In a situation so bizarre it could only involve the Oakland Raiders, the agreement in principle with Sean Payton to become the franchise's next head coach has broken apart, and he will remain with the Dallas Cowboys as their assistant head coach.
"I'm really excited about moving forward with the Dallas
Cowboys and continuing the job we started a year ago," Payton
said Wednesday. "In regards to Oakland, I was certainly flattered and
fortunate to interview with them and wish them the best."
ESPN.com reported Tuesday night that the two sides had struck an agreement on a four-year contract. Other published reports contended that Payton had not yet been presented the parameters of a contract.
In a Wednesday evening news conference with Bay Area reporters, Oakland owner Al Davis insisted the team had not settled on new coach to succeed the deposed Bill Callahan.
Davis appears to have his eyes set on members of the New England Patriots' staff, perhaps defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel or offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
"There is no timetable (for hiring a coach)," Davis said in a
rare meeting with reporters Wednesday that lasted more than an hour
at team headquarters. "The thing is to try to be right. I had
hoped something would happen last weekend and it didn't happen."
That was the hint that Davis wants to talk to the Patriots
coaches, which he can't do until their season is over. New England
plays Carolina in the Super Bowl in Houston on Feb. 1.
Typical of the Raiders, team officials on Tuesday were phoning Dallas-area newspapers, which also reported an agreement had been reached, in attempts to find out the sources of those stories.
But the Raiders apparently were so comfortable they had a deal, ESPN.com learned, that they began contacting assistant coaches from other teams -- including Baltimore defensive line coach Rex Ryan -- about interviewing for jobs on Payton's staff. And Dallas offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, who also interviewed with Davis, acknowledged Tuesday night that Payton had won the job.
A source close to Payton told ESPN.com Wednesday night that it "probably isn't prudent to discuss (the situation) right now, because it is in such flux. ... But the bottom line was that there were things in the contract that Sean couldn't live with."
From interviews with several people involved in negotiations, it appears Payton backed away from the deal. Why? Several reasons:
Differences over issues of control, including staffing and personnel.
Reluctance to uproot his family for the second time in a year.
The feeling that it was neither the right time -- nor the Raiders the right team -- for Payton to begin his NFL head coaching career.
The skills of persuasion possessed by Dallas owner Jerry Jones and coach Bill Parcells.
It is believed both Jones and Parcells spoke at length with Payton on Wednesday about the positives and negatives of the Raiders job.
The Raiders job would have capped a remarkable career turnaround for Payton. Less than two years ago, the then-offensive coordinator for the New York Giants was stripped of his play-calling duties by coach Jim Fassel.
Davis fired Callahan earlier this month after two seasons and a 17-18 record. The Raiders played in last season's Super Bowl, but Callahan came under fire this year from many veteran players who wanted him removed. Indeed, Callahan was, after a 4-12 season. He was hired last week as the new head coach at the University of Nebraska.
League sources emphasized Tuesday evening that Payton, who this season was the assistant head coach to Parcells, had yet to sign a contract and that there still were issues to be resolved. "Remember who [Payton] is dealing with here," said a league source, referring to Davis.
That cautionary note proved prophetic.
Payton, 40, would have become the NFL's youngest head coach. The seven-year league veteran is about four months younger than Bucs coach Jon Gruden (Callahan's predecessor in Oakland) and about eight months younger than Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio.
Payton is believed to be the only candidate among those known to have interviewed with Davis who was called back a second time to meet with him. Payton met much of the day Monday, and also part of Tuesday, with Davis and Oakland officials.
Beyond Payton, Davis also interviewed Kansas City offensive coordinator Al Saunders by phone; met in person with Dennis Green, who recently was named coach of the Arizona Cardinals; interviewed Carthon; and interviewed Greg Knapp, then the 49ers offensive coordinator. Knapp subsequently was named the new offensive coordinator in Atlanta.
For now, Mike Lombardi, an executive in the player personnel
department last season, is acting senior assistant. The Raiders
lost Bruce Allen earlier this month when he became the general
manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Mike Lombardi is a bright young man," Davis said. "He does
our talent evaluation of pro personnel. He can do contracts and he
can do cap-related things. He will do some of that. He's going to
move in and kind of move into Bruce's place but we don't want him
to do too much cap and related contracts. We have other people in
the organization who can do that."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.