Shell Realizes Dream Of Leading Raiders Again

By Katherine Smith
Updated: April 10, 2006

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Ca. – Art Shell would awaken to a recurring dream and wonder what was going on and why the same thought kept returning.

In the dream, Shell was again the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. But how could that be? Shell hadn’t been on the Raiders’ sideline since owner Al Davis fired him in 1994.

The NFL offices in New York had become his sideline. Shell was the league’s senior vice president for football operations and development. From time to time, his name would pop up when a head coaching vacancy opened. He interviewed with a few teams, but had resigned himself to a life away from the field.

Then he got the call. Just after the Super Bowl in early February, Shell received a phone call from Davis.

“It’s like your father calls you and [says] ‘OK, it’s time to come home, let’s sit down and talk,’” Shell said at last week’s NFL owners meetings.

Before he knew what happened, Shell’s dream had become a reality. He was named the Raiders’ coach Feb. 11.

“It’s the right time for me to come back,” Shell said. “I look forward to it. I love this organization. I’m going to take it back to its winning ways.”

After his firing, Shell attended a handful of Oakland games. He also watched from a distance as the organization fell deeper and deeper into the NFL abyss. And he didn’t like what he saw.

“When you played in this organization and helped build the foundation that they have of winning and to see them go into a tailspin like they have the last couple of years, it’s bothersome,” said Shell, who played 15 seasons in Oakland and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. “You don’t know why it happened or how it happened, but now I’m in a situation where I can help rectify that.”

Much has changed since Shell last walked the sideline. Watching game film, he’s noticed more zone blitzing, the players make a lot more money, and he’s no longer the only minority head coach.

And as for the Raiders’ mystique, the black and silver is a bit tarnished these days. Following an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Bucs with only 13 victories in three seasons will do that.

One thing hasn’t changed for Shell. Oakland’s motto of “Commitment to Excellence” rings as true today as it did when he was a player and during his first stint as head coach. Regaining that mentality is simple, Shell said – just win, baby.

“People say times have changed,” Shell said. “Times have changed, but when you get right down to it, all the players want the same thing. They want direction – where are we going and how are we going to get there. And if you give them that kind of leadership, give them that kind of direction, then they’ll be fine.”

After the Raiders fired Shell in 1994, he found work as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, then the Atlanta Falcons and he finally found his way to the league office.

Every now and then, Shell’s name would emerge for various head coaching vacancies. The Raiders even interviewed him before hiring current Bucs coach Jon Gruden.

This year, Shell decided, would be the last he would be a candidate for open jobs. He liked the work he was doing for the league, but something kept pulling him back to the sideline. He missed the interaction with players, the preparation and games.

And he missed the Raiders. The organization Shell spent most of his NFL life with has a strange hold on him. It began during his playing days. Shell wore the silver and black for 15 seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors eight times.

As a head coach from 1989 to 1994, he led the Raiders to the playoffs three times, including the AFC Championship Game in 1990. He was a part of three Oakland Super Bowl titles, two as a player and one as an assistant coach.

When he took over as head coach four games into the 1989 season, Shell became the first black in the modern era to hold that title.

Now he’s joined by six black NFL coaches who have gladly welcomed him back.

“You always know that when you’re the first, whether you like it or not, the spotlight is on you,” Kansas City coach Herman Edwards said. “What he did in Oakland, I think they’re figuring it out now that he did a heck of a job. He’s going to bring stability there.

“Art Shell understands the Raider Nation. Now when Art Shell addresses that team, they will listen. He knows where the ghosts are.”