ROMULUS, Mich. (July 24, 2006) -- The list of candidates for Paul Tagliabue's job as NFL commissioner is down to 11, although with two weeks to go until the final selection meeting, a majority of the owners still don't know who is on it.
The owners met for about three hours at the Detroit airport July 24 to help narrow down the potential successors. Then the search committee continued discussing procedures for getting down to a workable number of finalists for the meetings in Chicago on Aug. 7-9 to choose Tagliabue's successor.
"I'm still confident it will get done then," Tagliabue said.
Despite the secrecy, the front-runner remains Roger Goodell, Tagliabue's second in command. He appears to be one of three league office people in contention -- the others are Jeff Pash, the league's chief lawyer, and Eric Grubman, its top financial officer.
The reason the owners have not been told any names is that Tagliabue and the search committee want to prevent leaks of the kind that plagued the last commissioner search in 1989.
"Sure I've heard the usual names. We all have," said John Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants. "But we haven't heard anything officially and that's the way it should be. I think the committee is going about it just the right way."
The 11 candidates will meet with the search committee this week at an unspecified site, then the field will be narrowed. Tagliabue didn't specify how many finalists there would be, but said the owners might be divided into small groups to interview the candidates.
The process is in stark contrast to the one 17 years ago, when it took seven months after Pete Rozelle announced his retirement for the owners to choose Tagliabue. He was elected after the late Jim Finks, then the New Orleans general manager, led for most of the process.
One of the problems then was that the search committee was made up entirely of owners close to Rozelle, all with long histories in the league. They were set to elect Finks when a group of newer owners, including Dallas' Jerry Jones, rebelled and ended up supporting Tagliabue.
This search committee includes such non-traditionalists as Oakland's Al Davis and Jones, who despite his early support for Tagliabue ended up differing with the commissioner on many issues. The committee also includes both high-revenue and low-revenue owners, men on both sides of the debate that still remains the NFL's most divisive: how to split income.