Double Coverage

Shell game: will bringing Art Shell back restore the glory? Mike Wagaman and Tony Kuttner take to the steel cage match to answer the question.

MICHAEL WAGAMAN: To me, when you look at the entirety of the situation (i.e. working for Al Davis, sagging ticket sales, others not wanting the job) hiring Art Shell is probably the best move the Raiders could have made at this point. Aside from the whole reunion thing — which seemed a bit over the top at the press conference announcing the move — bringing Shell back is definitely a risk but one worth taking because of his past success as a head coach, not to mention the credibility he'll have in the locker room. And while it would have been nice to get an X's and O's type of coach like Ken Whisenhunt, the truth of the matter is that Oakland already has enough talent on both sides of the ball to be competitive. The Raiders just need somebody to be able to reach the players on a level they can relate to. Shell, who had a Hall-of-Fame career and is one of the greatest offensive linemen to ever play, is just such a person.

TONY KUTTNER: You're right — given the circumstances, Oakland did the right thing in hiring Shell. The mistake was creating those circumstances in the first place. I'll never understand Davis's habit of waiting on everybody else to get hired somewhere before he feels ready to make a move. Is he trying to save money by telling guys like Whisenhunt or (last time around) Sean Payton that "This is the only head job available, so you better take it on my terms"? As you point out, there's plenty to like about Shell, from his Silver and Black history to his rapport with players to his previous success as a coach. Well, maybe not so much that last one, but his 56-41 record looks great compared with what his two immediate predecessors accomplished.

MW: Hey now, let's not sell Shell short (try saying that three times fast). As Davis was quick to point out, Shell's .587 winning percentage as the head man with the Raiders is only slightly lower than that of Jon Gruden, whose Oakland teams won at a .594 clip. And Shell did that, mind you, with Jay Schroeder as his quarterback for most of that time. So it's obvious the guy can coach. For the past decade Davis has assembled highly talented squads on paper, only to see them woefully underachieve once the season begins. In Shell, Davis gets a guy who will be able to better relate to the players because he once was one of them, a Hall-of-Famer whose career should give him at least a few more notches of respect than either Norv Turner or Bill Callahan had. A big problem in Oakland is the players tend to tune out the coaches because they know Davis is calling the shots. Shell dealt with that during his first go-round as the Raiders head coach and was able to be successful in spite of it.

TK: Again, I'm not saying hiring Shell was a mistake, but I think Oakland fans should be concerned about the team's history of bringing in retread coaches (even if the retread's experience was with the Raiders). Any list of the worst leading men in the franchise's history has to include Norv Turner and Joe Bugel, both men with previous NFL head coaching experience and, like Shell, both men who built their reputations around designing a power running game. Conversely, the list of the team's greatest coaches — John Madden, Tom Flores, Jon Gruden — is made up exclusively of men who were bright, young and lacking in NFL head coaching experience when Davis plucked them from relative obscurity. Heck, you could even throw Mike Shanahan onto that good list, even though he didn't fulfill his true potential until after Davis showed him the door.

MW: It's an interesting view and one that I can definitely agree with, but lumping Shell in with the other retreads is a bit of a stretch. Shell, like Madden, Flores and Gruden, was young and lacking in head coaching experience when Davis gave him a shot. Shell took the opportunity and ran with it, doing quite well, all things considered. Had Davis not panicked and fired him in 1994 — and that's exactly what happened — we might have a better read on Shell. That nobody else even gave him a sniff for another head coaching job is outright ludicrous, especially when we see the other ‘retreads' continually getting chance after chance. Again, I would have been as eager as everyone else to see how Whisenhunt or Bobby Petrino could have done in their freshman head coaching jobs, but that's for another team, another time. Shell now has his second chance, and it's up to him and him alone to prove he's worth it.

TK: I think we both believe his hiring was not a bad choice. But I go back to my original premise – Davis, by waiting so long to make the hire and through years of establishing himself as a puppet master, left bringing Shell back as the only good option remaining. I'd be surprised if Shell doesn't do better than the two guys before him (it would be near impossible not to) but the odds are long against him returning the Raiders to glory. Ten times previously teams have brought back a former coach to take charge again, and it has almost never worked. In their first stints, the 10 went a combined 607-340-26 for a winning percentage of .624. The second time around, they went 201-169-5 (.536). Take George Halas out of the mix, and it gets even worse. The other nine went 527-309-7 (.625) the first time, 123-145-1 (.457) the second. One last morsel for thought: Of that group of 10 coaches, Sid Gillman (83-51-6, .532) of the Chargers had the closest winning percentage to Shell's in his first stint. He went 4-6 when San Diego brought him back.


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