Art Shell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989 after a 15-year playing career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. A native of Charleston, S.C., Shell is also a member of the South Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Tonight in Atlanta, Shell will be honored for his time at Maryland State — now known as UMES — with his third Hall of Fame enshrinement. The former Hawks tackle is set to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
"It ranks right up there with those [others], because it's like the final thing that could be done where you could be recognized for playing the game you love to play," Shell said of his latest Hall of Fame induction in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Shell returns to campus twice a year, for a golf tournament and for the school's homecoming basketball game, since UMES' football program was shut down after the 1979 season.
"It's a void, I think the students on campus are missing out on something that was special for us when we went to school," Shell said.
Shell's days as a Hawk were just the start of a career that landed him in the discussion for best left tackle of all time.
A two-time All-American in college. A three-time Super Bowl champion. A three-time first-team All-Pro selection named to eight Pro Bowls. A member of the NFL's 1970 All-Decade team. Shell's list of accolades runs as long as the faces of the defensive ends he terrorized during games.
But there is another accomplishment that dominates Shell's self-reflection.
In 1989, Shell was named coach of the Los Angeles Raiders. Twenty-four years later, the first African-American head coach in the NFL's modern era believes the rule enacted to increase coaching and management opportunities for minorities is not working.
"The Rooney Rule is not working the way it was set up to work," Shell said. "When they put it in, it was a great thing to be done, but there have to be tweaks now because what happened last year is a travesty. I thought there's no way in the world that that rule was working, and Dan Rooney will be the first one to tell you it's not working the way it was designed to work in the first place."
Instituted in 2003, the Rooney Rule mandated teams interview a minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. Since then, nine minorities have become head coaches. Another, Tony Dungy, won a Super Bowl.
Last offseason, there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general management openings. Zero minorities were hired to fill those positions.
"You tell me that [former Chicago Bears coach] Lovie Smith can win 10 games, and get fired and get no opportunity as a head coach again? I don't understand that," Shell said. "And then he doesn't even get a job as a coordinator? [Former Kansas City Chiefs coach] Romeo Crennel, same way. I don't understand that. People have to look from within — it ain't just the commissioner.
"And I know the commissioner and the people in the league will try and do something to rectify what happened last year, because that's unconscionable."
When the late Raiders owner Al Davis hired Shell as coach, it was a dream fulfilled for Shell, who starred at Maryland State from 1964 to 1967. He saw it as more than just a chance to prove his own worth as a coach — he saw it as an opportunity to show minorities could coach in the NFL.
"My No. 1 goal then was to try to be as successful as I could, and do the best I can, because there were a lot of minorities out there that could coach in need of an opportunity," Shell said. "And I wanted to be the person that somebody could say, 'See, we tell you they can't coach and that's not true.'
"When I saw Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the Super Bowl, I was probably the most excited person in this country. Given the opportunity, these guys took advantage of it and got their team into the ultimate game of professional football."
Shell was the first to walk through the door, and others have followed. But now he wonders if it's still open wide enough.
"The kid from Pittsburgh [Mike Tomlin], he got an opportunity and he took his team [to the Super Bowl]," Shell said. "That shows that minorities can coach. We shouldn't have to be looking at this as 'this black coach.' We should be beyond that now. And I don't think we are right now."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun