WALNUT CREEK, Calif. – When Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable told his assistants after a sloppy Aug. 4 training-camp practice that he planned to meet privately that night with the team's defensive backs, Randy Hanson was sure how things would play out.
"You know what's gonna happen there," Hanson, a defensive assistant who had worked closely with the team's secondary, predicted to a small group of fellow staff members. "Tom's gonna come out of the meeting and say I'm the problem, that I'm the one confusing them and blame it all on me."
Hanson was right: Later that night, Cable informed him that the Raiders' cornerbacks and safeties had pegged him as "the problem," exacerbating the tension that Hanson says had been festering between the two coaches since January, when Hanson was hired by owner Al Davis before Cable had been offered a permanent head-coaching role.
What Hanson says he never saw coming was an alleged violent attack by Cable the following morning that left him with a fractured jaw and a polluted relationship with the franchise he has loved since childhood.
"From my blindside, Tom Cable threw me from my chair and into a piece of furniture that a lamp sat upon," Hanson told Yahoo! Sports Friday during an extensive interview at a Bay Area restaurant. "He was screaming, 'I'll f----- kill you! I'll f----- kill you!' And I have no reason to believe he wouldn't have killed me if they hadn't pulled him away.
"If my head would've hit a different way, I might be dead right now."
In his first public comments since the Aug. 5 incident that took place in a meeting room at the Marriott-Napa Valley, Hanson repeated the version of events that he gave to a Napa Police Department detective late last month. According to a source close to the investigation, three witnesses – Raiders defensive coordinator John Marshall, defensive backs coach Lionel Washington and assistant defensive backs coach Willie Brown – also provided statements to police investigators which corroborated Hanson's account of the incident.
The two-month investigation is now under review by Napa County district attorney Gary Lieberstein, who could decide to file felony assault charges against Cable. Hanson's San Francisco-based attorney, John McGuinn, told AOL FanHouse last week that "this really is a textbook case of felony assault." Cable, who has reportedly retained a criminal defense attorney, could be seeking a plea deal that might allow him to avoid jail time.
Cable may also face discipline under the NFL's personal conduct policy. According to Greg Aiello, the league's senior vice president of public relations, commissioner Roger Goodell did not meet with Cable this weekend during the team's visit to New Jersey – the 1-3 Raiders face the New York Giants on Sunday – and no meeting is currently planned. However, Goodell acknowledged earlier during the week that the league is "closely monitoring the case."
The Raiders did not respond to requests Saturday by Yahoo! Sports to speak with Davis, Cable and Marshall, and separate phone calls to Washington and Brown were not returned. Reached Saturday night by phone, Marshall confirmed he had been interviewed by a Napa Police officer and said, "I can't talk about any of this."
Cable has previously denied attacking Hanson, claiming in an Aug. 18 interview following a training-camp practice that "nothing happened" and later insisting that "when the facts come out, everything will be fine."
Hanson, 41, who is still getting paid by the Raiders, says he never wanted the incident to be publicized and sent a letter to the organization saying he would accept a reassignment of duties to avoid being a distraction to the team. A fervent Raiders fan since his days growing up in western Washington's Skagit Valley, Hanson said he still roots for the team – he showed up for Friday's interview wearing a thick, black shirt with a silver "Raiders" logo.
Though it has been suggested that Hanson was a snitch for Davis who reported to the owner about the behavior of his fellow coaches, he adamantly denied that depiction. However, Hanson conceded that Cable "might have been paranoid about my relationship with Mr. Davis because I was hired by him."
Known for his intense work ethic and aptitude in breaking down opponents' tendencies, Hanson was a highly regarded offensive assistant during a three-year stint with the Minnesota Vikings from 2003 to 2005.
"Randy Hanson's a great coach," said former Vikings center Matt Birk(notes), a perennial Pro Bowl selection now with the Baltimore Ravens. "He would break down opposing defenses for us, and he was outstanding. He's an extremely hard worker. That used to be the joke – he never stopped. He'd sleep in the office and watch every bit of tape he could find."
Added former Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson(notes): "I really enjoyed being around him. He brought a lot of flavor to the room and to the field, and I thought he had a lot of insights into game plans."
After spending the '06 season with the St. Louis Rams, Hanson was let out of his contract to join first-year coach Lane Kiffin's Oakland staff because, he says, then Rams-coach Scott Linehan was aware of his devotion to the Raiders. In Oakland, he worked as an assistant secondary coach in charge of third-down defenses and impressed his fellow coaches with his knowledge of opposing offenses and his ability to convey his insights to the players.
