Football trailblazer Art Shell is born

On November 26, 1946, Art Shell is born in Charleston, South Carolina. Shell was a gifted athlete: He made the All-State teams in both football and basketball at Bonds-Wilson High School in North Charleston and went on to become a star football player and All-American at Maryland State-Eastern Shore. He was an offensive lineman for the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders from 1968 until 1982. He coached the Raiders from 1989 to 1994 and again, briefly, in 2006.

Shell was a third-round draft pick in 1968. He played on Oakland’s special teams for two seasons and then became the team’s starting offensive left tackle. During the 1970s, Shell was a key part of the Raiders’ notoriously intimidating offense. While Shell was a player, the Raiders played in 23 post-season games, including eight AFL/AFC championships, and won the Super Bowl twice. Shell himself played in eight Pro Bowl games and was a first- or second-team All-Pro every year from 1973 to 1978. In 1982, the Raiders’ owner Al Davis made the enormously controversial decision to move the team to Los Angeles (“Sure, I expected the Oakland fans to get angry with me,” he said. “In their mind, it’s their team. In my mind, it’s not”), where they stayed until 1995. Then they returned to Oakland.

Shell retired from football after one season in L.A. In 1989, he returned to the Raiders as a coach. He was the first black man in modern football history to become the head coach of an NFL team. In five seasons, Shell’s Raiders went 56-41. They went to the playoffs four times and to the AFC championship game once. But in the 1994 season, the team could only manage a 9-7 record, and Shell lost his job.

After that, he worked as an offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, helping to lead them to the Super Bowl in 1999. Then he worked in the NFL’s front office. Head-coaching positions opened up, but despite Shell’s success in Oakland, no one seemed especially interested in hiring him–a fact that most people attributed to racism, deliberate or not, on the part of the league.

Finally, in 2006, Shell got another shot. Disappointed with his still-struggling team, Davis offered his old coach a two-year contract to turn the Raiders around. In a press conference before the season began, Shell said: “Everybody has a way of doing things. The Raiders have a way of doing things. We’re about winning. And we will win.” Sadly, he was wrong: The team went 2-14, the worst season in the NFL, and Davis fired Shell again almost immediately after the season ended.

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