Conformity doesn't figure to be something that players would pick up on at Oakland Raiders practices. After all, for four decades the franchise has forged an identity as a team of mavericks with an ax to grind with the NFL. Yet as members of the Silver and Black have hung up their bloodied uniforms, they've shown an uncanny willingness to play ball, ascending to positions of prominence in the pro football establishment at which the Raiders thumb their noses. "We don't all wear the chains and ride the motorcycles," says Art Shell, the latest former Oakland player to join the league office. "I just look at it as ex-players continuing to work in the field that they've enjoyed all their life."
In May, Shell, 57, was named senior vice president for football operations and development, a position in which he'll serve as the top adviser on football matters to commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Among the areas under Shell's supervision are game-day operations and the league's relationship with college football, NFL Europe and youth football. "It covers a lot," Shell says of the job, "but I'm having fun with it."
Though Raiders owner Al Davis has long been at odds with the NFL hierarchy, it shouldn't be surprising that his alums are making their marks as league executives. As with many other teams, the Raiders set aside jobs within the organization for their former players, and more than 30 have worked under Davis. After toiling on Oakland's offensive line from 1968 through '82, Shell was an assistant coach with the team from '82 through '88 and then was promoted to head coach--the first African-American to hold that position in the modern NFL. He spent six seasons as coach, then worked for the league hearing players' appeals of fines and suspensions.
Without his first shot from the Raiders, Shell says, his second career might not have gotten off the ground. "That organization has always been one of equal opportunity," says Shell. "With the Raiders, if you can do the job, you will be hired."
Other Oakland alums with lofty posts include Mike Haynes, a five-time All-Pro defensive back, who sits on the NFL Management Council and oversees career development and other off-the-field programs for players; Gene Upshaw, Shell's linemate on the great Raiders teams of the 1970s, who has headed the NFL Players Association for the past 21 years; and Matt Millen, a former Pro Bowl linebacker, who is president and CEO of the Detroit Lions. In addition, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long and former coach John Madden are broadcasters.
Davis's minority hiring record has helped set the standard for diversity in sports. Tom Flores, a Hispanic-American, coached two of the team's three Super Bowl winners, and Shell led the club to three playoff appearances. "There's a lot of talk these days at the league level and elsewhere about inclusiveness," says Raiders chief executive Amy Trask, the highest-ranking female administrator in the league. "This is something that [Davis] thinks is normal and should be the case everywhere. And the last thing he wants is any credit."
Like his rise to coach of the Raiders, Shell's ascension in the NFL office is groundbreaking and raises an intriguing possibility. "Having someone in place like Art," says Baltimore Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome, "leads people to think that someday an African-American can be considered for the role of commissioner."
So, given how many former Raiders have worked their way into the mainstream, one can't help but wonder: Has Al Davis finally taken over the NFL? "If that's the case," Haynes says, "then he's smarter than I ever gave him credit for."
After making their names on the field in the Silver and Black, these former Raiders have become more influential as executives, team administrators and network broadcasters.
NFL senior VP, football operations/development
NFL VP, player/employee development
Executive director, NFLPA
President and CEO, Detroit Lions
Senior administrator, Oakland Raiders
Analyst, FOX NFL Sunday
Color commentator, Monday Night Football
*Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame
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Helping shape NFL policy are Davis protégés (from left) Upshaw, Haynes and the trailblazing Shell.
Upshaw (63) and Shell