Raiders To Be Full Shell Of Selves...

Angry Pope

All Raider
Feb 2, 2006
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Raiders to be full Shell of selves?

Coach intent on getting team back to doing it the Silver and Black way

Bill Soliday

Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again. Whether happiness resides there remains to be seen. But memories encourage the optimist.

It's been 22 weeks and one day since Art Shell put on a suit and took the podium, the once and future coach of the Oakland Raiders.

"It feels like home," Shell confirmed four days before packing for his first Raiders training camp in 12 years.

It's Napa this time, not Santa Rosa or Oxnard. There's no Snake in sight, and the Ghosts are not of Dave Casper but of a recent Raiders history that has been bleak, sliding into barely discernible historic relevance.

But the home turf is familiar for the Hall of Fame player, and for those who care deeply, there is a palpable aura of optimism.

Shell, whose game face back in the day was stoic, measured, determined and silent, now says he is "excited about going to camp. I am excited about the players we have here. "I just love being around it."

By Shell's account, last season's 4-12 record was a far cry from what the team can accomplish. Hence there were no wholesale personnel changes. Doing things the right way, he says, should be enough for starters.

"There is a lot of work to be done," Shell said. "Strange things can happen in this league. We look forward to turning this thing around."

Shell's job is just that — engineering a turnaround. That could mean 8-8 or possibly a run at the playoffs. Within Raider Nation, a noticeable tone of hope exists, hope tempered by skeptics who point out that Wolfe was right about going home and that Shell was last a head coach way back in 1994.

Furthermore, they say, owner Al Davis may have placed too much credence in memories ... or tried too hard to make amends on an old mistake, letting Shell go the first time.

By Davis' reckoning, the 1995 season was a demarcation point in Raiders history. It was when he let go the "distinct line of philosophy, of stability (of) Raider football."

It also marked the year the Raiders returned to Oakland. It was the year of what has been termed a palace coup, ending in Mike White bumping Shell as head coach. Davis has blamed himself for listening to other voices in cashiering Shell after he posted a 54-38 record in 51/2 seasons.

And so, 12 years later, Shell is back to resurrect Raiders football after it was safeguarded by non-Raider types from White through Norv Turner.

Something about going back to their roots feels good to fans, to Davis, to Shell and to old Raiders who have, to a man, placed a stamp of approval on the move.

"He is the right choice," former coach John Madden said flatly. "It is a Raider type of thing. He is a Raider."

"Art is coming back with a different attitude than he had," ex-teammate and defensive backs coach Willie Brown said. "That was his first coaching job, and I am not sure all the people around him worked hard enough for him.

"He gives us the understanding of what it truly means to be a Raider. He gives us leadership. He gives us discipline. He gives us toughness. And with no B.S. He is not going to B.S."

"I think he probably learned a few things the first time around," former Raider coach Tom Flores said. "He was successful. He had winning seasons. He took them to championship games. But he is probably a little wiser, a little more mature. He knows what has to be done.

"I think this team needs to get back to where they are all committed. They have to follow the leader, and he is the leader."

One of the issues that has been most frustrating both to fans and older players alike is what has happened to the Raiders on their home field since that 1995 demarcation point.

Since returning to Oakland, the Raiders are an OK 46-42 at home in 11 seasons, although the numbers are padded by an 18-6 run from 2000 to 2002. Barely .500 is peanuts compared to when Shell was playing. His first 10 years, the Raiders were 59-9-2 at home, an .857 winning percentage.

"To see us not playing well at home now is so sad it almost makes you want to cry," Shell's former teammate Cliff Branch said. "We always felt the Coliseum ... was a three-point advantage because of our fans.

"Art will get it back. All us Raider legends feel the Raiders had to go back and get somebody who knew the Raider way. Bring someone back who knows. There was only one person. It was Art."

Historical footnote: When Shell took over for Mike Shanahan five games into the 1989 season, the Raiders promptly won 10 straight home games.

That helps to explain why as he begins his second tour of duty as head coach, Shell sees possibilities, not all those decade-long hang-ups.

"In the National Football League you can turn things around in a hurry," Shell said. "One year you can be down, and the next year you can be on top of the world.

"Why not us? We can do this. We just have to make sure we do the right things."

With not only Davis' blessing but also his mandate, the "right things" have that Old School flavor, like Shell himself. They entail hard work, physical and aggressive football, error-free play from a mental standpoint.

A commitment, as it were, to you-know-what.

"We don't want to be a passive team," Shell said, noting the Raiders will not take what is given them, but will take what they want based on matchups.

But what of the allegations that too often the Raiders have not been willing to sacrifice "self" for "team"? Again, Shell insists what he has seen over 155 days has encouraged him. A recent staredown with the sometimes petulant receiver Jerry Porter stands as an example.

"They all want to win," Shell said. "These guys are tired of losing. They want to be part of a winning program. Their work ethic this off-season has shown me they're on board.

"That's what we're here for."

Starting with twice-a-day practices in pads for the first five days. Starting Tuesday.
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