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Tagliabue relaxed as his term winds down

ORLANDO, Fla. (March 26, 2006) -- Paul Tagliabue has never been so relaxed.

Looking fit and rested after an arduous year of labor negotiations, the outgoing NFL commissioner began preparing for his hardest remaining task: ensuring that his successor is chosen in a less contentious process than he was 17 years ago.

That will begin March 27, when Tagliabue chooses a committee to search for his successor. The two front-runners to replace him seem to be Roger Goodell, Tagliabue's right-hand man, and Atlanta general manager Rich McKay.

But first, Tagliabue must put together his search committee, which will surely represent a broader spectrum of owners than the group Pete Rozelle appointed when he announced his resignation at these meetings in 1989.

That group of insiders recommended Jim Finks, then the New Orleans general manager.

Another group, which included new Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, rebelled and supported Tagliabue. After seven months, Tagliabue was finally chosen when several members of the original committee switched, including Dan Rooney of the Steelers, Wellington Mara of the Giants and Art Modell, then of the Browns.

Those three ended up being among Tagliabue's staunchest supporters while Jones differed with him on many issues. But such are the politics of the NFL.

Though finding a successor is Tagliabue's immediate priority, he seemed at ease, uncharacteristically schmoozing briefly with media members.

"I feel great," he said.

One indication was his choice of dress.

Even in the informal settings of these meetings, Tagliabue normally wears a sport coat. On this day, he began in a yellow checked sport shirt, then changed to a red short-sleeved pullover, while his aides still wore the traditional blazer.

"He's different," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "He's more relaxed."

On March 27, he will likely go back to the more formal attire as he addresses owners on the state of the NFL, then appoints the search committee.

The makeup of that group is the subject of considerable speculation. But one thing is sure: it will include owners with different opinions on the most divisive issue the league has faced recently: the split between high-revenue teams.

There's a good chance that Jones will be on it because of his influence with the high-revenue teams. The other potential members from that group: perhaps Kraft and Bob McNair of Houston.

One low-revenue representative might be Wayne Weaver of Jacksonville, who is well respected by Tagliabue and other owners. Another might be Raiders CEO Amy Trask, who is respected by owners and the league office.

Yet another possibility might be John Mara of the Giants, Wellington's son. His team is in the middle of the revenue group but moving up because of its market and the new stadium it is building. But Rooney is likely to be held back because he has traditionally been brought in to mediate disputes, something that is harder to do if he is on the original committee.

But that was simply speculation.

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