There’s No Excuse For Teams To Pass On Black Coaches

By Rob Parker
Updated: February 3, 2006

DETROIT — NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will have his state of the NFL address today.

Tagliabue, of course, will tell you how great he and his league are. He’ll tell you about how many fans the league has and all the money it’s pulling in.

What he won’t share with you is his plan to rid the NFL of that ugly wart planted on its nose, that dirty little secret that simply won’t go away.

That’s because Tags hasn’t come up with one to give equal footing to all in his league.

When it comes to hiring black head coaches, the NFL stands for No Fair-hiring League.

What a disgrace.

Ten jobs, no hires

If there was ever any proof of that, it has been this offseason. With 10 head-coaching vacancies — the Oakland Raiders job is still open — and the feeling that owners were looking for new blood, not retreads, many believed two or three new African-American coaches would be hired.

Instead, blacks were shut out. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Don’t count Herman Edwards, who went from the New York Jets to the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s not a new hire.

Arguably, three of the best coaches in the NFL this past season are black — Lovie Smith (11-5), Tony Dungy (14-2) and Marvin Lewis (11-5). With that being the case, many believed the NFL, a copycat league — if something works elsewhere others will try it, too — was ready to change its ways.

Nope. Worse is the motley crew of coaches who have been hired. It’s one thing if big-time coaches with unmatched resumes are hired, but Mike McCarty? He was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, who went 4-12.

Mike Singletary, Tim Lewis and Maurice Carthon, all former players who are black and now coaching in the league, have resumes that are just as good as the guys who were hired.

“I thought we’d have more minorities this year with so many job openings,” Steelers owner Dan Rooney said. “It was a difficult year in the number of people who were out there, that people knew.

“It didn’t matter that they were minorities or not. I felt with the success that minorities had, would jump-start it.”

Level the playing field

This isn’t about giving people something. Nobody is looking for coach welfare. It’s about equal opportunity. The only reason the NFL, once 100 percent white, is now 75 percent black is because there’s an equal playing field. The guy who plays and performs the best gets the gig.

It just isn’t that way in coaching.

“It’s not for me to pass judgment on the owner or GM wants to hire,” Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. “There are a lot of quality African-American coaches out there.

“I have respect for them all. Their time is going to come.”

Art Shell was the first black head coach in the modern era when he was hired in Oakland in 1989.

It was 68 years after Fritz Pollard, the first black head coach, was hired by the Akron Pros.

But now, this shouldn’t be an issue. We shouldn’t be counting heads and trying to figure out colors of people. Sadly, we still have to. The Rooney Rule mandates that a team includes at least one minority in the interview process for head-coaching gigs.

“I think the league has honestly tried the last few years to change the interview process, to allow the black coaches to get more shots at it,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said.

Token interviews

Unfortunately, some teams just give token interviews and have no intentions of giving a black man the job.

Holmgren said he spoke to a group at a black coaches function and told them the importance of the interview process.

At that time, many said that if they didn’t believe they had a real shot at the job, they wouldn’t even go on the interview.

“There was a little bit of a feeling like that,” Holmgren said. “So my talk to them at that particular time was `Don’t look at it like that.’

“I interviewed with five or six different teams before it finally happened for me. Each time, not only did I learn something, but that team’s ownership group learned something about me.”

Holmgren said he believes that the best man for the job should get hired.

It’s almost insulting to hear some coaches talk about the merits of black coaches.

“I know this — the minority coaches on my staff are very qualified guys and any chance I have, I’d be happy to recommend,” Holmgren said. “There’s a learning progression.

“Every chance that a minority coach, or any coach, gets to be a coordinator helps with the next step.”

Sadly, many black coaches can’t get that first step. One of the best ways into to the NFL is through the college system.

But major college football’s record of hiring African Americans is even worse than the NFL’s.

Jimmy Johnson, Nick Saban and Butch Davis are among those able to make a name for themselves in college and make the transition to the pros. There is no black pool to draw from.

Union shares blame

The players and the NFL Players’ Association are to blame, too.

There should be more demands and outcry by its membership. Instead, players privately gripe about it to black members of the media but are afraid to speak out and call attention to it.

It’s an absolute disgrace. Union president Gene Upshaw should be embarrassed that this has happened under his watch and that more progress hasn’t been made.

It’s not too much for a union to want its former players to have equal opportunity for a job after they can’t play anymore.

Unfortunately, those coaching gigs and big-time TV gigs only go to whites.

Except for the numbers of blacks playing on the field, not much has changed in this league since the 1950s.

“You would like for it to happen,” Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch said. “But it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.

“It was a process to get to the point that we are now. Hopefully, in the next few years, that will change.”

NBA is more advanced

The NBA and NFL basically mirror each other. More than 75 percent of the players in both leagues are African American.

Yet, the NBA is a million miles ahead of the NFL in this respect — there is no mandate to include African Americans in the hiring process.

That’s because it’s not an issue in the NBA and hasn’t been for decades. The first black coach was Bill Russell in 1967, 22 years before the modern NFL’s

“I don’t know that the NFL is so far behind,” Rooney said. “We took the steps to try to bring it to the front and do what is right, in what we did.

“We’re not going to follow the NBA. We’re going to do what we think is right for the National Football League.”

In spite of the snail’s-pace progress, Rooney is still optimistic that this won’t be an issue in years to come.

“We have it going in the right direction,” he said. “We have to continue to work at it. In all honesty, we didn’t do a lot of work in the front-office type situation.

“We know that teams do know. We know they interviewed minority candidates.”

The results, though, have been fruitless. Black coaches shouldn’t have to wait at the back of the line anymore. Just like the black quarterback thing isn’t an issue anymore.

“I think it will happen,” Cowher said. “It’s hard for me to think an owner has to be mandated because you don’t know what they are looking for, sometimes it isn’t the right situation.

“So I think guys have to be patient. I think every time a guy gets interviewed, it helps them grow as coaches.”

Time has simply run out for the NFL to do the right thing. Shame on you, Paul Tagliabue