When the home phone rang late at night and they were still awake, Mick Lombardi and his younger brother Matt would run to answer it.
Who wouldn’t love to hear the voice of Al Davis, the larger-than-life owner of the Oakland Raiders?
Davis stayed late and was known to call his coaches or executives — like Mick’s father Michael, the team’s chief human resources officer — whenever an idea or criticism popped into his head.
“When the phone rang after 11 p.m., you knew who it was,” said Mick Lombardi.
Mick Lombardi, 33, is the Las Vegas Raiders’ newest offensive coordinator and has many memories of growing up as a Raiders fan. Including a phone call with Davis.
“It was a Saturday night in Denver and the Broncos were playing the Buffalo Bills. I was a sophomore in high school,” Lombardi said. “My father invited my mother to dinner and Mr. Davis called home. He asked about my father and I said he was with my mother. He said, “Thanks, young man,” and asked if I could watch the Bills game.
“I said yes and he started talking about Mike Anderson, what made him so good and how hard he was to stop. And then he said goodbye and that was it. It wasn’t really clear to me at the time, but later I remembered talking to Al Davis about Mike Anderson’s running zone for Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos.
“I’m looking back on it now — I tell my wife this story and she’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever, no big deal’ — and that’s a pretty cool thing for me.”
Michael Lombardi loves coming full circle.
“It’s surreal. He has my old email address. It’s great,” he said.
As for the late-night phone calls, Michael said his sons are well-trained at being polite and saying Davis.
“They loved all the conversations they had with the man,” he said.
Football was in her DNA. And that came from both parents.
Mick said his mother Millie could name games for attacking, defending and special teams, so her family saw football games differently than yours, even when Michael was away from work.
“My mother was always all in,” Lombardi said. “I will never forget the night we lost the Tuck Rule game in 2001. I was in seventh grade and we all cried and were sad. I knew straight away that I wanted that, that family camaraderie around football.”
It’s not easy sometimes, as Mick’s wife and child can now attest, as they search for a new home and school after leaving Foxboro when Lombardi followed Josh McDaniels from the Patriots to the Raiders.
When Mick watched games with his dad there would be a lot of trivia questions about whether the game was a run or a pass, what a particular player did right or wrong, which would have been called differently.
“It’s still like that now,” Mick said.
Mick played quarterback at St. Mary’s High in Berkeley, California and was due to play at Fordham University before suffering a series of concussions in his senior year. He was still going to school in New York City when Fordham coach Tom Masella allowed him to come as a student assistant.
“Whether he had the concussion or not, his aspiration was to get into the coaching business,” said Michael Lombardi.
Mick had already served his time at the Raiders’ facility in Alameda.
“If you’re a small quarterback, you know your lifeline for playing football isn’t going to be long,” he said. “I’ve been to Alameda a lot and the Raiders have been great at letting me help. I made tapes of timecoded players and watched college players and started making my own list of guys I liked in the draft.
“I’ve helped coach and train the players and seen the interaction the coaches had with the players – guys like Rob Ryan and Wink Martindale and Norv Turner. Seeing players interacting with them and that was something I’ve always enjoyed as a player – getting information and getting better – and that just drew me in.”
Lombardi told his father one day that he wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps as a scout and then an executive.
His father not only didn’t mind, but pushed him in that direction.
“With coaching, you had more control over what you do as opposed to what people say you do,” Michael said. “Coaches have duct tape – you have an opportunity to show people what you coach. In terms of personnel, you can’t really do that.”
Mick is glad that his father saw it that way. Mick’s younger brother Matt was also infected by the coaching fever. He is the Carolina Panthers’ passing specialist.
“I really, really, really can’t thank my dad enough for guiding me down the coaching path in this way and not forcing me into scouting like he did,” said Mick.
Mick knew he was on the right track at Fordham.
“These staff have not only helped me to be a coach, but also helped me understand what it takes to be a coach,” he said. “To really watch these guys work and see what the hours are like… I knew my dad worked a lot but I thought it was because he worked for Mr. Davis and that’s what you want for Mr .Davis do. But of course that’s football life.”
