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Art Shell opens up on his mixed history with Al Davis

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Art Shell and Al Davis upon Shell's hiring as head coach in 1989 (photo by Los Angeles Times)
Art Shell and Al Davis upon Shell's hiring as head coach in 1989 (photo by Los Angeles Times)

This Friday, Art Shell will be honored as a Hometown Hall of Famer at his High School in North Charleston South Carolina. With the upcoming ceremony, I had a chance to speak with the former Raider Hall of Fame left tackle. It is the first we have heard from Shell since his initial statement on the passing of Al Davis.

Not a lot has been heard from the former two-time Raider head coach and Hall of Fame offensive tackle since he was fired as the Raiders coach back in 2006. His second go round as the Raiders head man lasted just one season. This is not uncommon with the Raiders of late but Shell's single season return was the lowest the Raiders had ever sunk.

They went 2-14 that season which was a franchise worst. The offense was the worst any Raider fan had seen and one of the worst in NFL history. The offensive line was so terrible, Shell may have been better served to suit up and take the field than to try and coach them from the sideline.

Shell's return to coaching the Raiders was an uncommon one in the NFL and unprecedented by Al Davis who was known for being a man of his convictions. But Shell agreed to take the job and Davis had regretted firing Shell the first time around after Shell had led the Raiders to four winning seasons and three playoff appearances in five full seasons on the job. So 12 years later, with head coach options dwindling, he gave Shell a call and an offer to return to the Raiders' sideline.

Shell and Davis' relationship began back in 1968 when the Raiders chose Shell out of Maryland State College to be their next left tackle. Shell went on to a Hall of Fame career that was highlighted by two Super Bowl victories for the Raiders. He would re-join the team as an assistant coach immediately following his retirement as a player. And upon his firing in 1994, he had been in the organization for 27 straight years.

Davis inducted Shell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and months later would fire then coach Mike Shanahan four games into the season and replace him with Shell.

The relationship had its extreme highs and its adversity with Davis and Shell drifting apart and then reconnecting. But since he was fired as head coach the first time, Shell hasn't had the type of relationship with Davis and the organization that remains with many other former players such as George Atkinson, Jim Plunkett, Jim Otto, Willie Brown, Tom Flores and a host of other Raider Legends.

"We talked some." Shell said. "I'd say we talked a few times between the first and second time [as head coach], you know, we'd talk. We talked on the phone, I saw him at owners' meeting because I started working for the NFL. So I would see him at owners' meeting and we'd talk briefly. But it was pretty good. And when he called me the second time around I was in Detroit getting prepared for the Super Bowl and he made a call and said ‘Let's talk' and I went out and talked. We felt we could get things together and work it out we got together but we just couldn't make it happen."

That brief second stint with the Raiders was a rough one for Shell and the Raiders. And it no doubt took its toll on Al Davis as well. It put a strain on the relationship and it feels like both parties realize the reunion was not such a good idea after all.

"The second time around we... When you get together, sometimes you don't see eye to eye on certain things. Of course it was Mr Davis' football team as it's my team... things just didn't work out, we weren't on the same page so I went my way and he went his way."

And as infrequent as the conversations were between the two giants of football, they became nearly non-existent following his firing after that dreaded 2006 season. And in the past few years, leading up to Davis' death, the two had no communications.

"We didn't have a conversation because it just didn't happen that way." Shell explained. "We didn't talk."

Shell was in attendance at Al Davis' funeral but did not comment on it.

But despite Shell's limited presence in Oakland or in Alameda or in Al Davis' life, that has never diminished his connection to this team and their late owner. Like many who have played or coached for Mr Davis, the bond between them was always strong. And their bond to the Silver and Black was even stronger.

"You know, I'm a Raider. Die hard Raider." Shell pointed out. "I could not have gotten to where I got without [Al Davis] because he gave me an opportunity to be a player, he gave me an opportunity to be an assistant coach, head football coach, and to coach that football team twice. God was great to me and I'm honored to say that I am a Raider."

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