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On This Date in Sports: October 3, 1989: Art Shell Named Coach

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The Los Angeles Raiders fire Mike Shanahan after a 1-3 start. To replace Shanahan, the Raiders name Hall of Famer Art Shell as their new head coach. Shell becomes the first African-American head coach in the NFL’s modern era. Fritz Pollard had been the NFL’s last black coach in 1925 with the Hammond Pros. Art Shell would win his first game with the Raiders six days later, beating the New York Jets 17-9 on Monday Night Football.

Art Shell was born on November 26, 1946, in Charleston, South Carolina. Playing football at Maryland State (Maryland Eastern Shore), Shell was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the 1968 professional football draft. An offensive tackle, Art Shell was selected to play in the Pro Bowl eight times in a 15-year career and is regarded as one of the top offensive linemen in the history of the NFL. After retiring in 1982, Art Shell became the offensive line coach for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1983. Shell had been among the personal favorites of owner Al Davis.

As the 1980s drew to a close, there was a call for the NFL to hire a black coach. In the NFL’s early days, Fritz Pollard had been a head coach twice, first with the Akron Pros in 1921, and later with the Hammond Pros in 1925. The early days of the NFL were less organized as teams came and went in the league. Many teams had players serving as a coach, among them were Fritz Pollard. The NFL had not banned black players until 1933, using the depression as an excuse. Pollard would get his due in 2005, when he was enshrined in the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in Canton, 29 years after his death.

The late 80s were a period of a disappointment for the Raiders. After winning the AFC West in 1985, the Raiders posted a record of 8-8 in 1986, the first time in over two decades, they did not finish with a winning record. After a 5-10 mark in 1987, Al Davis decided to fire Tom Flores and replace him with Mike Shanahan. Shanahan was the hot assistant as offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. The Raiders continued to disappoint with Shanahan, posting a record of 7-9 in 1988. After a 1-3 start in the 1989, Davis decided to pull the plug and hire Art Shell.

The move to Art Shell was a positive for the struggling Raiders, as they won four of their first five games. The Raiders would finish the 1989 season with a record of 8-8. In 1990, in Art Shell’s first full season as head coach, the Raiders posted a record of 12-4 and played in the AFC Championship Game. The Raiders would make the playoffs in three of four seasons. However, after a later collapse, Art Shell was fired after posting a 9-7 record in 1994 as the Raiders moved back to Oakland. Al Davis would call the firing one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Shell would get a second chance to lead the Raiders in 2006 but was fired after a 2-14 season. In seven seasons, Art Shell posted a record of 56-52 as a head coach.