2-year break primes Shula for return

On The NFL

June 21, 1998|By Vito Stellino jTC | Vito Stellino jTC,SUN STAFF

When Ravens owner Art Modell offered Don Shula the chance to become the team's director of football operations and/or the coach in February 1996, Shula turned him down.

It was only weeks after he had stepped down as Miami Dolphins coach, and he wasn't ready to get back in the fray.

"I had just stepped aside, and the timing wasn't right," he said last week.

After being out of the game for two years, the timing is now right.

Shula has joined the group headed by brothers Larry and Charles Dolan, who have a cable TV empire, that will attempt to get the expansion team for Cleveland. Shula and comedian Bill Cosby would each own 5 percent, and the Dolans would own the rest.

"I've been out two years now, and I missed the excitement of the game," said Shula, who will pick the coach and/or general manager if his group gets the team.

Shula indicated that neither of his sons, David, who's now running the family steakhouse chain (they recently opened one in Baltimore) or Mike, the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will be involved.

"David's getting a chance to watch his kids grow up, which is something I didn't get to do," Shula said. "And Mike is happy in Tampa."

Shula said he hasn't decided whether the coach will also be general manager or whether he'll hire two men for the jobs.

Meanwhile, Modell understands why Shula wasn't ready two years ago but is now, and the Ravens owner is happy Shula took the position. Modell said they talked recently, and Shula virtually apologized for not taking the Ravens' job.

"It's very, very exciting for the NFL and for the city of Cleveland," Modell said. "I've been pretty close to the situation because I want to see my legacy protected. I gave Don my views of the Cleveland situation, and it was important for him to hear that from me."

Despite the trauma of the move from Cleveland, Modell said he still cares about the city and wishes the fans well. He said his problems were with the politicians, not the city or the fans.

"I still have strong feelings for the community," Modell said. "I can't dismiss 35 years in a cavalier way. It means a lot to me. I loved the fans for what they did for me, and they loved me for what I did for them. It's the politicians who are at fault."

With Shula on board, the Dolan group seems certain to get the franchise, although there are other groups bidding. Shula will start visiting the owners to lobby for the Dolan group.

The one problem could be price. The NFL is talking about a price in the $400 million to $500 million range, but some owners are talking about $700 million to $800 million or even $1 billion.

Modell warns that the Dolans could walk away if the price is too high.

"I hope common sense prevails about the pricing. Some people in the league are being carried away. They've gone berserk over the price. It ought to be fair. I'm not one for gouging," Modell said.

That's why when Modell and the late commissioner Pete Rozelle were handling the TV negotiations, they had the quaint notion the networks should make a profit on the NFL. Now the question is how much the networks will lose on the NFL.

Legacy

Part of Modell's legacy in Cleveland is the $15 million training facility in Berea, Ohio, he built that the new team will use.

"There's nothing like it," Modell said. "Bill Parcells told [New York Jets owner] Leon Hess it's far and away the best facility in the league."

Modell is preoccupied with the opening of the new Camden Yards stadium, which he says will be the best in the league, but he plans to turn his attention toward the Ravens' training complex next year.

"We've got to do something about Owings Mills," he said. "We're looking into development opportunities so we can house the entire organization in one place. But we're so busy with the stadium that I can't even address a facility until the season is over."

Modell also said that even though there won't be a raven statue on top of the new stadium this year, he said it's still a possibility for next season.

John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, is a big supporter of a raven statue. He says it would be a signature of the stadium.

But it's the Ravens' call because the stadium authority doesn't have money left in its budget to pay for it.

Testaverde watch

When a team is trying to get its backup quarterback to take a pay cut, it is quick to contact Vinny Testaverde's agent, Mike Azzarelli.

The Chicago Bears did it while negotiating with Rick Mirer, and now the Seattle Seahawks have done it while talking with John Friesz about a cut.

But neither team was able to make a deal with Azzarelli, and Testaverde remains unsigned. Talks with the Cincinnati Bengals also stalled.

"Seattle is probably his No. 1 choice, but things have slowed," Azzarelli said last week.

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