Art Shell Q & A....

Angry Pope

All Raider
Feb 2, 2006
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In touch with the Silver & Black

Raiders head coach Art Shell sounds off on a number of topics, including Randy Moss and how the game has changed

By Trent Modglin

May 31, 2006

For those who don’t believe you can ever truly come home again, meet Art Shell. After a stellar playing career that saw him win two Super Bowls and be named to eight Pro Bowls as an offensive tackle for the Raiders, Shell would eventually be named head coach of the franchise in 1989, becoming only the second African American to hold such a title in league history. He compiled a 56-41 overall record and was named Coach of the Year in 1990 after going 12-4 and reaching the AFC title game. But after a 9-7 mark in 1994, owner Al Davis let Shell go, a move he has always regretted.

Shell went on to hold assistant coaching positions with the Chiefs and Falcons before serving as the senior vice president for football operations and development for the NFL. When the Raiders were rebuffed by Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino and Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt for their coaching vacancy, Davis dialed the number of an old friend, who returned to coaching for the first time since 2000.

Shell took time after a recent minicamp to discuss a number of topics with PFW, including his relationship with Davis, reaching out to Randy Moss and how he and the game of football have changed since he last roamed the sideline.

Q: How does it feel to be back in the saddle with the Raiders?

A: It feels great. The main thing, like I told the team, is that it feels great to get back out there and smell the grass again and be out there among the players. There’s nothing like being out there among the players at practice, and I’m looking forward to the games coming up.

Q: Can you describe what your relationship with Al Davis was like in the early 1990s compared to now?

A: We had a good relationship back in the early ’90s. Our relationship was good until the end. We parted and went separate ways, but it was never to the point where I was resentful or upset or pissed off at him, because he made a decision that he thought was best for the organization. I understood that. So I never tried to malign him or anything like that because, look, the guy gave me an opportunity to be a player in this league, gave me the opportunity to be an assistant coach in the league and gave me the opportunity to be a head coach. And it worked out pretty good for me, so I’m just happy to be back with him.

Q: Is there anything that you’ve come to realize that you missed about coaching since getting back in the mix?

A: Again, the No. 1 thing is being with the players. We’ve had two minicamps already, and just being out there is exciting for me. The interaction with the players and making corrections on things that are going wrong and then watching the guys do it correctly. You’ve got a young guy the coaches are trying to teach to do something correctly, and then all of a sudden he does it right, and you get goose bumps, you get chills, because you’re excited about it.

Q: Your offensive coordinator, Tom Walsh, last worked as the mayor of a town in Idaho and ran a bed & breakfast there, and everyone’s obviously interested in how you guys are coming back to coaching after being away all these years. Did you have to prepare him for what the Bay Area press was going to be like, or was he pretty prepared for everything the job entailed?

A: He was ready for it. He and I have been talking for two or three years now about coaching, what’s going on in the world of professional football. We’d discuss things and talk about some of the things that are going on in the game, how it’s changed since we’ve coached in it, like the invention of all these zone blitzes. That’s probably the No. 1 thing that there is (to catch up on). I also said to him, ‘If I get back involved, I’m going to bring you with me.’ He understands the system that I grew up in, and he knows exactly what I want and how to get it done. … It’s good that we have (WR coach and former Raider Hall of Famer) Freddy Biletnikoff with us too because he knows the system well.

Q: Was there any point in the last few years where you were concerned whether you would ever get another chance to get back into coaching?

A: I would say over the last three years, I had basically given up. I have an agent — more of a friend than an agent — named Danny Moore, and every year he’d push me and say, ‘We need to get one of these (jobs).’ And I’d say, ‘Look, OK, if you want to try to get something going, I’ll sit down and talk if they want to talk.’ But I had decided this year, and I was serious about it, that this is the last go-round. I don’t want my name involved in any more jobs or trying to get me in someplace. It’s time for me to move on completely. I was enjoying what I was doing in the league office, I had a good working relationship with the commissioner, and I had something that was fulfilling to me and challenging. I looked at a college gig last year that didn’t work out and just wasn’t right for me at the time. But when this thing came along, hey, this is home, so I’m enjoying every minute of it. But I do understand one thing. We’ve got to win, and these players want to win. There’s some good kids around here who are tired of what’s been going on the last couple of years, and they want to win. I told them that we’re going to give them direction, going to show them the way, and they’ve just got to put forth the effort.

Q: The one constant in Oakland’s struggles in recent memory is the lack of discipline on the field. How do you plan to get that corrected?

A: Well, that’s a big part of the game. In past years, you were able to do different things wrong on the football field and still be talented enough to get away with it. But you can’t do those things anymore because they hurt you too much. So, from day one, that’s some of the things I talked to them about. You can’t be holding, can’t be jumping offsides. There are consequences to be paid for these types of things. It’s engrained in their brain, and we’re going to preach it over and over again because everybody’s going to be held accountable for what they do.

Q: When was the first contact you had with Randy Moss, and how is your connection with him?

A: Well, I had a conversation with him the day I was hired. I put a call into him and told him what was going on, told him I was looking forward to working with him, and he was excited about that because I had talked with Randy in the past. Randy is just like everybody else: He wants to win. When I got the job, I’d say 99 percent of the people that worked with him in Minnesota were positive about him. They said, ‘You’re going to like working with Randy Moss. He’s a great guy, a great guy in the locker room, and he wants to win.’ And in my time around him, it hasn’t been anything but that. I feel very good about him being a leader on this football team.

Q: I talked to scouts who indicated that Robert Gallery struggled at times last year at right tackle. What did you see in him that led you to believe now was the right time to move him to left tackle?

