NEW YORK (Aug. 21, 2006) -- After 17 years, Paul Tagliabue is more than ready to move on.
"I'm glad it's over," the outgoing NFL commissioner said. "It's the right time."
His relaxed posture at the head of a conference table said as much. So did his hour-plus interview at league headquarters with nine reporters, one of his longest media sessions during his tenure.
Tagliabue will leave office in 10 days -- Roger Goodell, currently the league's chief operating officer, will take over at 6 a.m. EDT Sept. 1. And no, neither Tagliabue nor Goodell will be in the league's New York office at the hour.
The switch will take place then instead of midnight, the normal transfer time, because there will be exhibition games being played on the West Coast and, as Tagliabue put it, "we don't want to change horses at midstream."
Tagliabue reminisced about his tenure, some of it in nostalgic colloquy with reporters who have covered him since before he was the commissioner. In all, he spent 37 years with the NFL, choosing in 1969 to join the league as outside counsel rather than taking a job in the White House -- he had worked in previous years as a lawyer at the Pentagon.
Other than Pete Rozelle, whom he succeeded as commissioner, he cited as his most importance influences Tex Schramm, president of the Dallas Cowboys for 30 years from their inception in 1960; former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, whom he knew as the NFL's Washington counsel; and Jim Finks, the man he beat out for the job after a prolonged deadlock in 1989.
He said he hadn't been trying to teach Goodell, but doing the opposite.
"I've been trying to take direction from him in terms of what he wants me to be thinking about," Tagliabue said.
He did say he told Goodell that it was important to focus on the game and its players.
He noted that early in his tenure, owners Wellington Mara of the Giants and Dan Rooney of the Steelers suggested that he meet with players at a time when there was no labor contract and no union -- the NFL Players Association had decertified after the 1987 strike and filed suit against the NFL.
The labor situation was finally settled in 1993 with a contract that has been extended -- most recently in March in the most difficult negotiation yet.
Tagliabue ended up meeting with the Giants, Eagles and Steelers, learned a lot about the players on labor. He noted there were a lot of disagreements, and that he discovered that players can get rambunctious.
"The meeting with the Giants players was the least structured because it was the end of the week, it was a pizza session," Tagliabue said. "By the time we got to the end of the discussion, there was a high probability if I didn't leave, pizza pies were going to be thrown from one group of players at the other group of players. That's when I decided to adjourn the meeting."
Tagliabue, who will go on a trip to Bhutan and China after he steps down, will remain as a consultant for the league for two more years.
"I think my main role is to disappear," he said. "I think generally the best way to run an organization is for the person who's running it to be in charge and for the people who have had responsibility for running it previously to disappear for the most part.
"This is not like practicing medicine. You don't look for second opinions. That's the commissioner's decision or his opinion, that's his opinion."