Then came Sept. 11, a 27-0 loss to the San Diego Chargers, and a regular season that has turned into a weekly debacle. The Raiders have been shut out three times and are 2-13 heading into the season finale in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets.
The Jets, 9-6 and one win away from a playoff berth, are one-year removed from a 4-12 season, just like the Raiders. But while Jets' coach Eric Mangini is being touted as a coach of the year candidate, Shell is busy answering questions about his job security.
Raiders owner Al Davis has a quick trigger when it comes to head coaches, with Shell the sixth hire since the franchise returned to Oakland in 1995.
Only one coach, Joe Bugel, was shown the door after one season. The Raiders were 4-12 in 1997, with Jon Gruden replacing Bugel in 1998.
Mike White (1995-96), Bill Callahan (2002-03) and Norv Turner (2004-05) each lasted two seasons. Davis hired White when the team moved to Oakland, replacing Shell, who had compiled a 56-41 record from 1989 through 1994.
Davis has expressed regret over firing Shell in the past, saying he responded to criticisms from other members of the staff.
Shell's contract is believed to be for two years, and he sounds as if he plans on returning.
The NFL Network reported two days before the Raiders hosted the Kansas City Chiefs that Davis planned on firing Shell at the end of the season. The Raiders responded with a press release saying no decisions had been made and accusing the reporter, former Denver Post sportswriter Adam Schefter, of anti-Raider sentiments.
There has been speculation that perhaps Shell would make things easier for Davis by stepping aside to a front office job.
Shell refuted that notion Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
"I am the head coach of the Raiders until I am otherwise informed," Shell said. "That's the way I see it."
While conceding the job has been a bigger one than he anticipated, Shell gave no indication it was too big to handle.
"I said when I first took this job it was not going to be an easy thing," Shell said. "My expectations were higher, though. I expected to be a in a position where we would win more games than we won. There's no doubt about that, because I have high expectations. But we haven't done that."
Rather than step aside because of a 2-13 record, Shell feels it's important to remain because the record is so poor.
"There is no doubt about that," Shell said. "I'm a fighter. I'm not going to quit. I'm going to psh my way through this. It's tough. I don't like to lose. Nobody around here likes to lose. I'm one of the worst losers. I take it hard, but I also know this. You must continue to work.
"If you want something in life, you've got to work for it and you've got to work hard to get it and you've got to stay the course. You can't let others decide what you do and how you go about doing it."
The Raiders have lived a split existence in Shell's first year back. They have the worst offensive in franchise history, easily No. 32 in the NFL.
They have an above-average defense loaded with young talent which is ranked No. 4 overall in yardage and No. 1 in pass defense.
Shell's critics maintain the condition of the offense is his responsibility, while the defensive skill has more to do with existing talent and the direction of third-year coordinator Rob Ryan.
It was Shell who hired Tom Walsh as offensive coordinator. Walsh was a former Raiders assistant who had been out of the NFL since 1994. Shell reluctantly re-assigned Walsh to tight ends on Nov. 28, swapping jobs with John Shoop. While the offense has a different look under Shoop it remains a disaster.
Wide receiver Jerry Porter clashed with Shell before the first minicamp and never got on board. He has one catch for 19 yards this season. Porter is listed as having a hip flexor injury but is essentially in exile.
Randy Moss, while not as overt in his unhappiness, struggled through one of his least productive injuries before suffering an ankle injury. Moss began making veiled references to being unhappy and wanting a trade on a weekly radio show.
Quarterback Aaron Brooks, lost in Week 2 to a torn pectoral muscle and again late in the season to a neck injury, thinks Shell will ultimately be successful.
"He's a coach that knows exactly what he wants," Brooks said. "He's a firm believer in what he wants to do. That's very evident in how he handled situations during the course of the year and that's what you want as a player."
Shell also took charge of Oakland's offensive line, hiring Irv Eatman and Jackie Slater as co-coaches but overseeing a restructuring of blocking schemes.
The Raiders cleaned out most zone blocking schemes and went for aggressive, man-to-man blocking. Shell promised power running and vertical passing. The result is the NFL's 29th ranked rushing attack and a league-high 70 sacks.
"It's been a difficult transformation for a lot of us, but I think when we get everything ironed out, it will be good for us in the long run," center Jake Grove said.
Shell believes the foundation has been laid for future success.
Teams such as the Jets, from 4-12 to 9-6 this season, and New Orleans (3-13 to 10-5), give Shell cause for hope. Shell was also an assistant on an Atlanta team that was 3-13 the year before he got there, then improved to 7-9 and 14-2 in the next two seasons.
"That's the thing about this league," Shell said. "There's definitely a possibility for teams to regroup, re-tool, and become a much better team the following year after having a down year. There's always a possibility and there's always hope for us."