Lynn-for-Schramm move is more than meets the eye


October 14, 1990|By Vito Stellino

It wasn't so long ago that Tex Schramm and Mike Lynn wer two of the most powerful men in the National Football League.

Schramm founded and ran the Dallas Cowboys for 29 years, was a friend of former commissioner Pete Rozelle's and had a major impact on the league as head of the competition committee.

Lynn pulled off a feat that only Al Davis, managing general partner of the Los Angeles Raiders, had accomplished. Hired by Max Winter to become the Minnesota Vikings general manager in 1975, Lynn managed to oust Winter in 1984 and take charge of the franchise by gaining operating control of two-thirds of the voting stock.

He was one of the top behind-the scenes wheeler-dealers in the league. He led the new-guard revolt a year ago that catapulted an obscure league lawyer named Paul Tagliabue into the commissioner's job.

That's why it was so stunning Thursday when Schramm was fired as the head of the new spring World League and Lynn accepted the job as his replacement.

The two events were not entirely related. Schramm was out as the World League head even if Lynn hadn't been available to replace him.

The conventional wisdom is that Schramm was fired because his vision of the World League was too grandiose for the owners and that Lynn left the Vikings because he feared he was in danger of being pushed out of the job and wanted to save face.

But the conventional wisdom may not be entirely accurate.

Schramm said he was fired by the board of directors -- Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney gave him the news -- because of "philosophical differences" over the direction of the new league.

The league is likely to be scaled down now that Schramm has departed. The original plan was 12 teams, but now they're planning to go with no more than 10 and maybe just eight. Mexico City is out, Montreal may go and the European teams could be cut from four to two.

But that's not so much a matter of vision as an acknowledgment of the enormous task of trying to put together a new league. Rooney said he envisions eventually having more than 12 teams.

Schramm's real problem may have been that after three decades of running the Cowboys, he was used to doing things his way all the time. Listening to the ideas of the board of directors wasn't Schramm's way.

Rooney said the league's "objective will be the same," but there will be "more input" from the board and no "single focus."

Lynn, who already was a member of the board, should work better with the other members. With a reputation as a cost cutter, he may make it easier for the other owners to accept the new league. Schramm's reputation of being a big spender may have scared some of them.

Part of this is image. Lynn might do many of the same things Schramm did because he's also a believer in the international concept. But Lynn may sell the ideas better.

That leaves the question of why Lynn is leaving the Vikings. Lynn insisted his departure -- he hasn't decided on exactly when he'll leave -- had nothing to do with the court fight over control of the team, the flak over the trade for Herschel Walker or the team's 1-4 record.

"I'm not bailing out," he said. "My first love is the Vikings. My second love is the expansion of American football internationally."

Even if Lynn didn't fear he eventually would lose the legal fight, he just may have been tired of the battle and welcomed a career change. There's also speculation that Lynn is interested in running an expansion team in Memphis, Tenn., if that city gets one.

* The Schramm and Lynn moves will dramatically affect the World League, the Vikings and, surprisingly, Notre Dame.

Lynn said he will name his successor as general manager and that Jerry Burns will be retained as coach, although Burns has said he may retire at the end of the year.

If Lynn winds up calling the shots, his assistant, Jeff Diamond, is likely to get the job.

But Carl Pohlad, who has been fighting Lynn in court over control of the team, is friends with Lou Holtz, the Notre Dame coach. Lynn's departure renewed speculation that Holtz will jump to the Vikings next year.

Even if it isn't true, the speculation is likely to distract Notre Dame during the rest of this season. If Holtz leaves, Bill Walsh could be a candidate for the job. Now that Walsh has won three Super Bowls, he doesn't have much else to accomplish in football; following in the footsteps of Rockne, Leahy and Parseghian could appeal to him.

The loss of Schramm in the World League could give it a credibility problem. Even though it's only a developmental league, Schramm gave the World League a mystique.

Although Rooney said it'll still be a "first-class operation," the league will have to prove it. The board will update the owners on the new league at an owners meeting Tuesday in Chicago.

With the Vikings at 1-4, it's difficult to judge whether Lynn's eventual departurewill have much immediate impact. Lynn never was popular with the players, although he recently tried to improve his relationship with them.

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