The Raiders hardly opened training camp before the first crisis erupted, with Jerry Porter challenging coach Art Shell. If Raiders owner Al Davis doesn’t back Shell in this, it’s going to be another long, long season.
Porter and Shell agreed on one point: They (and wide receivers coach Fred Biletnikoff) had had an acrimonious meeting shortly after Shell was hired.
The ostensible issue was whether Porter would stay in the Bay Area and work out with the team — he didn’t, though he did show up for mandatory workouts — but the subtext is that Shell is trying to instill a team ethic, while Porter is very much all-about-me. He has the Terrell Owens attitude — without the numbers to back it up.
“You can’t have inmates running the asylum,” Shell said at camp. Porter is one of the “inmates.” Jon Gruden hardly played Porter as a rookie because of his selfish attitude and even kicked him out of practice one day. Porter is a negative influence in the dressing room and an inconsistent player, one who can make brilliant catches at times but just disappears at other times.
Now, he wants to be traded, but it’s unlikely he will be. Other teams won’t give up anything significant for a malcontent.
Porter’s attitude would be a problem with any team but it’s magnified for the Raiders, whose recent history is of underachieving.
That’s in contrast to the 49ers. In the Super Bowl years, the 49ers stars — Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig — always subordinated their individual accomplishments to team victories. When the stars do that, lesser players fall in line.
Raiders coaches haven’t been so lucky. Since they returned to Oakland for the 1995 season, the Raiders have had five coaches before Shell. Only Gruden had consistent success, because only Gruden had the respect of the players. They knew he’d tell Davis to shove it, in profanity-laced dialogues.
With other coaches, players knew they could run to Davis and he’d listen — and act. They knew Davis was calling the shots. It became especially obvious late last season when coach Norv Turner started Marques Tuiasosopo at quarterback and said he’d get a four-game trial. After one game, Tui was back on the bench and Kerry Collins was starting because that’s what Davis ordered.
Gruden also took responsibility for his own mistakes, so players did the same. Before and after him, players have been undisciplined and unwilling to accept responsibility for their errors. The Raiders always lead the league in penalties but, in their minds, it’s all a big NFL conspiracy. A typical example: In one game last fall, offensive tackle Robert Gallery virtually tackled a defensive end, right in front of an official, but after the game insisted it wasn’t holding!
Shell was brought back by Davis to instill team discipline, as the Raiders had in the glory years, when Shell was a Hall of Fame offensive tackle. Now, he’s being challenged by a player who should be a team leader.
Shell should sit Porter on the bench until he’s willing to be a team player. When Porter runs to Davis — as he certainly will — Davis has to support his coach. Then, and only then, will the Raiders have a chance to play up to their talent level.