Flores’ 80th birthday, the sense of urgency and support for his candidacy is growing. Not just because of his age, but through favorable comparisons to peers past and present that have returned his name to prominence.
He’s the second Hispanic coach to make the Super Bowl, and they ask who was the first? They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, remember him?’
ex-Raiders coach Tom Flores on new-found appreciation that came his way thanks to Ron Rivera’s run to the Super Bowl with Carolina
If trailblazers carry a certain added cachet, then why not the first minority coach to win a Super Bowl? The second? That would be ex-Indianapolis and Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy, a one-time champion inducted in 2016. The most recent Super Bowl offered another reminder of Flores’ place in NFL history.
“This past season I got a lot of attention,” Flores says. “Mainly because of (Carolina coach) Ron Rivera. They said he’s Hispanic and in the Super Bowl, and they said he’s the second Hispanic coach to make the Super Bowl, and they ask who was the first? They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, remember him?’ ”
Ask some of his former Raiders players, including at least a couple with their own Hall of Fame busts and gold jackets, and support is overwhelming. They see those two Super Bowl titles in 1981 and 1984, plus another as an assistant under John Madden in 1977, as case closed. He also won as a player with Kansas City in 1970.
“The fact his team made it to two Super Bowls,” says Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks, “and not to take away from anybody else, but he’s got more Super Bowls under his belt than the other coach that got in this year.”
Raiders learn to wait
The Oakland/Los Angeles franchise is well represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with 16 inductees whose primary contributions as players or coaches were with the Raiders.
That compares favorably with the league’s most storied franchises, according to a list compiled by the Hall, including the Chicago Bears (27), Green Bay Packers (24), Pittsburgh Steelers (21), Washington Redskins (19), New York Giants (19), Cleveland Browns (16), Los Angeles/St. Louis/Cleveland Rams and Dallas Cowboys (15).
Each of the past three Hall of Fame classes have had one “true” Raiders representative – punter Ray Guy in 2014, wide receiver Tim Brown in 2015 and quarterback Ken Stabler this year. Executive Ron Wolf, known more for his role in the rise of the Packers in the 1990s but also a key personnel man when the Raiders won three Super Bowls, was inducted as a contributor in 2015.
Sadly, he knew it would take him dying to get in.
Kendra Stabler Moyes, daughter of Ken Stabler, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a year after he passed away
But there have been some puzzlingly long waits for Raiders candidates. Guy revolutionized punting from 1973 to 1986 but had to wait more than two decades following his first year of eligibility in 1992.
Stabler retired in 1979. His induction this past August arrived just more than a year after he died at age 69.
“Sadly, he knew it would take him dying to get in,” daughter Kendra Stabler Moyes says. “It didn’t bother him. He always said he would be honored to be in the Hall of Fame with all of the other greats, but if he didn’t get in, it wouldn’t change the way he put his socks on tomorrow.”
Brown first became eligible in 2010. He still ranks ninth all-time in the NFL in receiving touchdowns, fifth in receptions and sixth in punt return yardage.
Given the franchise’s total number of Hall of Famers, it’s hard to argue that an anti-Raiders bias exists. But those long waits have Flores and others wondering how voters decide who belongs.
“I mean how can anyone belong there before Ken Stabler? How about Ray Guy?” Flores says. “The greatest punter of all time, changed the game the way it was played. … It was one guy in there that said, ‘I will never vote for a punter or kicker.’ … He was very powerful and influential.”
Arguing the case
Should the two Super Bowl titles on Flores’ résumé be enough? Thirteen coaches in NFL history have won at least that many. Of those eligible, only George Seifert, Johnson and Flores are not in the Hall.
Flores won 97 games, including an 83-53 run with the Raiders from 1979 to 1987. He went 8-3 in the postseason for a .727 winning percentage that ranks second to Vince Lombardi among those who have coached in 10 or more playoff games. Flores and Mike Ditka are the only people to have won Super Bowls as a player, assistant and head coach.
The fact Flores could coach two teams to Super Bowls despite Davis’ interference make him an even better coach.
Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Randy Covitz
Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Randy Covitz, a Kansas City Star sportswriter, believes two factors are hurting Flores’ candidacy: a general lack of credit for his role in leading the Raiders to wins in Super Bowl XV and XVIII and three throwaway years as Seattle head coach. The Seahawks under Flores went 14-34 from 1992 to 1994.
“I don’t know that I agree with either one of them,” Covitz says. “They believe the heavy hand of Al Davis’ influence had more to do with Flores’ success than his own coaching. I look at in reverse. The fact Flores could coach two teams to Super Bowls despite Davis’ interference makes him an even better coach.
“His record in Seattle? He never got it going there. He wasn’t as successful as Chuck Knox or Mike Holmgren (or currently Pete Carroll), and that is held against him.”
Subpar seasons at career’s end likely was a factor for Hank Stram, Covitz says. Stram, who retired in 1977 and was enshrined in 2003, was 124-76 in 12 seasons with the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs but 7-21 in two years with the New Orleans Saints.
“That argument hurt Hank Stram for the longest time. ... That seems to keep holding Jimmy Johnson back, too, because of his lack of success in Miami compared to Dallas,” Covitz says.
Flores is conscious of the Davis factor, a condition exacerbated by the owner’s quick trigger on hirings and firings after the long runs of Madden and Flores.
“The aura of Al Davis was always there,” Flores says. “It was his team. He got all the credit, and everybody else got some. That’s the way it was. He built it and I knew that and that wasn’t an issue to me. He even told me once, ‘I’m probably the last guy that should be helping you (with making a case for induction) because of how the situation is.’ I just looked at him and smiled. What can you say?”
Hendricks, a 1990 inductee, thinks more Hall of Fame members should have a say. The current committee consists of one media representative from each pro football city (two from New York). There are 16 at-large selectors, also all active media members and two members of the Hall of Fame.
Tom should’ve been ahead of other guys. We as a team need to do a better job selling Tom to get him in there. He paid his dues to get there.
Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown
“It’s tough for a lot of guys,” Hendricks says. “Some of the (voters) are new and don’t even realize what’s happened in the past and everything else.”
Hall of Fame cornerback and Raiders ambassador Willie Brown wonders if a lobbying campaign might help Flores.
“Tom should’ve been ahead of other guys,” Brown says. “He did everything that he can do: He played in the Super Bowl, coached in the Super Bowl as an assistant coach and a head coach. It’s tough. We as a team need to do a better job selling Tom to get him in there. He paid his dues to get there.”
Holding out hope
Lester Hayes, a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback who can make his own case as a Hall of Fame snub, senses Flores will get the call. He just hopes it is soon.
“That phone call will come from Canton, Ohio, while Coach Flores is breathing,” Hayes says. “I feel it because it’s only right. Watching and observing as a player, teammates loved Coach Flores. It was a feeling of trust and it was a feeling of strong love. Coach Flores always gave you what you wanted – and he has Super Bowl rings to prove that.”
Flores, whose ties to the league date from his 1960 rookie season with the then-AFL Raiders to his role as a radio color commentator with the team today, will keep waiting for that call, wondering if he’ll at least make the cut to the semifinal round.
“I think about it a lot,” he says. Voters “seem to be only concerned with the ones that have just been (retired) five years. Those are the most common guys and popular guys. We’ll see what happens this year. Keeping my fingers crossed, but so far I’ve been very disappointed.”
Two’s a charm
NFL coaches with at least two Super Bowl victories. PW denotes playoff wins; PL playoff losses.
Source: Pro Football Reference. +Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee