Shell is ready for 2nd shot


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Jan 22, 2006
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Shell is ready for 2nd shot
Nancy Gay
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Orlando -- Art Shell barely has caught his breath since the frenzied, last-minute news conference Feb. 11 in Alameda announcing his return as head coach of the Raiders.

To the team with which he earned Pro Football Hall of Fame honors as an offensive tackle.

To an organization that broke ground in 1989 by making him the first African American head coach in the NFL's modern era.

To the franchise he took to the AFC Championship Game in the 1990 season, and for which he compiled a 56-41 record as a head coach.

To an owner, Al Davis, who hung him out to dry in 1994 after a 9-7 season.

So there is injustice and justice written all over Shell's return.

It has been more than a decade since Shell, a uniquely qualified head-coaching candidate because of his 24 playoff appearances and eight Pro Bowls as a player and his strong background as an assistant coach, was close to getting another opportunity to run a team.

Sure, there were plenty interviews over the years -- Davis talked to him again in 1998 before he hired Jon Gruden; Miami interviewed him last year before settling on Nick Saban. There were talks with the Saints and the Browns. But were those teams genuinely interested or simply being polite?

Shell has heard the rumors that he was a lousy interview for those teams, that his stone face and stoic manner turned off owners.

"I'll say this: When I went to those interviews, nobody can say I wasn't prepared to be the head coach of their football team," Shell said Tuesday during a round of morning interviews at the NFL's owners' meetings.

Formulate all the theories you want: that Davis clashed with Shell over his preference for Bo Jackson over Marcus Allen, or that the Shell-led Raiders didn't recover from the 51-3 trashing by the Buffalo Bills in the 1990 AFC Championship Game.

Sure, Shell has had a great gig working in the NFL office the past five years, but his heart was still on the sidelines and no one seemed genuinely willing to give him another chance to coach.

Was that because of Davis, who has said he's proud to right an old wrong?

We'll never really know.

But know this: You will not get Shell to say a bad word about his old -- and new -- boss. Ever.

"It didn't affect my relationship with him. I understood," Shell said of the day Davis sacked him after the '94 season. "When I took the job, he said, 'There may come a time when we have to part, when we need to go our separate ways.' And I said to him, 'There may come a time when I come to you and say we need to go our separate ways.'

"When it happened, he made a decision. He said it was a business decision that was good for the organization. Did it bother me that I was released? Sure, it bothered me. But ... I understood the business. And I also understood that he gave me a chance to be a player, he gave me a chance to be an assistant coach, he gave me an opportunity to be a head coach. So how can I say anything bad about him?

"He brought me back again to interview me before he hired Gruden. And now I'm here again as the head coach of the Raiders. So you will never hear me say anything bad about Mr. Davis. I have too much respect for him. He's like a father to me."

Shell left with his head held high. He was an assistant coach with the Chiefs and the Falcons, then became the NFL's senior vice president for football operations.

Maybe Shell wasn't the Raiders' first choice. Maybe if Bobby Petrino hadn't gotten away, Shell still would be working on Park Avenue.

So what? San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer, who hired Shell as an assistant in Kansas City and will face him on Sept. 11 when the Raiders host the Chargers in their season opener at the Coliseum, thinks Davis ultimately made the right call.

"I think (Shell) will be terrific," Schottenheimer said. "He worked with us in Kansas City for a time. The one thing you know, the past several years that he's been working in the league office will serve him very well.

"Over those years, he recognized the pulse of the game, the transition that it's made."

Put aside the theory that players have changed, that a 59-year-old coach who has to manage the adult-onset diabetes he developed during his first head-coaching stint with the Raiders won't be able to relate to the hip-hop generation NFL players of today.

Shell says the current Raiders -- from Randy Moss, who calls him regularly on his cell phone, to the young defensive linemen -- are responding to his message of accountability.

He saw a group that won 13 games the past three years, and he called the players on it.

"And they've responded because again, they're embarrassed about what happened. Nobody likes to lose," Shell said. "Deep down, all the players want to win, 99 percent of them want to win. And those are the 99 percent that I want to be involved with.

"That other percentage that doesn't understand what it takes to win or doesn't want to win and want things to be status quo, then that's the way it's gonna be -- and we won't have those players on board as we go forward."
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