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."
It’s officially NFL draft week. Marshawn Lynch still isn’t a Raider.
A contract impasse remained as of Sunday morning, a few days before general manager Reggie McKenzie’s desire for a by-Thursday resolution.
Deadlines, even soft ones, prompt deals. But Marshawn is unique, adding a level of uncertainty to procedings.
The Raiders would prefer Lynch agree to terms on a new contract so they can acquire his rights from Seattle -- that’s the easier part – and know where they stand heading into the NFL Draft.
McKenzie left several doors cracked during a Friday pre-draft presser, saying Lynch’s presence wouldn’t stop him from drafting a rusher, not having the Oakland native wouldn’t guarantee it, and that there’s always a chance Lynch could come later no matter what happens during amateur selection.
Those things could be true. Or, you know, not. McKenzie prefers mystery this time of year.
Bottom line: The Raiders need a bigger back to pair with smaller, yet elusive runners DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.
The Raiders want Lynch to fill the void. Ditto for Raider Nation, especially the Oakland state. A few free-agent options remain, including LaGarrette Blount. Or the Raiders could draft a back, something the Raiders have done well in later rounds.
They got Latavius Murray in the sixth round four years back, and he provided quality before changing uniforms this offseason. They got Washington in the fifth last time and pulled Richard from undrafted free agency. They could mine talent again this year. Waiting seems more likely if Lynch is around.
Quality abounds in this draft class, with several worthy of early selections and talent easily found late. Let’s inspect McKenzie’s draft options at running back, should he need one:
Good fits: It’s hard to see the Raiders looking at a rusher in the first round, considering the draft’s depth at the position and major defensive needs. A first-round talent might be considered in the second. If controversial former Oklahoma rusher Joe Mixon is available following a free fall due to off-field issues described in detail here, a running back might come early.
Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara could be another Day 2 option, an explosive talent who analysts say has wiggle and power to create coveted yards after contact. He could be a three-down back thanks to quality as a receiver.
Odds are, however, the Raiders will look deeper into the draft. Wyoming’s Brian Hill was an excellent college producer who runs strong and might fit well into the Raiders rotation. Round projections vary, but he should be available on Day 3.
Pittsburgh’s James Conner offers great power at 233 pounds. He could run through tacklers and wear down defenses for the Raiders’ shift backs. He's also well known for drive and work ethic. He is projected as a fifth or sixth round pick.
Brigham Young’s Jamaal Williams might offer value and power rushing later in the draft. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman has tackle-breaking ability, but analysts say he isn’t a strong pass protector.
The Raiders had an NFL-worst 25 sacks last season, and that’s with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin in their employ. That duo had 18 sacks (and 11 forced fumbles) between them. That left only seven for everyone else. Stacy McGee and Denico Autry had 2.5 each, and McGee isn’t here anymore.
Mario Edwards Jr. was certainly missed last season, when he missed 14 games with a preseason hip injury. The versatile defensive lineman is a solid edge run defender and internal pass rusher in the sub package.
If he’s healthy, Edwards Jr. could pose a real threat rushing the passer next to Irvin or Mack.
“Having Mario healthy will make us a better defense, and that’s not just as a pass rusher,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said in March. “He’s a solid run player. We’ve just got to have him healthy.
“But we’ll continue to add there, too.”
McKenzie subtracted one Tuesday, releasing Dan Williams to free salary cap space. He hasn’t yet added a defensive tackle in free agency, but could certainly do so in next week’s NFL draft.
There’s some quality interior pass rushers in this class. Let’s take a look at some options the Raiders could select and when:
Good fits: The Raiders select 24th overall in this draft, far lower than years past. Some quality defensive tackles might be a proper fit there, especially with depth at positions of need.
They could use some versatility, players like Edwards Jr. who can play multiple techniques. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell is an strong, athletic freak who analysts believe needs to improve his effort and technique. McDowell could develop into a top talent and be viewed as a steal at No. 24, or not realize full potential.
Michigan’s Chris Wormley is a versatile player in the Edwards Jr. mold, a player who seems to fit Raiders needs. Analysts says inconsistency is troubling but has the leadership quality and character the Raiders love. He can be a base end and move inside when required. He also has the size at 6-foot-5, 298 pounds and could develop well at the NFL level while making an immediate impact.
Florida’s Caleb Brantley is also an intriguing prospect adept at reaching the offensive backfield. Analysts say he’s a powerful player with quickness and an ability to work through blocks despite being slightly undersized. Brantley is potential to be a quality NFL pass rusher, and is confident in his ability. He didn’t play a high snap count at Florida, but the Raiders might use him in sub packages as a rookie and fill an important role right away. He’s viewed as a second round pick, and the Silver and Black might cross fingers he’s available at No. 56.
Auburn’s Montravius Adams could help if the Raiders are looking for more of a run stuffer. Clemson’s Carlos Watkins could also play multiple spots and could be available later in the middle rounds. Old Dominion’s Rashaad Coward also fits that mold and would be available in later rounds, though he hasn’t had much pass-rush production.