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Shell Leads Raiders Back From Silver and Bleak : Football: Under the former Pro Bowl tackle's guidance, the players are happy, the owner is happy and the team is once again confident--and winning.

January 10, 1991|JOHN NADEL | ASSOCIATED PRESS

When Al Davis replaced Mike Shanahan with Art Shell, he said he made the move because the Raiders weren't the Raiders anymore, not because the team wasn't winning.

Almost immediately after that move on Oct. 3, 1989, the Raiders became the Raiders again. And they also became winners.

Shanahan was a Denver Broncos assistant when he was named to replace Tom Flores two months after the 1987 season.

That decision proved to be a disaster--not only were the Raiders 8-12 in a little more than one season under Shananan, they were unhappy Raiders.

When Shell was hired, becoming the first black head coach in the NFL in more than 60 years, he said he would keep things simple and return the Raiders to their old ways.

While Davis could live with the losing, although not easily, the managing general partner of the Raiders couldn't live with his team becoming something else--like the Denver Broncos of California.

So he made a change, and the rest is history. Shell's players are virtually unanimous in giving credit to their coach for the team's turnaround.

"The only pivotal thing was getting Art Shell as a head coach," guard Steve Wisniewski said. "He's made a world of difference."

"He's instilled a lot of confidence," quarterback Jay Schroeder said. "When you look back when he played, you never knew if they were winning or if they were losing. He was always giving it everything he had. That's just the way he coaches. That's the way his team is."

A third-round draft choice in 1968, Shell was the Raiders' starting left tackle for 15 years before retiring after the 1982 season. He was voted to the Pro Bowl eight times and elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

He became an assistant coach for the Raiders after his retirement and continued in that capacity until called upon to succeed Shanahan.

Under Shell, the Raiders are 19-9, including 12-4 this season when they won their first AFC West championship since 1985. And they're 13-2 at the Coliseum, where they'll face the Cincinnati Bengals in a second-round playoff game Sunday.

Shell, at 43 the youngest head coach in the NFL, often has compared winning at home with protecting one's territory. His players have affectionately nicknamed the Coliseum as "The Black Bottom" in tribute of their head coach.

"I don't think I've ever had a coach who understands a player's mind and how he needs to be handled as well as he (Shell) does," said linebacker Riki Ellison, who played on two Super Bowl champions under Bill Walsh at San Francisco. "He knows when to speak and when not to speak."

Shell is reticent to accept very much credit, but clearly, he believes in himself.

"I have confidence in my ability as a coach," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in my ability to deal with the players on this team and to deal with this organization. So if something comes up, I stay on the track I have designed for myself, and I don't get off it. I won't let undue pressure come from outside and force me to change my mind about anything."

The Raiders won six of their first seven games this season before losing three of their next four. Then they finished with five straight victories.

During the mid-season slump, Schroeder was erratic, at best, and was criticized by the media and booed by fans.

But Shell stuck by his man. Earlier this week, when asked if there had ever been any wavering in his support for Schroeder, Shell responded, "None whatsoever."

"The way he handles the press and the ups and downs of the team is like none other I've experienced in coaching," Ellison said. "A lot of times, coaches are affected by the press and by the ups and downs and by losing a couple of games. The man, it doesn't affect him like I've seen it do others."

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