Pretty Goodell shot



BY GARY MYERS
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

Roger Goodell is positioned to pull off a wire-to-wire victory in the NFL Commissioner Derby, but will have to withstand a challenge from at least one high-powered corporate CEO when owners vote Aug. 7-9 in Chicago on Paul Tagliabue's successor.

There are 15 candidates still on the list, but after an owners meeting next Monday in Detroit, the eight-member search committee, which includes Woody Johnson of the Jets, is expected to narrow it to three or four finalists and bring them to Chicago for the owners to interview and then vote on. It will take 22 out of 32 votes to send Tagliabue into retirement.

Last week, the search committee held a conference call with the owners. The owners were informed there were three candidates from the league's Park Avenue office: Goodell, the executive VP/chief operating officer and second on the NFL executive depth chart; Jeff Pash, the executive VP/chief administrative officer-counsel who helped get the Maurice Clarett decision reversed; and Eric Grubman, the executive VP of finance and strategic decisions who was the point man in the sale of the Jets when he worked for Goldman Sachs.

Falcons president and GM Rich McKay and Ravens president Dick Cass are club executives who have been under consideration. But Goodell's main competition is expected to come from outside the league.

Goodell, involved in all important NFL decisions, is the clear favorite among the candidates currently working in the league, one owner said. But the committee has kept the names of candidates from the corporate world a secret from the owners because those people don't want their names released at this stage of the process.

"I still think Roger Goodell has the inside track, but it's hard to make a truly accurate assessment without knowing who the other candidates are," one owner said yesterday. "They can present us with outstanding candidates, which could throw this in a state of flux. My gut is Roger will be a finalist in Chicago and there will be at least one outside candidate. But they've given us no names."

There has been a theory the 32 owners would not trust an outsider to come in and run their $6 billion a year business and that Goodell gives the league the best chance to make a seamless transition during a very profitable time. "Roger is highly regarded," one owner said.

Still, there are enough out-of-the-box thinkers in the ownership group who could create support for bringing in an outsider.

There is optimism the Chicago meeting will produce a new commissioner. But it took 23 ballots to get Pete Rozelle elected in 1960 and 12 ballots and three meetings over a three-month period for Tagliabue to get the votes to succeed Rozelle in 1989.

Goodell has been the favorite from the day Tagliabue announced his retirement plans on March 20.