Amy Trask is best known for her work as the longtime CEO of the Oakland Raiders, but she’s thrived on television over the last few years as an analyst on CBS Sports Network’s That Other Pregame Show (TOPS) alongside Adam Schein, Brandon Tierney, and London Fletcher. TOPS will not only be airing live from Atlanta from 6-8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network from Tuesday to Friday, but will be kicking off CBS’ Super Bowl pregame coverage beginning Sunday at 11:30 a.m. eastern.
In an extended interview with Awful Announcing, Trask discussed what it’s like preparing for the big game as an executive, the NFL’s latest officiating controversy, her work as chairman of the board of the Big 3, and much more.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity
You were CEO of the Raiders when they made Super Bowl 37. What’s it like being an executive on a team preparing to play in the big game?
We were in the Super Bowl the year the league experimented without having the one week break between the championship game and the Super Bowl. I share the following not by way of excuse or explanation, but simply a factual rendition of how hard that was. Now obviously Tampa managed it well, Tampa beat us, but we went from winning the championship game to zooming straight back to the office because we were on a plane within a day or so. And it was the last time the league had a Super Bowl without the one week break, and I don’t think they should ever do that again. And my understanding, at least as of now, is that they have no plans to do so, because it was a logistical challenge.
So things were kind of going 200 miles per hour for you?
Right, and in a good way. Look, I don’t mean to suggest that these aren’t problems that are of the ilk of problems one wants to have. And really, they’re annoyances. There was just a lot to be done in one week, and you hear a lot of teams now that they use that first week to have their players and their coaches deal with everything with respect to their families. Tickets, arrangements, logistics. And that second week is entirely football. And when you don’t have that week in between, you’re doing it all at once. But again, I’ll emphasize that it was a challenge that Tampa faced as well.
I don’t want to come off as complaining or whining, this is simply factual in nature, but one of the challenges for us was that we were facing our former head coach in Jon Gruden. He knew all of our signals, he knew all of our calls. Perhaps with that extra week, we change things a bit more. But in fairness, we could’ve changed it that week and our coaches chose not to.
You bring a lot of experience to TOPS. What do you expect from your coverage as a group on Super Bowl Sunday? Obviously it’s pretty big that you’re getting a time slot on the big day itself.
My hope is that we will proceed in the manner we proceed every single week, which is a very relaxed, sometimes spirited yet always cordial discussion about football, about the games, about the teams, about the league. I think one of the things I enjoy about the show is the relationship between and among those of us on the set, and the healthy exchange of ideas we have. We don’t always agree. I don’t think anyone always agrees with their colleagues on all matters, but I think that the manner that we have of disagreeing with one another when we do is a very productive way of exchanging ideas. We exchange ideas in a reasoned and reasonable manner, and when we disagree with one another, we disagree agreeably. And I think that’s a healthy way to proceed.
And we have a lot of fun, and I think that resonated with viewers as well. We enjoy it. I sit there on set sometimes and I look around and say to my colleagues sometimes on camera when we’re on air, and sometimes between segments when we’re at commercial, ‘here we are, employed by CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network. To sit on camera and just talk about football.’ And I feel like the luckiest girl in the world in that respect.
There was so much discussion last week about the refereeing blunders on championship Sunday. As a former executive, do you think judgment calls by referees like a holding or a defensive pass interference should be subject to review?
Some yes, not all. The league can do a stronger job of embracing technology to help it with officiating. The example I always point to in that regard has nothing to do with a penalty, but with down markers. There’s something sort of charming about using two sticks with a chain, but here we are in 2019. There’s other ways. And I use that simply as an example, not because I’m suggesting that those things are used improperly or that mistakes are made all the time. But that to me is sort of the quintessential example of suggesting that there are newer modern technologies the league can embrace to better officiate in some instances.
But I will also say that there are some instances in which something really is a judgment call. Did a hold really impede someone or not? The missed pass interference call we saw, there was no argument to be made. Of course it was pass interference, and I’m not suggesting for a moment that it wasn’t. But there are other calls which are much closer in nature. I am not one who falls into the camp of saying absolutely everything should be reviewable or should be reviewed. But I do think there can be a more robust use of technology to assist with some reviews.
One of the things that intrigues me or concerns me about pass interference is, there are some who’ve suggested ‘well go ahead and review a pass interference call to see if it really was pass interference, but don’t review a non-call.’ And that to me is illogical. If you can review pass interference to see if it really was interference, why shouldn’t you be able to do the flipside of that coin and see if it really was when it wasn’t called? So I think there needs to be intellectual consistency with respect to the approach.
From an x’s and o’s perspective, what’s the biggest thing you’re looking at with the Patriots and Rams?
Football is a game of matchups. It’s a game of chess with very strong, very fast, very powerful pieces. In this game of chess, the matchup that intrigues me the most is Bill Belichick versus Sean McVay. And yes we could talk about Brady versus Goff, one quarterback towards the end of his career, magnificent, the other at the outset of his career, perhaps he will achieve that level of success, we don’t know. But the matchup I can’t wait to see is Belichick versus McVay.
