A Black Hole: Davis Is Getting What He Deserves

By Gary Peterson
Updated: January 6, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — So it turns out that firing Art Shell wasn’t the biggest mistake Al Davis ever made. Thinking he made a mistake by firing Art Shell is the biggest mistake Al Davis ever made.

To underscore the point, Davis has fired Shell again. Oh, the press release issued by the Raiders on Thursday evening was properly ambiguous on this point, stating only that Shell “will no longer serve as head coach.”

The release also stated that this decision was reached after Davis and Shell met to discuss “the 2006 football season,” and don’t you wish you could have been a fly on the wall for that chat.

Shell: “That was pretty bad.”

Davis: “Yep, that was pretty bad.”

Shell: “We stunk.”

Davis: “We stunk, all right.”

Shell: “Thought we had a real chance against the Chargers in San Diego, though.”

Davis: “That’s it, you’re fired.”

So ends the reign of King Arthur II after one certifiably unwatchable 2-14 season. But as has become painfully obvious since the Raiders returned to Oakland, it’s never so much about the poor soul who is forcibly removed from the team’s head coaching position. It’s about finding another poor soul to fill it.

That task falls to Davis, and it serves him right. It serves him right because he is the catalyst behind this move, the way he is the catalyst behind every move of consequence made in Raider World.

If allowed, Shell would have undoubtedly stayed on as head coach. He is precisely that loyal, that confident and that misguided.

And it serves Davis right because he has created a clinically dysfunctional working environment, the kind of professional lion’s mouth into which no man with a brain, an option, a valid severance package or a working wife would dare stick his head.

But we repeat ourselves, right? The way we did after Mike White was fired (and Joe Bugel was hired). The way we did after Joe Bugel was fired (and a teen-aged — or thereabouts — Jon Gruden was hired).

The way we did after Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay, having had the gall to turn the Raiders job into something vital and attractive.

The way Bill Callahan was bounced after authoring the best seller, “Football for Dummies.” The way Norv Turner was mercifully ash-canned before he wrung his hands to the bone.

This is what happens when you emasculate the head coach on his way in the door.

Hey, there’s nothing in the NFL bylaws that says you can’t surround your coach with players who can smell his absolute lack of authority from three football fields away; with front office personnel who sharpen their switchblades on his spine; and with an owner who, though light years removed from the day when he knew a flying wedge about football, reserves the right to impose his input wherever and whenever he sees fit.

That said, when you put that kind of death stamp on an organization, you get what you earn. Most recently, it earned Davis a second helping of Shell — who was promptly overmatched by the demands of working the unworkable job.

You’d want your son to grow up to be like Shell, but he wrought nothing less than a season that made Bugel look sage by comparison.

His ridiculous hire of offensive coordinator Tom Walsh, who had fluffed 1,000 pillows since he’d last called a play in the NFL, was a disaster.

The fight he picked with receiver Jerry Porter — assuming it wasn’t picked for him by Davis — left an addled offense punchless.

Randy Moss openly quit on the team, with Shell clearly powerless to do anything about it. Nor did Shell seem able to adjust to a game’s tactical ebb and flow.

That’s no longer Davis’ problem. Finding a new coach is. Fittingly, he enters his third coaching search in the past four years with no viable exit strategy.

Will this be the year he can’t find anybody to take the job? The early (and highly speculative) money is on Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Then again, Ryan, having spearheaded the team’s one functional unit, seems at first glance to be entirely too competent for such an assignment.

More to the point, he’s not only seen the warts in the Raiders organization, he’s seen the hair growing out of the warts. He’s got to be 75 IQ points too smart to even consider this job.

That goes for almost everyone smart enough to unsnap a chinstrap. Leaving Davis with what, exactly?

Nothing less than the highly deserved fruit of his labors.

Davis has turned the Raiders — his team, his identity — into a bad joke. But that’s not his biggest mistake.

His biggest mistake, now that he’s smoked Art Shell for a second time, is believing he has never made one.