Football always requires leaving your emotions behind. And so, after college, the boy who cried over the Tuck Rule game put on a Patriots hoodie and worked as an assistant scout for two years.
“I would tease Tom (Brady) about this game all the time,” Lombardi said.
That was when he wasn’t busy making film edits or picking up players from the airport. He spent two years with the Patriots as an assistant scout after leaving Fordham.
His freshman year there, 2011, was the year McDaniels returned to the Patriots after being fired from the Broncos as head coach in 2010 and then spending a year as offensive coordinator with the Rams.
“He came back for the playoffs in 2011 because Coach (Bill) O’Brien went to Penn State,” Lombardi said. “I helped out wherever I could and was a fly on the wall and I could see right away that Josh had such great energy about him.
“He was really smart and worked really hard and I told myself that one day I wanted to get there as a coach. I want to have that kind of confidence.”
McDaniels returned to his duties as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator the following season, after which Lombardi left the 49ers for three years. He had three head coaches, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, and three job titles, offensive assistant, defensive assistant and offensive quality control coach.
“Coach Tomsula allowed me to work in defense under coach (Eric) Mangini, which was one of the greatest experiences for me as a young coach,” said Lombardi. “You can see things from a different side of football and that really trained me.”
Lombardi said there’s a lot of difference between how an offense sees a third-down play and how a defense sees it, and maybe you don’t realize how fixated a defense is on offensive tendencies until you see it firsthand.
“Knowing how a defense prepares for their scouting report and their call-up list and how defenders adjust their covers is really something,” Lombardi said.
In 2015, Lombardi had the chance to work with the late Tony Sparano. Sparano was the 49ers’ tight end coach a year after he was interim head coach of the Raiders.
“Great man,” Lombardi said. “He was a great coach and I could see his passion for football on a daily basis. I can still see him in his office, with a lit candle and the lights off, watching tapes. And he called me at his office and talked about protection for five minutes.”
Lombardi returned to New England in 2018 as assistant quarterbacks coach. McDaniels also had Lombardi work with the receivers to help prepare the game plan. McDaniels said Lombardi is a very thorough coach.
If you think this is the part of the story where we break down their similarities in creating X and O and where they share their plans for working together with Derek Carr and Davante Adams, forget where they used to work. The Patriot Way is very detailed inside the building but not outside. Coaches and executives all wear electric shock collars when speaking to reporters.
“Mick sees the game very much like I do in terms of passing,” McDaniels told reporters from New England last year. “It identifies covers very well. He takes on a lot of responsibility in terms of red zone coverage and preparing our team offense for that area of our game plan.”
McDaniels won six Super Bowl rings with Bill Belichick in New England, while Lombardi has one. McDaniels is the son of a coach and Belichick said their football backgrounds are similar and valuable.
“Mick has a wide range of knowledge and is very detailed,” Belichick told reporters from New England last year. “He does a great job with individual, basic directions as well as with the general understanding of schemes and staff, talent assessment and receiver vs defender matchups and patterns vs covers and all that.
“He’s a young coach who really has a lot on the ball. Good energy every day.”
Lombardi was running around the Browns complex as a 5-year-old when Belichick was training there (and Michael was in the front office).
“The biggest thing I learned from him was how to communicate with players,” Mick Lombardi said of Belichick. “Demanding the highest level of excellence from them on a daily basis and being honest with the players, always telling them the truth and not what they want to hear. He will do what is best for the team and he has conveyed that to the players who are there.”
Michael Lombardi said he learned something every time he met Belichick, and he said his son has the greatest resource a young coach can have.
“Being with the greatest coach of all time … listening closely, listening to him lead his team and staff meetings and preparing for the playoff games is an education like no other,” he said.
Mick packed a lot of preparation into 33 years, that’s for sure. McDaniels will name the games on offense, but Lombardi will definitely put his stamp on things.
He’ll do what he’s always wanted to do since he was a kid answering late calls or watching movies and contemplating his future:
“Talk to players and give them tools to get better.”
(Photo: Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)