A longtime football great is calling it quits. Al Saunders is retiring according to former player and coach Hank Bauer.
Saunders had spent the past four seasons coaching the offense for the Raiders. He started his time in Oakland in 2011 as offensive coordinator under then head coach Hue Jackson and was retained under the new regime under his new title of senior offensive assistant. This offseason he did not return as coach under new head coach, Jack Del Rio.
He was reportedly offered a job in the Raiders' front office but the 68-year-old offensive coach opted instead to retire.
Saunders grew up in the Bay Area in Piedmont, attending Raiders games from the team's infancy playing in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
At the Raiders final home game last season, and thus his final home game as an NFL coach, he handed a ball to an excited young fan on the sideline. I saw him moments later in the press box and said something to the effect that he made that kid pretty happy giving him that football.
Saunders then told me of when he was a kid and had a chance to go to watch the Raiders play. He said he was given a football at a game and it changed his life. So, now he does the same for kids whenever he can.
The longtime NFL offensive guru attended San Jose State and later USC where he became a graduate assistant. He would later become the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Cal from 1976-81.
His first NFL job came in 1983 with the Chargers as wide receivers coach under legendary head coach Don Coryell. In 1986, at the age of 39 he would succeed Coryell as head coach of the Chargers. At the time, he was the youngest head coach in the league.
From there he would move to another AFC West team and spend his longest stint as an NFL coach. He was the Chiefs wide receivers coach with the from 1989-98 and then after a two-year stint with the Rams - where he would get a Super Bowl ring as assistant head coach and wide receivers coach in 1999 --, returned to the Chiefs as offensive coordinator from 2001-05.
In 2011, he brought his sizable playbook to Hue Jackson's offense and the Raiders had their most successful season since their Super Bowl season in 2002. That season he also endured the death of Al Davis.
Over the past three seasons, he seemed content to take a step back as senior offensive assistant. He could regularly be seen excitedly running down the field to either offer encouragement or instruction. His energy and passion for his work was invaluable to the players who played for him.
It is truly an end of an era for one of the longest tenured NFL coaches and a Bay Area legend.