LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Raiders have named the first black head coach in the modern history of the National Football League, addressing a longstanding complaint that the NFL's top echelons are a whites-only enclave.
At a news conference Tuesday, team owner Al Davis named Hall of Fame lineman Art Shell to replace Mike Shanahan, fired after the team lost three of its first four games.
'It is a historic event and I understand the significance of it,' said Shell, 42. 'The main thing is I know who I am and I'm proud of it.
'But I'm also a Raider. I don't believe the color of my skin entered into this decision. If you know Al Davis or this organization, you'll understand that,' said Shell, the team's offensive line coach since 1983.
The NFL has long been criticized for lagging far behind baseball and basketball in hiring minorities for top coaching and managing positions.
The only other black head coach in the NFL was Fritz Pollard, who was player-coach of the Hammond (Ind.) Pros in 1923-25, when the league was in its infancy, and far from being the major force in American culture that it has become.
Shell's hiring came exactly 15 years after the Cleveland Indians named Frank Robinson as major league baseball's first black manager. There have been three others since, and the National League president, Bill White, is also black.
Shell was named on the day Cito Gaston became the first black to manage a team in the major league playoffs when his Toronto Blue Jays met the Oakland A's in the first game of the American League West championship series.
In the National Basketball Association, six of the 25 teams had black head coaches last year, and two black businessmen recently bought the Denver Nuggets.
Shell made the Pro Bowl eight times in 15 seasons as a Raider offensive tackle, and joined the coaching staff after retiring seven seasons ago.
Shanahan, who declined comment before leaving the Raiders' facility in El Segundo in early afternoon, had been under fire since the Raiders posted a 7-9 record last year in his first season as an NFL head coach. He had a three-year contract.
Shanahan, the youngest coach in the NFL at 37, was the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos when Davis hired him in February of 1988. Shell reportedly was a candidate for the job then.
It was expected by many in pro football that it would be the controversial Davis who would break the head coach color barrier. Long involved in skirmishes with the NFL's conservative fellow owners, his biggest victory came when he won a massive anti-trust suit against the league over his moving the team from Oakland to Los Angeles.