Favorite gets NFL's reins

Goodell named commissioner in unanimous 4-hour, 5-ballot vote

August 09, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,SUN REPORTER

NORTHBROOK, ILL. -- As Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti stood outside the hotel at lunchtime puffing a cigar, he predicted that unless an owner rallied several of his peers, the appointment of Roger Goodell as the NFL's next commissioner was a mere formality.

Within hours, Goodell had become the fourth chief executive in the NFL's past 60 years, approved by the league's 32 owners after two days of meetings in the Chicago suburbs. Goodell, 47, of New York, will replace Paul Tagliabue, who retires after a 17-year reign.

The appointment of Goodell came as no surprise. Goodell had served as the league's executive vice president and chief operating officer since December 2001 and was Tagliabue's top lieutenant.

But the voting process took four hours in the afternoon after owners met with four of the five final candidates in the morning. Five ballots were taken before the coronation of Goodell was approved unanimously over second choice Gregg H. Levy of Washington, one of the league's top lawyers.

According to several owners, it came down to the two NFL insiders, and Goodell's 24 years of experience won out. The other three candidates had no previous connections with the NFL, and even though owners were impressed with their credentials, none of them could overcome the lack of experience.

The other three candidates were Baltimore's Mayo A. Shattuck III, Cleveland lawyer Frederick R. Nance and Massachusetts business executive Robert L. Reynolds. Shattuck, chief executive officer of Constellation Energy, did not return phone calls yesterday and was unavailable for comment at the meetings.

Shattuck, Nance and Reynolds were eliminated after three ballots. On the fourth go-round, Goodell received 23 votes - one more than he needed for approval - and the owners then decided to cast a fifth ballot to make it unanimous.

"The process revealed some very accomplished candidates, and we spent a lot of time discussing credentials and evaluating strengths and weaknesses," said Steve Tisch, executive vice president of the New York Giants. "Maybe yesterday before the process started a lot of us just thought we'd go through the process and get it over with. But this turned out to be a fascinating process.

"Ultimately, it came down to two highly qualified candidates, but Roger had 20-some years in the league, had established good relationships with ownership, very good relationships with management, and had [24] years of experience, 17 with Commissioner Tagliabue. To keep that succession with Commissioner Goodell made a lot of sense."

As chief operating officer, Goodell was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the league.

Most recently, he played a lead role in the launch of the NFL Network and was a key member of the negotiating teams that produced the NFL's television agreements and extended the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

He started out in the league as an intern in 1982 under former commissioner Pete Rozelle.

"He took over the business operations about five or six years ago and did an outstanding job," said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "Everything he has touched has been a tremendous success. He is continuing something that is very strong. Roger got an MBA from Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue. That's a pretty good education."

"The bottom line is that he has always gotten the job done," said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "You can look at his track record. Both he and Gregg were excellent candidates, but Roger had more internal dealings with the league. He knows where we came from, where we're at and where we need to go."

One of Goodell's major issues will be bridging a gap between the small- and big-market owners. Also on the table is the possibility of relocating a club or putting an expansion team in Los Angeles. There are also the usual concerns about rule changes, future labor agreements and the continued growth of the game in the United States and Europe.

Goodell wouldn't go into specifics, but he sounded ready for the challenges.

"I had two great sports commissioners and was thankful to work with both of them," said Goodell. "I'm thrilled by this opportunity, look forward to the challenges and thank the owners for having confidence in my ability. I can't think of a better job, a better league."

Goodell's appointment completed a search that started months ago and once involved 185 candidates. The pool was then shrunk to 11 and finally to five. Goodell had always been the favorite.

At lunchtime, Bisciotti said that unless an owner could persuade fellow owners to take a chance with one of the outsiders, Goodell was the next commissioner.

"One of those outsiders has to develop legs or it's over," Bisciotti said.

None of them did.

"All of those candidates were good guys, good businessmen with impressive resumes," said Bisciotti. "If we had to appoint one commissioner ... all of them could do the job."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Roger Goodell

Age: 47.

Born: Feb. 19, 1959.

Career: Started as an intern in the league office in 1982 and joined the New York Jets as a public relations intern the next year. Was heavily involved in bringing American Bowl to various countries abroad and created NFL International. Oversaw administration of instant replay system for officiating and restructured league's officiating department. Helped negotiate contract with NFL Referees Association in 2001. Appointed chief operating officer in 2001.

Most recent job: Executive vice president and chief operating officer of the NFL. Has been current commissioner Paul Tagliabue's top assistant, particularly on expansion and stadium construction.

Education: Washington and Jefferson, magna cum laude, degree in economics.

Hometown: Jamestown, N.Y.

Family: Wife Jane and twin daughters live in New York City area.

Quote: "I spent my life following my passion. The game of football is the most important thing. You can never forget that."

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