Who's the boss?

* ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)*-- The search for Paul Tagliabue's successor may take awhile.

As the NFL meetings started March 27, Tagliabue postponed appointing a committee to begin a search for the next commissioner and was vague on when he might do it.

Nor did the owners seem in a hurry.

"It's not a race for speed, it's a race for success," said Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. "This is the CEO of a 32-team operation, so it's not the speed, it's the quality."

Houston's Bob McNair agreed.

"We need the input of all 32 owners, that is critical," he said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves and interview candidates before we define the position. It's difficult, it takes a lot of thought and effort to think about where you want to be in the future as a league."

One reason for the delay is trying to avoid what happened in 1989, when outgoing commissioner Pete Rozelle appointed a committee of insiders. That alienated outsiders, leading to a seven-month deadlock.

That could still happen again.

Despite a last-minute agreement on enhanced revenue sharing that resulted in an extension to the NFL's labor deal with the players' union, there is still considerable disagreement by low-revenue and high-revenue teams. Tagliabue is aware of that and will have to ensure the committee is balanced with the various factions among the owners.

Tagliabue, who has said he wants to step down in July, was asked whether he would stay on through season if he had to.

"Ask me in September," he replied with a smile.

But he also downplayed the differences in viewpoints among the owners.

"I've spoken to many owners already," he said. "I think there is a strong consensus. What is needed is a really effective leader who can be around for a good, long period of time. We need to look at what we want the NFL to look like five to 10 years from now. Whatever differences people have on particular issues will be submerged (during the search)."

That 10-year framework indicates that the new commissioner will be in his (or her) early 50s or younger. That fits the two men who have been mentioned most: Roger Goodell, 46, the NFL's chief operating officer, and Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, 47, who also is co-chairman of the league's rulemaking competition committee.

But there is a feeling that neither is close to a sure thing, in part because both are too familiar to the 32 teams and are bound to have alienated some. Goodell's 20 years in the league office may not help him with teams who sometimes look disapprovingly on edicts from New York, and McKay's position on the competition committee or as a team GM could put off others.

The day began with the last "state of the league" address by Tagliabue, whose association with the NFL dates back to 1969 when he was a 28-year-old lawyer. He took over as commissioner in 1989 after that long deadlock.

"I have been privileged to serve the NFL and its teams with -- by my count -- about 80 different principal owners," he told the owners. "Then, in recent months, my wife, Chan, pointed out that we now have head coaches in the league who were not yet born when I got started with the NFL."

Tagliabue said it was likely the owners would hire a search firm to help look for a successor, and several owners said the same about looking for executives who would fit as the next commissioner.

Several league officials and owners, however, suggested that the next commissioner would need to be familiar with the NFL's inner workings. Unlike other CEOs, he must oversee 32 teams who have common goals but are also rivals and are run in most cases by people with very strong personalities.

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