EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. -- He carries himself with the assurance of a retired warrior. A quiet confidence that comes only from surviving combat at close hand, not just talking about it. The experience is in his handshake, in his eyes, his voice, his laugh.

Art Shell, coach of the Los Angeles Raiders, spent 15 years playing tackle for the Raiders. He had two Super Bowl rings and one knee injury by the time he retired. He missed only five games his entire career.

In 1983 he became an assistant coach. In the middle of last season owner Al Davis named him head coach, putting him in charge of returning the Raiders to their winning ways. He was supposed to bring back "Raider football."

The Raiders are 6-1 this season and 13-5 overall since Shell replaced Mike Shanahan. They are undefeated at home.

His players talk about what a great coach Shell is, and crediting him for changing the rigid and stiff atmosphere that existed under Mike Shanahan back to the loose and relaxed days of the Raiders of yesterday.

But the old warrior is not satisfied. "I'm doing okay," he said. "Just OK. I'm very hard on myself. I've always been like that. Even when I was a player, I was very hard on myself. Coach would say, 'Art, you played a great game today.' I'd say, 'No, what about those two or three plays over there?' I want to be a perfectionist."

Shell dreamed about coaching since he was in high school. But for many years Shell never dreamed he could coach in the NFL.

"I wanted to go back to high school, to coach in high school," he said, "because I admired my high school coaches. Then, as I grew older, my dreams grew older and I wanted to be a head coach in college."

He never pictured himself coaching in the NFL, which until last year had never had a black head coach.

Fade to white.

Turn the clock back now 14 years. John Madden was coach of the Raiders. One day in training camp, he looked up at his tackle and told him that someday he would be a coach in this league.

"A light went on," said Shell, who went to Davis right away and told him that he wanted to stay with the Raiders after his playing days were over. "I don't see that as a problem," Davis told him.

When Davis made him an assistant coach, Shell brought up the head coaching job in a roundabout way. "I asked Mr. Davis what it takes to be a head coach in this league," Shell said.

But this is all history. History is important, and, like it or not, Shell is part of history because he is the first black head coach in modern times. So it is important, but not as important as winning.

Fade to black.

The clock is set at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Between meetings and practice, the players and coaches wandered around the Raiders' complex.

Defensive tackle Howie Long emerged from the locker room and began mimicking a question when he spotted a tape recorder. "What difference has Art Shell made in the Raiders?" he said in kind of a high-pitched voice -- presumably that of a sportswriter -- then waved off his own question. Long challenges reporters like he challenges offensive linemen.

"I've heard the question three million times. Why don't you ask something creative? Surprise me."

Eventually Long began to talk about Shell and what a good coach he is and about how there are so many "schmucks" coaching in the NFL.

"The players have a different attitude because of him," Long said. "It is a very simple thing."

"Well," he was asked, "if it is so simple, how come every coach can't do the same thing he is doing?"

Long seemed surprised at the pure stupidity of the question. "Because there are some real {jerks} in this league who think they got to be unique and different, and they start believing all this . . . " Long stopped in mid-sentence and reversed direction. A spin move.

"The coach has the responsibility of putting the players in the right places and taking advantages of matchups and treating players like human beings and adults. Art played 16 years, so I think he has an idea of how to treat a player."

Is Shell secure?

Long snickered. "Well, what's he got to be insecure about? When he speaks, you listen. He is the biggest {man} out there, so of course you are going to listen."

He knows bull when he sees it?

"Exactly," he said, finally happy that his point has been grasped. "I've seen some real idiots in this league. I don't know how some people get coaching jobs; I really don't. I mean there's some schmucks coaching in the NFL, like friends of friends and my sister's cousin's kid. I don't understand how they get a job," he said.

Defensive end Greg Townsend wandered down the hall.

"I think Art's presence alone speaks for itself," said Townsend, who relies on finesse on and off the field. "Why he is doing so good as a coach, I think, is because he believes in what he is doing and because if you have played the game for a while, then I think people have a tendency to listen to what you say a bit more closely. Art doesn't ever yell, so you have to listen close anyway."

Earlier, Shell had been debunking the myth of the mystique of "Raiders football," saying "the mystique exists only in other people's mind."

Now Townsend was proving his coach wrong, that along with his successful coaching record, he had been able to put the mystique back in the Raiders' minds.

What is a Raider, then?

"One thing you have to have is a lot of heart," Townsend said. "Believe in what you are doing and be very physical and have what they call a bad intention on your opponent. Do not let up on him whatsoever. We'll shake hands after the game, but don't ever help him up after you've knocked him down. It's just a dirty, nasty attitude you got to have to play Raider football. Then you have to always find a way to win and never, ever let up."

Art Shell has quietly and confidently brought all this back to the Raiders, this warrior attitude.

Fade to black and silver.

Set the clock to present. Happy days are here again in Raiderville.