49ers, Chargers Owners Pulling Strings from Afar

By Jim Thomas Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 23, 1995 | Go to article overview

49ers, Chargers Owners Pulling Strings from Afar


Jim Thomas Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Not everyone can be a Jerry Jones. (Thank goodness.)

You know, show up on the field during games. Hold as many news conferences as star players. Sit next to the coach in the draft room.

But when you're a captain of industry and have made enough money to own that most expensive of playthings - a National Football League franchise - it's hard to resist.

It took Alex Spanos a decade to learn to keep his hands off his prized possession - the San Diego Chargers.

"When I bought the ballclub, my knowledge of football wasn't that great," Spanos said. "But it was my dream to own my own sports franchise.

"You see, I'm a hands-on man in everything I do, but I didn't realize that I can't coach, I can't scout, that I have to hire the people to do the job for me."

Edward DeBartolo Jr. never faced this dilemma with the San Francisco 49ers. He was never even tempted.

"I want nothing to do with anything that goes on on the field," DeBartolo said. "I think if you hire the right people, and you give them autonomy, you can get the job done."

For a while, it appeared that Jones' success in leading Dallas to back-to-back Super Bowl titles might trigger a trend toward hands-on ownership.

But no matter who wins Sunday's Super Bowl - San Diego or San Francisco - that trend is reversed. Obtrusion is out; delegation of authority is in at Super Bowl XXIX.

The best way to reach the Super Bowl, the Chargers and 49ers are telling us, is by letting football people make the football decisions. And giving them the resources to do so.

Spanos, 71, learned this lesson the hard way.

"It took me 10 years to realize you cannot run a sports franchise like you run a business," said Spanos, who bought the team in 1984. "I've been a bottom-line man all my life. I knew nothing else. I never dreamt that you don't run a football franchise like you run a business."

The son of Greek immigrants, Spanos made his fortune in construction and real estate. So like his other business holdings, he thought the most important reason for having a football team was to make a profit. Every year, Spanos came up with a budget, and the coach and general manager had to take it or leave it.

The results were ugly. The Chargers had only one winning season under Spanos until 1992. The hiring of general manager Bobby Beathard five years ago, and coach Bobby Ross three years ago helped.

But after an 11-5 finish and an AFC West title in 1992, the team slipped to 8-8 in '93. Free agents were leaving the team left and right. Beathard became so frustrated that he supposedly contemplated resignation.

Then, the Mrs. got involved - Faye Spanos.

"My wife has never asked me, or interfered with my business once in 46 years," Spanos said.

Until a year ago.

"When my wife comes into the kitchen and says, `Alex, things are not going right,' something's wrong," Spanos said. …

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