"He knows what the opposing team's gonna do before they know what they're gonna do," said one former Raiders assistant who worked closely with Hanson. "That's how much tape he watches. And he's a damn good football coach, too."
After making some disparaging locker-room comments about the Raiders' preparation following the team's 41-14 defeat to the Denver Broncos at the start of the 2008 season, Hanson received a five-day suspension for insubordination from Kiffin, who did not inform Davis of his action. The owner cited this as one of many reasons for Kiffin's dismissal during a press conference last Oct. 1 to announce the firing.
Shortly after Cable was named interim coach, Hanson claims Cable told him in a staff meeting, "If I could fire you, I would."
Following the '08 season Cable told his assistants that he would meet with each of them to discuss their futures with the team should he be hired as the permanent coach. According to Hanson, however, Cable "met with every guy but me."
On Jan. 20, Hanson had what he said was his first-ever "one-on-one, face-to-face meeting" with the owner. In what was supposed to be a 15-minute session to address Hanson's prospects of remaining with the team, the coach apparently wowed the owner with his grasp of football and with his knowledge of Raiders history.
"We met for more than two-and-a-half hours," Hanson recalled. "At the start of the meeting, he said, 'I know you're a hard worker and you love the Raiders, but I don't know what you do that helps this football team. I do not know if you can coach or not.' By the end he had given me a raise and told me he wanted me to stay on as 'assistant coach-defense.' My role would be to teach the new defensive coaches what we did on defense last year so they'll know some of the things I like. He also said he wanted to groom me on the personnel side. He said he wanted me to play an important role in the future of the organization."
At the conclusion of the meeting, Hanson was asked by Davis whether he thought Cable would be a good choice as head coach. "I told Mr. Davis yes," Hanson recalled. "He won his last two games, and I felt like he deserved a chance."
However, after Cable was officially hired in early February, Hanson quickly began to suspect that the head coach did not share the owner's enthusiasm for his new role.
First Cable, at the press conference announcing his hiring, laid out his staff for reporters without mentioning Hanson. The following day, according to Hanson, Cable told him that he had just had a phone conversation with Davis in which the owner had described Hanson as a quality-control coach, a much less prestigious post with mostly administrative responsibilities.
Recalled Hanson: "Tom said, 'Don't worry – I'm not going to do that to you. I'll make you a defensive assistant.' Tom demoted me, and I became the league's highest-paid defensive assistant."
The slights continued over the spring. Hanson was told by Cable's assistant not to accompany the rest of the staff to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, and he ended up being given duties similar to that of a secretary. Hanson wasn't invited to several staff functions, including a post-draft party and a trip to an Oakland A's game.
At a post-draft minicamp for rookies and free agents, Hanson said Cable "belittled" him in the process of introducing staff members to the players by implying that he was an assistant quality-control coach.
Shortly before training camp, Davis grilled Marshall, the team's new defensive coordinator, during a meeting. As Marshall struggled to answer a question from the owner, Hanson assisted the veteran coach by giving hand signals from the back of the room. Cable, Hanson said, seemed to have been angered by his actions.
The tension escalated early in training camp as Cable decided to split the team into two units and conduct side-by-side practices for the first four days. That meant Hanson and Washington coached on separate fields for the first eight practices, which exacerbated the coaches' confusion over a new blitz scheme that they were trying to teach the players.
"We had changed the blitz package two or three times over a short period, and everybody was really confused and frustrated," Hanson said. "We ended up changing it a fourth time – back to the way it was in OTAs (organized team activities) – and one of the players said in a meeting, 'This is confusing.' I said, 'You guys are [f-----] right – we're all confused, and that includes the coaches. We've got to get on the same page. Don't worry. We'll get it right.' "
On the evening of Aug. 4, the Raiders conducted a traditional, full-team practice in Napa that, Hanson said, "wasn't one of our best." After Hanson predicted that he would be blamed for the defensive problems, the other coaches told him he was being paranoid. Cable, following a 45-minute session with the defensive backs, summoned Brown, Washington and Hanson to an outside patio area and told Hanson, "They don't want you in there."
Cable told Hanson he wasn't sure how he planned to remedy the situation and would get back to him in a couple of hours. Hanson then told his fellow assistants, "If The Man [Davis] calls you about this, tell the truth" – a statement he believes may have gotten back to Cable and increased his ire.
"If Tom knew that I had called what was going to happen, and if he thought I had talked to Mr. Davis about it, maybe he thought his cover had been blown and his plan had been thwarted," Hanson said.
Cable never got back to Hanson that night, and the next morning he told the assistant not to come out to practice. Afterward, Hanson was summoned to a small conference room for a conversation with Cable. Hanson sat at a small rectangular table while Cable stood near the door.