One of the things that first attracted me to the game, in addition to the fun and the speed and the power, is the intellectual component of coaches looking to exploit matchups, disguise matchups and cover up matchup deficiencies. And I don’t think there’s anyone better at that than Bill Belichick, but our eyes are now on Sean McVay because he may become the next best. So that’s the matchup I want to see.
I’m sure you’ve read Seth Wickersham’s piece on how Cleveland Browns ownership has handled the teams over the last several years. As an executive under Al Davis, when you saw articles like that with the depth of what Wickersham wrote, what do you do and what is it like within the organization?
Each of the 32 teams are constituted differently, managed differently. Some teams’ owners are very involved, and others are not as involved. Ownership is ultimately always responsible for everything, because when you own the team, even if you ultimately turn over all responsibility and all authority to those that you hire, you’re the one that hired them and you have the power to terminate and hire someone else.
So yes, responsibility ultimately lies with ownership. But on a day-to-day and a managerial standpoint, there are some owners who are far more involved than others. I spent almost 30 years working for Al Davis, who is commonly known to have been a very, very involved owner, and he was. And you talk about stories like the Wickersham piece or others, there was a period of time during my career and towards the end of Al’s life and things were not going well with the team on the field at all. And on my commute home from the office, I would always drive by this enormous billboard that was put up by fans, and it implored Al to hire a general manager. And I remember thinking every time I drove by it, we have a general manager. His name is Al.
So my point is, how you deal with situations like that really depends on how your team is constituted. When there were rough, tough, really harsh pieces on the Raiders, I would bring to Al suggestions as to how we might deal with those pieces, what we might do. And he just wasn’t interested in responding, addressing them, interacting with those who wrote them. His response to me was ‘I don’t care, let them write what they want.’ And on the other hand, I knew of owners in the league whose reactions were 180 degrees the other direction when something harsh was written. So I really do think it depends on ownership.
It seems from the piece that Jimmy Haslam is one of those hands-on owners
You don’t know how he’ll react to a piece like this. Is he hands-on in the sense that this really bothers him and now he wishes to address it? Or does he not care what is written about the team or about him? I don’t know the answer to those.
The discussion I would have with Al regularly was that you may not care about what is written about the team, fair enough. You’re the owner. But then you need to be intellectually honest. And if we are having trouble securing sponsors, or selling suites, or marketing tickets because of what’s written about the team, you have to factor that into your analysis as to why we’re having those troubles.
In other words, the argument I had with him on a regular basis is okay, if you don’t care, then you don’t get to care. But you can’t take the view that you don’t care what’s written about the team and not accept that that factors into the decision as to whether people want to spend money with the team. I didn’t think that was intellectually honest.
You’re involved with the Big 3, which is expanding this coming season and will be in arenas twice a week.
We’re expanding the number of teams and we’re going to expand the number of games, and we are working out our schedule right now to see which cities we want to go to and how many days on which we want to play per week, and obviously our broadcast decisions will factor in to that.
What’s your involvement in day-to-day operations, and how can the league increase its popularity at such a relatively early stage?
I’m not a fan of titles, I don’t believe titles are necessary. That said, I’m chairman of the board. But what matters is how the Big 3 is run by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz. They are the two co-founders of the league, and they are co-CEOs. And the method of how we do business is absolutely collaborative. I’ve always said that the four most important words in business are communicate, cooperate, collaborate, coordinate. And it’s just a pleasure working with Cube and with Jeff and with Clyde Drexler. Working with these men is an absolutely communicative, collaborative approach to business.
One area which we believe we’ll be able to grow in, and where there’s been a tremendous amount of interest is internationally. There’s been interest from China, Brazil, and the Middle East to us bringing games there as well. It might be some All-Star games, some regular season games. My 30 years has been in the NFL, and it’s been a change for me to be in basketball. What I didn’t fully appreciate until joining the league if the worldwide avidity for three-on-three basketball. Anywhere you walk by a park or basketball court in this country, you see guys playing three-on-three. I live right by Venice Beach, and there’s not an hour that you walk by the basketball courts that you don’t see three-on-three going on every single court at every hour of the day. I didn’t realize there was such an avidity around the world for it.
Last question. If the Patriots end up winning the game, do you think either Tom Brady or Bill Belichick retires?
To state the obvious, I don’t know. None of us know. I do think there’s a chance that might happen with Tom. it’s always nice to think of someone riding off, so to speak, after a Super Bowl win. And the difference, of course, between Tom and Bill is there’s no physical limitations to doing a coaching job. Age doesn’t impact that the way Tom’s does. I certainly hope Bill doesn’t for a very, very long time. I think he is tremendous for the game of football. At some point Tom is going to retire so sure, coming off a Super Bowl win is very storybook.