Son of legendary boxing trainer carves niche with Raiders
Published: Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 8:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 8:26 p.m.
Teddy Atlas III is the spitting image of his dad — or would be, if it weren't for the scar that runs north-south down the left side of the elder Teddy Atlas' face from his temple to below his chin, like a road map to his troubled past. You know, the one carved into his skin by an enemy's knife during a street fight, the one that took 400 stitches to repair.
That scar helps to define Theodore Alfred Atlas Jr., the bombastic boxing trainer and commentator. His son is seeking his own definitions. Theodore Alfred Atlas III is the Oakland Raiders' scouting coordinator.
“Everybody asked me, ‘Why didn't you get into boxing? Why didn't you get into boxing?'” Atlas III said. “One of the things was, I always felt my father's shoes would be too big to fill, and I didn't want to be in his shadow.”
Teddy Atlas Jr. does cast a sizable shadow. He made his name as a trainer, working with the likes of two-time heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and light heavyweight champ Donny LaLonde. Atlas Jr. is perhaps best known for his six years at Cus D'Amato's legendary Catskill Boxing Club, where he trained the teenage Mike Tyson for four years.
Atlas Jr. still works some corners — most recently handling undefeated Russian heavyweight Alexander Provetkin until the two had a falling-out over where the fighter would train — but now spends much more time behind a microphone. He joined ESPN2 as a ringside analyst for “Friday Night Fights” in 1998, and has graduated to ESPN boxing specials and frequent guest spots on “Sports Center” and ESPNEWS. He covered Olympic boxing for NBC in August.
But if Atlas Jr.'s boxing acumen allowed him to rise in the sport, it's his outsize personality that has made him famous. The scar, the Staten Island accent, the police record — he did time on Rikers Island for armed robbery — and the way he talks with his lip curled into a snarl make him a symbol of toughness in a profession where grit is everything. And yes, Atlas Jr. has the gift of gab. In a recent phone interview, The Press Democrat asked him three questions; the conversation lasted approximately 42 minutes.
Most of all, Atlas Jr. knows how to make a scene. There was the time he ranted against a Michigan fight official after Courtney Burton was awarded a split decision over Emanuel Augustus, saying on-air, “There should be an investigation. This is what's wrong with boxing.” And of course the time Atlas Jr. put a gun to Tyson's head after the young boxer reputedly made a sexual advance on the trainer's 11-year-old relative.
At the London Games, Olympic officials ordered Atlas Jr. and his co-commentator, Bob Papa, away from center ringside because they were “disturbing” boxing officials. Atlas Jr. had been vocally critical of the Olympic judging. Offered seats farther from the action, he and Papa chose to leave the venue entirely.
Teddy Atlas III, 27, is fully aware of his father's reputation, and seems to accept it with a mixture of pride and amusement. He shares the accent, but not necessarily the demeanor.
“I have the same principles as him, and the same traits in that aspect,” Atlas III said. “But I'd say my sister (Nicole) has got a little more of the bulldog in her. She's a lawyer, and she doesn't take no crap from anybody. ... I'd say I'm a little more laid-back than him.”
Atlas III idolized his father from a young age.
Atlas Jr. remembers taking his son to Gleason's Gym in Manhattan when the boy was about 3 years old. When they arrived, Ira Becker, the proprietor of Gleason's, kiddingly asked Teddy III for his boxing license.
“And without a hesitation — I'll never forget this, I don't care how old I get — he puts his hand in his pocket, and he whips out one of my licenses, and he shows it to Ira,” Atlas Jr. said. “And Ira looks at it, and he say, ‘OK, come on in.' ”
Unbeknownst to anyone else in the family, Atlas III had been hoarding his father's expired state licenses and stashing them in a drawer — ready to use on just such an occasion.
