Brown observes anniversary of Shell hiring

October 4, 2012, 12:36 am
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ALAMEDA -- Twenty-three years ago Wednesday, the Raiders and the late Al Davis made history when Art Shell became the first African-American head coach in modern NFL history.Shell was replacing the fired Mike Shanahan, let go after a 1-3 start to the 1989 season and a 7-9 record in 1988, and was officially promoted from offensive line coach on Oct. 3, 1989. Six days later, Shell and the then-Los Angeles Raiders beat the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.Willie Brown, a longtime Raiders staffer and current team ambassador, took a special pride in his former teammate getting the job."It was a very big moment for the organization and Mr. Davis for having the guts, I should say, and the desire to be the first to hire (an African-American), particularly a person who played for him -- Art Shell," Brown told CSNCalifornia.com on Wednesday.Ten years before hiring Shell, Davis tapped Tom Flores, who became the first minority to win a Super Bowl as a head coach. Flores, who won two Lombardi Trophies, retired after the 1987 season and Shanahan was hired after a search in which Brown's name was floated as a potential candidate.Nearly a quarter of a century later, though, Brown was still elated with the choice of Shell in 1989."Art was prepared, he was ready to be a head coach and Mr. Davis knew that," Brown said. "And his choice was him, regardless of color. I don't think Mr. Davis went after Art in terms of being the first (African-American) coach in the National Football League. I think his idea was trying to find the right person to fit this organization."He didn't think about the color of his skin. He didn't care what color you were. He was concerned about getting the right person as a head coach, the right people as football players."Shell would finish the '89 season with a 7-5 record before going 12-4 and taking the Raiders to the 1990 AFC title game and being named NFL coach of the year. He would coach through the 1994 season and compile a record of 54-38 and a playoff record of 2-3. He only had one non-losing season -- 7-9 in 1992 -- but Davis fired him after a 9-7 mark in 1994, the team's last year in Los Angeles.A disastrous second-run in 2006 ended with a 2-14 record and Shell being shown the door again.Still, were it not for Shell being hired in 1989, perhaps the roads for the likes of Dennis Green, Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin and even former Raiders coach Hue Jackson would have encountered many more detours and taken a much longer time.And since Shell's 1989 hiring, 13 other African-Americans have been hired as an NFL head coach, with six others being interim head coaches."To me it's big because it's another black man getting a job and he's contributing to the National Football League, in terms of trying to set some structures, some ideas and value in terms of his players," Brown said."I think in the community, all over the world, when you see a black coach getting another position, it means a lot to the black community."