In Michael Wilbon's column Sunday, the agent for Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Art Shell was incorrectly identified. His name is Danny More. (Published 01/25/2000)

Perhaps you've heard the big lie being spread these days around the NFL: There are no attractive head coaching candidates out there, nobody worth getting excited about.

The owners, vice presidents and general managers entrusted to hire head coaches simply shrug their shoulders and hand the keys to the kingdom to men such as Dave Wannstedt, whose career record is 41-57, and Mike Sherman, who has been a coordinator for a grand total of one season. There's actually a nasty tug-of-war over a guy, Bill Belichick, whose record as a head coach is 37-45.

The power brokers say these are the best candidates out there. That's garbage, the biggest lie you've ever heard. I guess they can't see Art Shell. Maybe he's easy to miss, being only 6 feet 5, 300 pounds. I guess he's easy to forget about, having earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh, silly me. I just remembered why the people who hire NFL coaches can't see Shell: He's black.

They can find phone numbers for obscure coaches who haven't done anything, for guys who have been unsuccessful, such as Wannstedt; for guys who never have had any NFL experience on any level until becoming a head coach, such as San Diego's Mike Riley. But they can't find Shell's number. Shell doesn't even get as much as a phone call from NFL executives looking for a coach even though his record as the Raiders' head coach was 56-41, even though in five full seasons he took his team to the playoffs four times, even though he led the Raiders to an AFC championship game, none of which you'll find on the resumes of Wannstedt, Belichick or Sherman.

Shell, currently the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line coach, waits for the phone to ring while people with none of his credentials get hired. What do you call that, exactly?

I call it prejudice.

Those of you who can't stand this discussion should look away now. Those of you who feel I'm playing the "race card" should know you are absolutely right. As I've said before, if you think you're sick of reading this, I guarantee you I'm sicker of having to write it.

Fifteen years ago, we were told there were no black head coaches because the talent pool wasn't big enough, that there weren't enough coordinators to promote. For the past five years we've been told team executives weren't aware enough of the black coordinators who were worthy of promotion. And to help in that regard, the NFL began an information blitz to make sure they became aware of the worthy candidates.

It's all a big lie. If you work in professional football for a living and you're not aware of Art Shell, you're too incompetent to hold a job. This particular column isn't even about black coaches, it's about one black coach, Shell, and his exclusion from consideration. (These are the same people who told us for a half-dozen years Tony Dungy, coaching Tampa Bay in today's NFC championship game, wasn't head coaching material.)

Shell's agent is a man named Danny Young whom, you should know, is white. I called Young the other night to ask him what clubs have expressed serious interest in Shell since he was fired as the Raiders' head coach in 1994. Here's how many: one. Carmen Policy, who runs the new Cleveland Browns, called and seriously considered Shell. That's it.

"I'm on a mission to help this man," Young said. "I'm hurt that nothing good has happened to him since he left the Raiders. How can you find a better guy, a smarter football man, or a coach with better people skills? The answer is, you can't. Art's not asking for $4 million or total control of a franchise. He'd take the worst job in the league just to get an opportunity."

I asked Young what happens when he contacts the power brokers and reminds them of Shell's credentials. "They say how much they love him," Young said, "and then nothing happens. Bill Belichick is 37-45 [as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns], two clubs [the Jets and Patriots] are fighting over him, and Art's not even on their list?"

I asked Young to tell me the possible negatives on Shell. "I guess the Hostetler thing," he said, referring to a heated argument the coach and quarterback Jeff Hostetler had on the sideline during a game. As if that's a first in NFL history. "And there's the stigma attached sometimes to people who work for Al Davis."

That's funny. When Mike Shanahan went 8-12 with the Raiders, people said it was because of Davis. Shell went 56-41 and people say it's in spite of Al. Know this: Before Shell, Shanahan couldn't make the playoffs. In fact, Shell took over for Shanahan and made the playoffs that very same season (1989). Shell then took the Raiders to the playoffs three more times in the next four seasons. Since Shell's departure, Mike White (15-17), Joe Bugel (4-12) and Jon Gruden (16-16) have failed to lead the Raiders to the playoffs.

If Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson are really and truly out of the coaching game, there's one guy in the market for a job who is more qualified, using NFL criteria, than Shell is: Marty Schottenheimer (150-96-1). End of list. Everywhere I go, I hear men who played for Shell praising him. Instead, the Dolphins hired Wannstedt, who had total control in Chicago and ran the Bears into the ground.

The Dolphins said they would consider minority candidates, but never called Shell. Then they let Johnson, after losing his last two playoff games in Miami by a total of 100-10, hand-pick his successor. Parcells tried to hand-pick his successor, Belichick. Is it now blood succession that allows you to proceed to the throne? Isn't this fraternity exclusive enough without further limiting access?

Shell isn't a self-promoter. The man he works for, Dan Reeves, is even more low-key than Shell is and isn't a hand-pick kind of guy. "If the NFL is about winning, how could its teams ignore a guy who has been to the playoffs 25 times in 30 years as a player or coach?" Young asked. "I tell clubs, 'You need to talk to this guy. If you talk to him and don't want to hire him, fine. But don't leave him out of the process.' "

The executives who run the process don't have the decency to acknowledge Shell. The reporters who fail even to mention his name as a possible head coach are irresponsible. But you'll keep hearing this same old garbage, how there's nobody out there worth hiring. "There are fresh, innovative, bright people out there," Young said. "The people doing the hiring just don't want to look at the men in front of their noses."