Will Art Shell last the season as Raiders coach?
By now, it’s clear that Shell’s hiring was a mistake. He’s hopelessly locked in the past and he’s lost his team.
Players have been complaining off the record to the media for weeks. Warren Sapp didn’t even bother to hide behind that after the latest loss to Denver. Asked about the four-game suspension Shell had handed out to wide receiver Jerry Porter, Sapp said flatly that Porter had done nothing to merited that. That was a significant comment because Sapp has been a team leader. He isn’t the dominant force he was in his prime but he’s played hard all the time and hasn’t complained.
Shell seems to believe that his players should act as players did when he was playing. But that was a much different time. There was no free agency and no questioning the coach’s authority. A player who was labeled a trouble maker could be booted off the team, with little chance of being signed by another team.
That was then, this is now. Bill Parcells is probably the only coach left who can make the “My way or the highway” approach work. And Parcells has had a long record of success. Shell has not.
The Porter saga is the chief example of Shell’s inability to relate to his players. When Porter challenged him openly on the opening of training camp, Shell knew he had to assert his authority. Making Porter inactive for the season opener would have been enough. But, as he has kept Porter inactive while the Raiders offense is non-existent — the Raiders’ five-game total of 50 points is by far the lowest in the league — players have criticized Shell to the media. As early as the second week, players were vocal on the way home from the Baltimore loss.
The situation exploded Friday when Shell suspended Porter for four games. The suspension, which will probably be overturned on appeal, made no sense, because Porter was already inactive. Shell’s attempt to show that he was boss just made him look ridiculous to his players.
The only thing that can save Shell’s job now is what got himthe job originally: Davis has no other choice. There’s nobody on the staff who could replace him. The defensive players like their coordinator, Rob Ryan, but Ryan doesn’t seem to be head coaching material.
Raiderland has become a toxic wasteland. No self-respecting coach wants to come into a situation without hope. And, Davis’ coaching salaries are probably the lowest in the league, so he has had to wait as the best prospective coaches — Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith, Charlie Weis, etc. — have taken jobs elsewhere.
Davis has wanted to bring in a young coach who would grow with the team, as Jon Gruden did. Three years ago, Sean Payton was that kind of coach, but he reportedly wanted no part of this. Louisville’s Bobby Petrino decided against coming to Oakland this year. So, Davis has hired desperate men like Norv Turner and Shell.
The Raiders are sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss, headed to 0-16.
Knute Rockne couldn’t rescue them, though he’d probably recognize the Raiders offensive game plans. Art Shell has made a bad situation worse but Davis won’t solve anything by firing him — unless Davis fires himself first.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.