ALAMEDA, Calif. (Feb. 16, 2006) -- Art Shell has already written letters to his new players spelling out his expectations and has started looking for assistants to fill out the Oakland Raiders' coaching staff.
Shell was the last coach hired this offseason, giving him less time to begin preparations for next season -- a job that's all the harder because of his own long absence from coaching.
Shell hasn't been a head coach since the Raiders fired him following the 1994 season and hasn't walked the sidelines at all since leaving Atlanta as an assistant more than five years ago.
But Shell brings a level of credibility that Norv Turner and Bill Callahan -- Oakland's last two coaches -- lacked. An eight-time Pro Bowler, a two-time Super Bowl champion and a Hall of Famer during his NFL career, Shell's accomplishments have already gotten the attention of his players.
"He's done the things that a lot of us are trying to get done. He's been there. He knows what it takes," receiver Alvis Whitted said. "He knows the price you have to pay. We need that as a team. We just want to follow that example and get back to where we were in 2002."
Shell will try to turn around a team that won just 13 games over three seasons after winning the 2002 AFC championship.
Even last year's addition of Randy Moss couldn't stop the slide. Moss, one of the game's biggest stars when he played in Minnesota, is coming off his worst 16-game season with 60 catches for 1,005 yards. He appeared detached and frustrated at times last season and only gave a lukewarm defense of Turner when he was asked about the coach at midseason.
"The only thing I was worried about with our new head coach coming is we have a team full of megastars. There's definitely a superstardom to the Oakland Raiders that's something that someone will have to deal with," safety Jarrod Cooper said. "Anytime you make the Hall of Fame that carries a lot of credibility wherever you go. But that only does so much when it comes to game day."
Moss brings the deep-strike capability that Shell talked about at his introductory news conference over the weekend. And his playing credentials might give him a better chance to communicate to Moss.
"They have to buy into what we're doing," Shell said. "It's a two-way street between the player and coach. There is trust. I think that's the No. 1 thing between players and coaches. You have to trust the players and the players have to trust their coaches."
One of the biggest areas of improvement needed for the Raiders is at offensive line. The team averaged only 3.8 yards per carry, allowed 45 sacks and committed far too many penalties from the offensive live.
"This offensive line I think can be the leader of this team," Shell said. "We just have to make sure we get them better and I think we can do that. They have a chance to be a great group."
The Raiders still have to decide whether to stick with Collins, who will count $12.9 million against the salary cap next season.
"He is an exciting quarterback," Shell said. "I think he has a chance to be great for us. But those issues will be addressed down the road."
Shell dismissed questions about whether the game has passed him by since he last was an assistant with Atlanta in 2000. He said football has always been about running the ball, stopping the run and making big plays in the passing game.
Other coaches have returned recently after long breaks and had success. Dick Vermeil took 14 years off before returning as St. Louis Rams coach in 1997 and led them to a Super Bowl title in his third season. Joe Gibbs took 11 years off before returning to the Washington Redskins in 2004 and led them back to the playoffs in his second season.
"If you can do it, you can do it in any era," said Hall of Fame coach John Madden, who coached Shell on the Raiders. "Vince Lombardi would still be successful. If you can't do it, no matter what rules they put in, you still can't do it. Art could do it as a a player and he could do it as a coach because they respect him. That's what it's all about."
Many other candidates interviewed for the job -- and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino was offered it -- before the Raiders hired Shell.
For some, his absence made him an unusual choice to return as Raiders head coach. For others, the quarter century he spent as a player, assistant and head coach under Oakland owner Al Davis made him the only logical choice for a job that others had no interest in.
This hire needs to work for Davis if he wants to restore the Raiders to the greatness they had for much of his time with the franchise. They won only 13 games the last three seasons since losing the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, the worst stretch for the team since Davis first joined the franchise in 1963.
And as the 76-year-old Davis pointed out at the news conference announcing Shell's hiring, he's not getting any younger, putting more urgency on a turnaround.
"When Art walks in here, he knows what it is. He doesn't have to learn the nuances," Madden said. "He'll learn the coaches, the players and the football. The two of them, that's why this is going to work."
The Associated Press News Service
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