A: I remember when he came out. I thought he was great in college at left tackle. We came here, and when I looked at the offensive line and I conferred with the OL coaches after studying the talent, we felt that we needed to move him to left tackle. And then we took Langston Walker and moved him to right tackle. Walker was a tackle in college who had been playing guard. So what we’re trying to do is get a good fit for each individual to feel comfortable and have an opportunity to excel. … We’re going to put the five best guys out on the football field that give us the best chance to win.


Q: Barry Sims has been the left tackle for several years in Oakland. What was his reaction to being replaced by Gallery?

A: Barry said, ‘Hey Coach, I believe I’m a left tackle. I know I’m a left tackle, and I don’t like the idea of moving. But if this is what’s going to help us win and this is what’s good for the team, I guess I’ll have to accept it.’ He was kinda moody for a few days, and I understood that really, because he played well for the Raiders for a number of years at left tackle. But for our team, right now, we felt that it’d be better for us to move him to left guard, put Robert at left tackle, Langston at right tackle, hopefully Jake Grove will stay healthy throughout the year and be our center and then we’ve just got be sure we’re solid at the right guard spot.

Q: There’s a lot of young talent in the secondary, especially after drafting Michael Huff out of Texas, but it’s also very raw. What have you seen from this group so far?

A: I tell you what, they might be raw and they might be young, but those guys can play. And ooohhh, can they move. You talk about speed and quickness, and now they have another year under their belts. And then you add a young guy like Michael, who can come in and play a lot of different positions and is very bright and can add a lot to your secondary with the kind of speed and tenacity you want at the safety position. I’m excited about that group back there. We’ve just got to come out of training camp healthy.

Q: Do you know what your initial plans are with Huff? Is he suited for your rover safety role in the 4-2-5 alignment, or is he going to get a look at corner initially?

A: He’s going to be on the football field. We’ll play a combination of defensive looks. The big nickel they played last year was effective for us, so that’s going to be in our repertoire. We’ll play a number of defensive looks, and we’ll get him in the best spot to excel for us.

Q: What do you have to do to solve the erratic tendencies that have followed Aaron Brooks throughout his career?

A: Well, when you sit down and talk to guys, you have to find out what they’re accustomed to doing. You’ve got to find out just what was going on in the system he was involved in. And there were some things there that he was involved in, in that system, that created some problems for him, and he was trying to compensate for them. In our system, he’s excited about what we’re doing because he has clarity as to what’s supposed to be done, where he’s protected and where he’s not protected. What we saw on film was a guy that could throw touchdowns and throw the ball downfield. What we’ve got to clean up with Aaron is to make sure we’re not turning the ball over. Sometimes in the past he has tried to become Superman to help the team win. He had to do certain things, he felt, which pulled him out of what you train him to do. You want the game to come to you, not try to do what you’re not supposed to do and get the team in trouble. We looked at his record when he’s thrown less than two interceptions, and it’s phenomenal. So we’ve just got to make sure we’re taking care of the ball. He’ll do well. He’s learning the system, he’s understanding it and I look forward to what he’s capable of in the future.

Q: What is the status with Ronald Curry’s health?

A: He wanted to work some in the last minicamp, but we held back. The trainers said he should be ready to go by training camp. We’re not rushing him. There’s no need to. The poor kid’s been through so much the last couple years. He was developing into an outstanding wide receiver. We’re just going to take our time with him, as we will with Warren Sapp and others. We’ve got time.

You never know which way Al Davis is going to go in the draft. That being said, how tough was it to pass on a potential quarterback of the future in the draft when Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler were available?

A: First of all, we felt good about our quarterback position. Did we consider the quarterbacks that were available at that spot (seventh overall)? Sure we did. We talked about it. But we felt that for our football team, right now, Michael Huff was the guy we needed. We felt good enough about the quarterback position, with Andrew Walter being the future down the road, that we can move on and feel good about it. Believe it or not, the Raiders had Andrew Walter rated as the No. 1 quarterback in last year’s draft.

Q: Has anything surprised you in general, just being back into the head-coaching chair?

A: No, nothing really has surprised me. Just things that I’m realizing again that I have to be concerned with. There’s just so much for a head coach to be concerned with, so you’ve got to take care of a lot of different things, like the travel schedule, the itineraries and stuff like that, when at the same time, you’re trying to study upcoming opponents and trying to study your talent to see where you are. So there’s a lot going, and as the head coach, you’ve got to be involved and have your hand in a lot of different things. They key is just being able to prioritize those things.

Q: Is there one key position battle or something you’re going to be watching with a keen eye for the first couple weeks of camp?

A: We’re going to keep an eye on everything. Our players have to understand we have to play better than what we’ve played the last couple of years. And it’s the coaches’ job to develop our players to get them to a higher level of play. We’ve got an outstanding staff here, guys that understand how to teach and are getting that done. But as I said to them, coaches are accountable for getting the players ready, and players are accountable for getting themselves prepared to play. They’ve got to be willing to put forth the effort, and if they’re willing to do that, then we’ve got a chance. Every position is going to be looked at intensely.

Q: How are you different than you were with the first go-round with the Raiders?

A: After I left the Raiders and went elsewhere, I’m a little more knowledgeable about being a head coach. I served under two other guys who were pretty good head coaches in this league — Marty Schottenheimer and Dan Reeves. So you watch people do things, and you try to incorporate in your mind as to whether those things would fit your style. I’m a lot more knowledgeable about staff members, understanding them and where their roles are on our football staff and trusting them to get the things done that we need to win. Even working in the league office has helped me in terms of managing people. All that’s helped me along the way.
I like the part where Art said that Sims was moody....Art is pretty straight forward and that is refreshing.
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