Shell in line to take handoff from Davis

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Shell in line to take handoff from Davis
By Tim Kawakami
Mercury News

Watch Al Davis and the Raiders closely and you can see that the kingdom is being divvied up, though he saved his most treasured and mysterious piece for last.

Davis embodies the Raiders, owns the Raiders and will run all aspects of the Raiders for as long he lives or chooses to run them, which is the same thing.

He will be around for the start of next week's training camp -- the first of the Art Shell Restoration -- and probably many more after that.

But Davis is in his late 70s and not immortal, the Raiders need a long-term plan and the important actions of the past few months show that Davis is acknowledging it.

Nobody denies that his son Mark Davis wants to and is slated to inherit the franchise. Trusted consigliere Amy Trask already runs the business and represents the team in all league matters.

What's left: The holy grail of football operations, which Davis has controlled more thoroughly -- and protected more jealously -- than any sports owner of our lifetimes.

What's important to see, obvious once you think about it: Davis has tacitly but undeniably designated Shell as his first and only football heir, putting the Raiders Hall of Famer in line to control the coaching staff and roster.

Shell, set up to be the next Al Davis. Sort of.

It makes sense and it is backed up by the details and the history. Now Shell and the Davis family have to make it work, though they have years of friendship and a tradition to build on.

Jon Gruden was never trusted half so much. Tom Flores, John Madden and Shell in his first coaching stint had strong relationships with Davis, but they were only needed to coach. Ron Wolf in the old days and Bruce Allen recently were key organizational men who moved elsewhere to gain more responsibility.

Current lead personnel man Mike Lombardi has done solid work, except he urged the hiring of Bobby Petrino as coach, and Petrino turned it down. Which Shell probably will not forget.

So this is a different time for Davis, the Raiders and Shell, whose recent experience as a popular league vice president has given him the background and taste for executive power.

Davis needs a strong football hand to settle the locker room and speak with force; he also needs a plan in place as investors eye a takeover of the Raiders; Shell wants to restore the old Raiders glory and believes he can.

This assumes that Shell will navigate the Raiders ship successfully over the next few seasons and prove that Davis' faith in him isn't merely because of nostalgia.

(Nothing demolishes long-range transitional plans and ruins friendships like a 3-13 season. Or two of them.)

In part, it is born out of nostalgia, because Davis wouldn't dream of turning over his team to a non-Raider and Shell has been close to Mark Davis for decades.

Shell's agent, Danny Moore, emphasized that Shell and Al Davis have had no discussions beyond the normal coach and owner strategies to turn the team around quickly.

But Moore also agreed that there is a different ``dynamic'' involved with Shell's relationship with the Davis family and that Shell and Davis are committed to each other for the long term.

``There's nothing implied -- Art's goal is to finish what he started a long time ago and get at least one more trophy for the Raiders,'' Moore said late last week. ``What happens beyond that honestly has never been discussed.

``He's a Raider. I guess there always has been that feeling of being a Raider for life. Now he's officially back. But there's nothing at the moment that Art's concerned about other than putting this team together.''

It's unclear if Shell held sway during April's draft; he had only been hired a couple of months earlier, had been out of the team-building business for more than a decade and showed it during his inexact draft-day news conferences.

But there are already vivid reports about Shell's voice booming during a meeting with off-and-on malcontent Jerry Porter and a recent attitudinal upswing by Randy Moss in Shell's presence.

Can you imagine Norv Turner or Bill Callahan having that effect? No, you cannot, not as long as Davis was there to undermine them.

For Shell, the message has been sent and, at least for now, no mutinies are allowed: Shell is speaking with more authority and responsibility than any coach in Raiders history.

Starting next Tuesday, when players convene in Napa and the long march begins, Shell will go about trying to show he is worthy of it.

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/sports/football/nfl/oakland_raiders/15049840.htm


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