Colts Coach Jim Caldwell Learned Valuable Lesson From Al Davis
All these years later, he still couldn't be more thankful.
Caldwell, now in his second season as the Indianapolis Colts' coach, this week recalled a phone call he made nearly 30 years ago, when he was coaching under Dennis Green at Northwestern University.
The call was to the Raiders, now in Oakland, but then playing in Los Angeles.
Caldwell at the time said he tried to study a team each offseason -- some in the NFL and some in college. The idea was to learn something specific he didn't already know. Caldwell, then coaching the secondary, was interested in bump-and-run coverage and believed the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs executed the scheme better than anyone else.
He had asked Green if he knew anyone with the Raiders. Green said he did, but not to be optimistic.
The Raiders, Green said, didn't allow outsiders such access.
"It's closed ranks there," Green told Caldwell at the time.
Caldwell called anyway.
"I've always been pretty persistent, particularly when it's something I need to know -- or would like to know," Caldwell said this week as the AFC South-leading Colts prepared to play the Raiders (7-7) Sunday at Oakland Coliseum.
Caldwell was trying to reach Sam Boghosian, the Raiders' offensive line coach and Green's contact.
A man answered and told Caldwell that Boghosian was on vacation.
"Is there anything I can help you with?" the man asked.
Caldwell told him what he wanted, and the two spoke for about 40 minutes.
"He asked me where I was from, why I had such an interest," Caldwell said. "He asked me my background -- all these different things. He said, 'Where do you plan to stay when you come out?' I said, 'I really don't know.' He said, 'Well, this is where you stay -- it's a Holiday Inn not too far from where we practice.'
"He said, 'Are you going to get a car -- a rental car?' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Well, these are he directions.' He gave me directions to the facility, the whole bit."
Before Caldwell hung up, he said it occurred to him he should ask with whom he had been speaking. He did.
"This is Al Davis," the man said.
Caldwell said he paused for a moment, unsure if he man was joking.
"Then, I recognized the voice once he said the name," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said the story hardly ends there.Caldwell traveled West, thinking Davis might pass him off to an assistant once he arrived.
"He walks me to his office," Caldwell said. "We sit and talk for another hour. Then, he walks me to their film room, which has all of their cut-ups, in terms of their defensive backfield play, coverages, etc. He said, 'You can watch this. We're going to practice at such and such a time' -- it was a morning practice of two-a-days. He said, 'I'll come get you.'"
Davis accompanied Caldwell to practice, and as two of the best cornerbacks of the era -- Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes -- worked, Davis gave what Caldwell described as "almost like a personal clinic."
"They were going through techniques," Caldwell said. "He'd say, 'Hey, slow that down so he can see that.'''
Caldwell said this went on through the entire practice. Caldwell said he and Davis ate lunch, and Caldwell figured that perhaps was the extent of the experience. He watched more film, and after Davis worked with Caldwell through the second practice, Caldwell watched film that evening.
Around 11, Davis returned to the film room.
"He stays with me until about three in the morning," Caldwell said. "I ran back to the hotel, got a little sleep and we did the same thing -- exactly the same thing -- for about three days straight. When I left there, I had a great appreciation for not only what they did and how they went about it, and certainly for Coach Davis, but he taught me a very special lesson in terms of how to treat young coaches who have a real desire to learn. I never forgot that."
Caldwell, the head coach at Wake Forest from 1993-2000, joined the NFL in 2001 as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He moved to the Colts as an assistant under Tony Dungy in 2002, and became the head coach last season.
Although the Colts and Raiders played in 2004 and 2007, and although Caldwell wrote Davis a letter thanking him shortly after attending Raiders practices, he hadn't seen Davis until he attended an NFL owners meeting shortly after becoming the Colts' head coach.
Caldwell said he approached Davis and told him the story.
"I went down and pulled up a chair next to him," Caldwell said. "I reminded him of the story. He didn't remember it all. He'd kind of look at me once in a while and say, 'You mean, I did that for you?' I said, Yes, you did.' And I told him how much I appreciated it, that it was a thrill of mine in the coaching profession, to have the opportunity to sit next to him, that aspect of it.
"He was really, really good to me."