NFL’s next step: Get more minorities in coaching pipeline, starting with offensive coordinators
By Jason Reid,
NFL owners batted 1.000 in ﬁlling head coaching positions: eight openings, eight white guys hired. Including the seven recent general manager vacancies, minorities were shut out from all 15 of the league’s top available jobs during this hiring cycle. That’s the type of perfection the Rooney Rule was supposed to end. Seems like it’s time for new rules.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance has some good ideas. The group oversees compliance with the NFL rule that mandates that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for each head coach and general manager vacancy, and it’s proposing expanding the rule to include coordinators, assistant head coaches and club presidents. The intent is to increase the pool of minority candidates for the highest-ranking posts in football operations, and break through a barrier on the business side of the sport (no NFL team has had a minority president).
“It’s clear we’ve got to do more — and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said John Wooten, chairman of the group of minority coaches, front-office officials and scouts named after the NFL’s first African-American coach.
Just four minority head coaches are in place for the 2013 season, the fewest since 2003, in a league in which more than 70 percent of the players are African-American. Last week, the commissioner’s office publicly expressed disappointment about the poor hiring results. Broadening the Rooney Rule to include more positions, especially offensive coordinator, could help the league get back on track.
As an emphasis on pass interference enforcement has opened up offenses and lit up scoreboards, play-callers have gained favored status on NFL sidelines. Of the eight head coaches hired, only Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley has a defensive background. The rest cut their teeth on the other side of the ball. Five spent time as NFL offensive coordinators.
That leads to the problem: Rarely are minorities hired to run offenses. In mid-December, Baltimore quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell replaced fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. After Caldwell’s promotion, guess how many African-American offensive coordinators there were in the 32-team league? One. Caldwell was the list.
There are now two. Indianapolis hired former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton after offensive coordinator Bruce Arians left to become Arizona’s head coach.
On offense, you’ll primarily find African Americans coaching running backs and wide receivers, but for whatever reason, they seldom rise from that level. Several have told me they felt pigeonholed by their head coaches.
“It’s what used to be said about black quarterbacks,” said Cyrus Mehri, co-founder and counsel of the Pollard Alliance.
Most of the quarterback stereotypes have faded into history. Thanks to the performances of pioneers such as Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb, teams are now color-blind when it comes to the most important position in the game. Now, “we need to expand the Rooney rule . . . to deal more with these pipeline issues” for offensive coordinators, Mehri said.
The other big problem is the apparent double standard when it comes to second chances. Andy Reid and Lovie Smith both lost their jobs this offseason after long tenures in Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively. Each won multiple division titles and made a Super Bowl appearance.
Reid needed five days to find a new job, with Kansas City; Smith is still waiting.
Caldwell, meantime, didn’t even get a chance to make a pitch. As a rookie head coach with Indianapolis in 2009, Caldwell won his first 14 games. Indianapolis advanced to the Super Bowl, losing to New Orleans, and won another AFC South title the next season. Last season, with Peyton Manning sidelined, the Colts went 2-14, and Caldwell was fired. This season, after landing on John Harbaugh’s staff in Baltimore, Caldwell has helped quarterback Joe Flacco play the best football of his career en route to the Super Bowl.
“And Jim Caldwell can’t even get an interview,” Wooten said. “These are the things that disappoint you as much as no one getting a job.”
The Rooney Rule has had a positive impact, but when compliance still allows the league to go a collective 0 for 8, it’s clear more needs to be done. The NFL has done a respectable job of monitoring how its top jobs are awarded. As the Pollard Alliance points out, now is the time to broaden the initiative to make sure the path to those jobs is just as free of obstacles.
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