Mike Shanahan, the Denver Broncos' 35-year-old offensive coordinator, flew into town Wednesday for his fourth interview with the Raiders amid speculation that Al Davis is about to offer him the head coaching job.
Davis' two other top candidates, Washington assistants Dan Henning and Joe Bugel, have both dropped out of, or been dropped from, consideration.
Henning acknowledged leaving the race over the weekend. Bugel has declined all comment, but Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard Wednesday confirmed reports that his line coach, too, was no longer a candidate.
"He just came in today and said, 'I'm here,' " said Beathard from Redskin Park in suburban Virginia.
Did Beathard understand that to be final?
That leaves only Shanahan of the original final three. Dennis Green, the 49er assistant and the only black under consideration, is now thought to have moved up to the No. 2 candidate.
If Shanahan gets the job, he'll be the youngest head coach in the National Football League, an attribute that Davis likes. Shanahan was the youngest offensive coordinator in Division I-A when he got the University of Florida job at 28. He was a Bronco assistant at 31.
Davis has reportedly told intimates: "He makes me feel young again."
There is already speculation in Denver about what Shanahan would do as Raider coach. He is thought to favor keeping Marc Wilson at quarterback and making some changes in the offense to take pressure off him.
He is reportedly ready to bring Broncos assistant Alex Gibbs, their highly rated line coach, with him. He is not thought to be keen on trading for quarterback Kelly Stouffer, the unsigned Cardinal No. 1 pick whom the Raiders were high on, and the Broncos were not.
Henning dropped out over the weekend, although stories differ as to who turned whom down.
A wide array of sources close to Davis considered Henning to be Davis' top choice.
A source close to Henning says Henning feels he could have had the job, had he consented to retain the Raider terminology on offense and accept Davis making the last roster cut to 45 players.
"That's pure control," a Raider player said. "If they change the terminology, Al has to learn the new system from square one. It makes it harder for him to stick his two cents in."
The source says Henning and Davis had a long meeting a week ago in Los Angeles. Henning then flew to Phoenix, but the two talked again by phone last Friday with Davis reportedly even raising the subject of salary.
However, they couldn't resolve their differences. The source says that at one point in the telephone conversation, Davis said:
"Dan, you're questioning everything I'm telling you."
Henning is said to have agreed that he was.
Davis is then said to have told him that it looked as if his candidacy was over.
Davis has reportedly said privately that if he'd offered Henning the job under any circumstances, Henning would have taken it.
Davis has been consistently unavailable to local reporters covering the story, but he interrupted his silence Tuesday to tell the Associated Press:
"While Dan is a very bright coach, he was told unequivocally last Friday that he would not be a candidate for the Raiders' job.
"I told him I was going in another direction. Where the misconception that he backed away came from, I do not know and certainly Dan would attest to my statements."
Less is known about Bugel's exit. He was at a coaching clinic in San Antonio over the weekend, reportedly with plans to fly to Los Angeles. However, he was contacted by a Raider official, and then flew back to Washington where he informed Coach Joe Gibbs Tuesday he was staying.
Times staff writer Rich Roberts contributed to this story.