Recalled Hanson: "Tom said, 'Randy, tell me, why would these players say these things about you and not want you around them?' I said, 'Tom, they didn't come to you; you went in there and created a problem. If this is true, how come I've never heard of this from any of the other coaches?' He said, 'And that's what pisses me off – that these guys would keep this from me. I'm gonna bring 'em in."
At that point, Hanson said, Marshall, Washington and Brown were summoned to the room and took seats at the table. Hanson said that when questioned by Cable both Washington and Brown stuck up for his abilities.
Then, Hanson recalled, "John said, 'Well, Tom, Randy's been great. He knows this stuff and has been a big help for me. But I've been coaching for 30 years in the NFL, and when a player comes to a coach with a problem about an assistant, you've got to get him off the field. And I have told Randy on several occasions, 'Don't confuse the players.' "
At that point, Hanson continued, "I said, 'John, I'm so disappointed. That's a lie.' From the side I heard Tom scream, 'That's bulls---,' and before I knew it Tom had blindsided me."
Hanson said he lay on the floor, dazed, as Cable told him to "Get the f--- up." Marshall helped him back into his chair, at which point Cable said, "I'm not gonna let you ruin my football team. If you want to be on my team, you are gonna be off the field, and you're gonna do all the quality-control work, but you're not to be around those f----- players. Do you accept the position?"
Recalled Hanson, "Willie was gesturing to me, 'Just say yes,' because he probably was worn out from pulling Tom away twice before."
Hanson told Cable he needed time to consider the request, and Cable said, "I'll come back to you in a couple of hours for an answer." After going back to his room, Hanson said, he received a call from a Raiders defensive back who had heard about the incident. "He told me that what Tom said had happened in that meeting wasn't the way it went down," Hanson said. "It was nothing like what Tom said occurred, and several players later told me the same thing."
– Randy Hanson
Not wanting news of the incident to leak and embarrassed to be seen because of his swollen face, Hanson stayed in his room until late that night, when the pain became pronounced. Early Wednesday morning Hanson went to the emergency room at Queen of the Valley hospital in Napa, where he was given X-rays. Hospital officials, as required by law, informed the Napa Police that Hanson had said he'd suffered the injury in an assault, and an officer later arrived to question him.
"I downplayed the whole thing and didn't give them any names," Hanson said. "The last thing I wanted was publicity. I said, 'You know what the message is? The Raiders are back.' "
The next day Hanson received a call from a hospital employee telling him he had a fractured upper left jawbone; he also suffered two cracked teeth, a bruised knee and a bruised back. He returned to his home in Livermore and tried to communicate with Cable, but the coach never contacted him.
Davis had been out of town at the time of the incident – he was on the East Coast giving a deposition to a lawyer for Kiffin, who is challenging the owner's decision not to pay him the balance of his contract. He did not meet with Hanson until Aug. 16, 11 days after the incident.
At that meeting, Hanson said, Davis told him he'd be a distraction to the team if he were allowed to return to his former role and that such a move would be seen as Davis undermining his head coach. Davis gave Hanson three choices: Move over to the personnel side; accept Cable's proposal to perform quality-control duties while staying away from the players; or receive the balance of his contract (which runs through the 2010 season) without returning to the organization.
"You're Tuck-Ruling me," Hanson told Davis, comparing the perceived injustice to the controversial replay reversal that cost the Raiders a victory over the New England Patriots in the 2001 playoffs.
Yet despite his frustration, Hanson has remained loyal to the organization. Late last month McGuinn, his attorney, told NFL.com that several Raiders players had solicited Hanson's input about upcoming opponents, with one even giving him a team laptop that used to belong to Brown. "Al Davis doesn't know [Hanson has] been providing detailed coaching for these guys, and Randy has not gotten any credit for it," McGuinn told the league's website.
A source said one Raiders assistant has also reached out to Hanson in recent weeks. Hanson declined to comment about any help he might have provided to players or others in the organization since he was barred from visiting the team's facility.
After holding out for more than seven weeks, Hanson finally gave a 90-minute interview to Napa Police detective Mike Walund on Sept. 26 during which he turned over medical records. While Hanson is not sure what will happen next – "That's in the police's hands," he said – he can't help but root for the Raiders on Sundays.
"I watch every game," Hanson said. "I want them to win. Once a Raider, always a Raider."
Asked whether he plans to sue Cable and/or the organization, Hanson said, "I wish this had never happened. I was hoping it wouldn't get to this point. But sometimes you've got to be a Raider, too. I mean, if he were in my situation, what would Mr. Davis do?"
- Randy Hanson