Myth: Walsh Didn’t Promote Hiring Of Black Coaches

By Kenneth N. Robinson
Updated: September 8, 2007

BUFFALO — Recently I read a column by Bob DiCesare where he extolled the late Bill Walsh, former head coach and executive of the San Francisco 49ers, for his contributions to the progress of coaches that are black in the NFL. However, several of DiCesare’s points warrant clarification and even correction.

It was the NFL, not Walsh, that created the Black Coaches Visitation Program in 1979 that allowed coaches from historically black colleges to shadow NFL coaches during the summer. By 1984, Walsh created the minority coaching symposiums in San Francisco, supposedly to help black coaches improve their resume writing and interviewing skills.

But in 1995, when the 49ers hired Steve Mariucci from the University of California as the “next Bill Walsh,” he bragged to Sports Illustrated that he never really interviewed for the 49ers head coaching job — nor had Walsh when he was hired. However, Mariucci’s hire without a formal interview is an example of why black coaches questioned the need to shadow NFL coaches and practice interviewing and resume writing, when white coaches did not need to do the same.

In 1987, the NFL followed Walsh’s tack and changed the Black Coaches Visitation Program to the Minority Coaching Fellowship. Although these initiatives have been lauded for increasing the number of black assistants, the programs were never designed to affect a greater number of blacks as head coaches.

In the case of Walsh, a number of black males have ascended to head coach and he is often cited as the difference maker. But the Walsh factor has proven to be a doubleedged sword for black coaches as those with no connection to him are even less likely to be hired as head coaches.

In 2003, Walsh as a consultant with the 49ers had a golden opportunity to hire a qualified head coaching candidate in Ted Cottrell, who is black and had established himself as one of the premier defensive coordinators in the game while in Buffalo. Instead, Walsh, team owner Dr. John York and the general manager, Terry Donahue, perpetrated an awful charade when they paraded black coaches like Cottrell in front of the media as serious candidates.

On the other hand, the 49ers’ officials interviewed coaches who are white in secret at a hotel near the team’s headquarters. Hence Cottrell’s agent called the Niners’ hiring process a “dog and pony show” when Dennis Erickson emerged with the head coaching job after never being mentioned as a candidate.

Moreover, the 49ers deliberately sought to keep such interviews with white coaches a secret by having them sign confidentiality agreements not to reveal that they had interviewed.

So I disagree that Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith’s ascension to the Super Bowl was so significant in light of Bill Walsh’s legacy, as his coaching symposiums as well as the NFL’s were never designed to increase the number of blacks as head coaches.

In the four years since the Rooney Rule was adopted in 2003, black males are still outnumbered, 8-1, as head coaches. Furthermore, white males still fill three of every four head coaching jobs in the NFL.