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Dolphins' Coaching Search Draws Scrutiny

By Mark Maske and Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 21, 2004; Page D03

The group formed to promote minority hiring in the NFL wrote a letter to a league representative yesterday objecting to the manner in which the Miami Dolphins are conducting their head-coaching search.

Harry Carson, the former New York Giants linebacker who is the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said the letter was to be sent yesterday afternoon to Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the head of the league's workplace diversity committee. Carson said his group questions whether the Dolphins are giving serious consideration to any minority candidates in their coaching search. The team is reportedly prepared to offer the job to LSU Coach Nick Saban.

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Carson met with Rooney on Friday in New York, and said in a telephone interview yesterday: "I'm a little disappointed with the way the [Dolphins' search] process has gone so far. . . . As far as the alliance is concerned, working with the diversity committee, a lot of progress has been made. [But] we also expressed disappointment with what has transpired with the Dolphins."

The Dolphins interviewed former Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell, now an executive with the league, yesterday. That fulfills the league requirement, commonly called the "Rooney Rule," that at least one minority candidate be interviewed by each team looking for a head coach. Dolphins officials say they have conducted no contract talks with Saban, who interviewed for the job last week. But there have been reports that he soon will be offered the job.

There also have been reports that the Dolphins sought to interview University of Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, who is black, as is Shell. Saban is white.

"We'd like to see the Miami Dolphins embrace the Rooney rule and not do a razzle-dazzle move around the rule,'' said Cyrus Mehri, the Washington attorney who was instrumental in the formation of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, named for the NFL's first black coach.

"We believe the Dolphins should extend the hiring process to Jan. 3 to include all candidates who will be available then, white and black candidates," Mehri said. "We want them to cast a wide net and make it an inclusive process. . . . If Nick Saban is the spectacular candidate he is, he should be able to compete with a full list of candidates. We think teams should stay the full course in their searches."

Coaches under contract to other NFL teams cannot be interviewed until after the regular season ends on Jan. 2. League representatives cautioned that all the specifics of the Dolphins' search -- including who has been interviewed -- might not be public at this point. Rooney said the Dolphins' search process will be reviewed. "It's too early in the process to say anything else,'' Rooney said. "But we will look into [Miami] and every other vacancy."

Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene said, "Our president, Eddie Jones, has stated from the very beginning that this hiring process will be conducted in a way that will be fully compliant with NFL guidelines, including tampering and diversity procedures, and will be conducted with integrity."

Carson said his concern is whether the Dolphins will give legitimate consideration to any minority candidates. "I guess there's no way of legislating it," Carson said. "Anyone can call an African American candidate. All we're asking is to level the playing field. There are many outstanding candidates out there. In the past, they wouldn't be considered. . . . The NFL can mandate who someone interviews, but it really comes down to the individual owner and general manager and how they want to conduct the process. The league is making an effort."

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined Detroit Lions President Matt Millen $200,000 for failing to interview any minority candidates before he hired Steve Mariucci as his team's coach last year, and threatened fines of $500,000 or more for future violations league-wide.

Six of the NFL's 32 head coaches are black, counting Cleveland Browns interim coach Terry Robiskie. Four of the six have been hired since the Rooney rule was put into effect by acclamation of the owners two hiring cycles ago, under the threat of litigation.

Shapiro contributed to this report from Green Bay, Wis.

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