Atlas III would like the rest of the world to see his father's softer side, beginning with his charitable work. In 1997, Atlas Jr. started the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, named to honor his father, a Staten Island family doctor who never said no to a midnight house call. The foundation mostly provides assistance to families who can't afford medical treatment or medication. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it turned into an impromptu disaster-relief organization, handing out food, water, clothing and, after the initial devastation, cleaning supplies and gift cards to Home Depot.
“My father is the most loving, caring and most big-hearted person in the world to me,” said Atlas III, who calls his dad Buddy. “He would give you the shirt off his back. I know it sounds cliché, but he really would. ... So the side that people read about sometimes and see isn't the side that I see, and that I know, and the family man that he is.”
Working on the West Coast, Atlas III doesn't get to see his father or mother, Elaine, very often these days. As scouting coordinator, he is a jack-of-all-trades within the Raiders personnel department. He approves and manages incoming reports from the team's college area scouts, and forwards them to general manager Reggie McKenzie and director of college scouting Shaun Herock, communicates with the National Football Scouting combine and does some work on the pro personnel side.
“He is a great worker,” McKenzie said. “He's a great worker and he understands football. And he understands what needs be done. No job is too big for him. Those are the kind of guys you need to have around your team.”
Atlas III boxed a bit in high school and college (at Northeastern), and with his father's vast connections it would have been natural for him to follow in Atlas Jr.'s footsteps. But it was football that drew him.
Atlas Jr., as it happens, is quite a football fan, too, dating from the time he played for Andy Barberi at Curtis High School on Staten Island — a coach so revered they named a ferry boat after him.
“He was just finishing running the Single Wing, which hadn't been run for many years,” Atlas Jr. said of Barberi. “His idea of offense was to run the fullback smash right up the middle. And if it didn't work, his idea of adjusting was to run it until it did work. He was a hard-nosed guy.”
When Teddy III was about 9, his dad bought New York Jets season tickets, and for years the duo rarely missed a game. Atlas Jr. eventually came to know Bill Parcells. In 2006, one of Parcells' coaching descendants, Eric Mangini, asked Atlas Jr. to talk to the Jets about mental toughness. They beat New England that week, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Patriots, and Atlas Jr. became a regular guest.
Soon after, Atlas III started an internship in the Jets' scouting department. And when Mangini became head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2009, he brought Atlas III with him, teaching the younger man to break down film for squad-meeting videos.
“Twice a week we'd sit down anywhere from 11, 12 at night to 2, 3 in the morning,” Atlas III said, “and he'd rattle off questions: ‘What front is this? What coverage is that?' Even to try to catch me off-guard: ‘Who's No. 23 here?' He kind of tried to push me a little bit to see if I wanted to go into coaching, but I just always had a love for the scouting side.”
When Mangini was fired after the 2010 season, though, Atlas III was dismissed along with him. He phoned Mike Tannenbaum and asked if the Jets GM could get him a pass to the Senior Bowl. Tannenbaum not only provided the pass, he paid for the unemployed scout's airfare. Atlas III handed out his resume to anyone who would accept it in Mobile, Ala. One person who did was veteran Raiders scout Jon Kingdon, and within days Oakland had offered Atlas III a job.
Kingdon did not survive McKenzie's housecleaning last spring. Atlas III did. An enthusiastic worker with an insatiable thirst for football, he may have a bright future in the NFL, which would seem to be a contradiction for the son of Teddy Atlas Jr.
“The only thing I've ever done my whole life besides boxing is I painted one house,” Atlas Jr. said. “One house, I painted! And I did a real good job with it. I scraped it. I put three coats on it. I've always wanted to go back and see that house. The only thing I've done my whole life is boxing.”
And yet he is fine with his namesake opting for a different path.
“I didn't want him to be in boxing,” Atlas Jr. said. “Because I saw the faults of boxing. I loved it. I was committed to it. I was in it my whole life. ... But I never wanted my son — not that I pushed him away from it, but I never pushed him into it.”
Pushing him into a corner may not have been so easy, anyway. He is after all, a Teddy Atlas.
(You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or email@example.com.)
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