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Image makeover

Sports | Can the Raiders shed the bad-boy rep?

Issue: "Help on the inside," Aug. 12, 2006

If his coaching style is any indication, Art Shell won't make his second tenure as coach of the Oakland Raiders like his first. While most NFL teams use training camp to try to transform their club from pretenders to contenders, Shell has something else in mind. When the Raiders training camp opened July 24, team officials said it was time for the rough-edged team to finally drop the bad-boy persona.

Shell, who also coached the Raiders from 1989 to 1994, indicated he wants to end the Raiders' days as target practice for officials' yellow flags. The club has led its league in penalties 15 times in football's modern era and a dozen times since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

On the surface it may seem like leading the league in penalties would be a bad thing. The Raiders' past three seasons demonstrate that. But up until 1996, the Raiders hadn't struggled through a losing season during one of their top-penalty years. In fact, in their 11 seasons of leading the league in penalties from 1966 to 1996, the Raiders managed a 105-53-2 record. But, perhaps because of the whistles, the Raiders' success seemed limited: None of the Raiders' three Super Bowl championship seasons coincides with a season with league-leading penalties.

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The trend of high-penalty teams spreads through several generations, leading some to believe the club's aggressive silver-and-black uniforms contribute to the stereotype. But the other constant is former coach and current owner Al Davis, who shaped the club's persona with his "Just win, baby" attitude. In the past, Davis has played the role of a renegade owner, suing the NFL and even the city of Los Angeles.

Shell says he's focused on eliminating penalties that derive from mental errors. Getting whistled for making an aggressive play is one thing; forgetting the snap count is another. "That's free money, giving away those yards," he said.

The transition may be a tough one for Shell. The coach presided over three of the Raiders' top penalized units in 1991, '93, and '94, but entered training camp in his comeback season unafraid to challenge top players who commit penalties in practice. He didn't hesitate to force volatile veteran wide receiver Randy Moss to run after committing a false start penalty during the first days of training camp.

Around the Horn

CYCLING: At least initially, American cyclist Floyd Landis' story seems to have a hole in it. Landis explained that he tested positive for testosterone after his Tour de France victory because he just naturally has a high rate of testosterone. But lab results say that some of the testosterone in the first drug test proved synthetic. Landis requested and now awaits a second drug test that could clear his name or force officials to strip him of his title.

NFL: Dolphins coach Nick Saban might have some explaining to do at home. When President George W. Bush traveled to Miami and invited Saban, football legend Dan Marino, and assorted members of the 1972 undefeated Dolphins team (and their wives) out to dinner at a Miami landmark restaurant, Saban declined the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, saying he needed to focus on ways to improve the 2006 Dolphins. A reporter asked Saban how his wife felt about his turning down the invite-a point of view he failed to consider: "I'd rather this not become a public issue, because I don't think I even told her, to be honest with you," Saban said. "Now that you mention it, maybe I should wear a helmet home tonight."

NASCAR: Time to get the lead out. In the first of four scheduled tests, NASCAR officials switched regular leaded gasoline with unleaded gas for a Busch Series race on July 29 in St. Louis. Officials with the racing league say they were so pleased with the results, the Nextel Cup series may switch to unleaded gasoline in 2007 instead of the scheduled 2008 change.

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