When the Raiders new coaching staff was put in place this offseason, the Raiders' longest tenured coach was not in the plans. Al Saunders had survived two previous coaching changes to remain with the Raiders, but couldn't survive a third. He was asked to take a place in the team's front office, but turned down the offer in favor of retiring.
"I've coached in this league for 34 years and I was in college for 11 years and I think it's time to spend some time with my family and do some things that are very meaningful for me in that regard," Saunders told this network over the weekend. "They've sacrificed a lot for my career and sacrificed a lot that enabled me to do the things that I've been able to do, so I've decided that that's probably the best thing for me to do. And I'm excited.
"I'm gonna miss it. I'm gonna miss the Raiders, I'm gonna miss football, on the field coaching every day, the preparation and planning."
It isn't so easy for a long time coach like Saunders to just up and stop being a part of football cold turkey. He has been pretty busy since he retired from football. He spent some time working with the Dolphins' coaching staff in OTA's, he has begun writing a book, and most recently he was in London doing a clinic for the British American Football Association. And with training camps right around the corner, some teams have been knocking on his door.
"I'm looking forward to doing a lot more things here," said Saunders. "I've been asked by a couple of teams to come to their training camp, I'm making that decision here in the next week. My wife is calling it a sabbatical. I'm calling it retirement. I don't know which it's gonna be, we'll see what develops down the road."
For a full on return to coaching, Saunders says it would have to be the ideal situation. Not just whatever teams wants him.
"It's the three W's in my life at this time," Saunders added. "I've already been a head coach, won the Super Bowl, I've had to opportunity to coach the number one offense in the National Football League for several years. It would have to be the three W's being who I'm working with, where it's located, and what I'd be doing. There are a couple teams that I would entertain that idea but it would really have to be the right situation."
This return to football won't necessarily be this season. Saunders said that he could end up not coaching this season and revisit a return for next season.
"I'm still young. I'm 69 years old, but I run five miles every day and swim one mile every day, so I feel great. It's just how much you miss the relationship with the players and the coaches that are important."
Knowing what I know about Al Saunders and having watched him sprint up and down the practice field with the fire of a man half his age tells you he has plenty of good years left in the NFL should he choose to return to the league.
He loves to coach. And he's a brilliant football mind. While I wouldn't fault him for wanting to slow down and relax for a few years, it would seem hard to believe he wouldn't be back to coaching sometime in the near future.
"You miss the daily interaction with the players, the planning and preparation, the challenge each week and the excitement of a Sunday afternoon."
We all do, Al. Some more than others.
Editor's note: Gur Samuel contributed to this piece.