IT'S NOT THE sort of sports-quiz question you find on the back of a Wheaties box, yet it involves a record that has never been broken in the history of the National Football League: How many blacks have ever been head coaches of NFL teams? If you answered "one," you did quite well -- but you were still high. No black has ever been named head coach over the league's 64 years, and no black is even being named as a possible replacement in any of four cities where there are openings now. And as staff writer Gary Pomerantz noted in a detailed account on Friday, there are more assistant coaches than ever before who have good cause to bristle at the permanence of this statistic.
Today there are 32 black assistant coaches in the NFL (not counting "strength coaches") -- more than ever before. They can point to 62 coaching changes over the past decade without a black having been named head coach. While other major professional sports weren't overly quick to find black managers and head coaches, the NFL's total failure to produce any black head coach is not mitigated by the growing number of black assistant coaches. As Redskins Assistant General Manager Bobby Mitchell, who was the first black to play on George Preston Marshall's Redskins, commented to reporter Pomerantz, "Some reporter from Cleveland asked me 10 years ago when I thought there was going to be a black head coach in the NFL. I said call me in 10 years. His time is up. Why don't you call me in about five years?"
If talent means anything, it shouldn't take another minute. Not only are there 32 black NFL assistant coaches now, but there are black football coaches all over the country who just might possibly be able to do as well as some of the white head coaches who have been kicking around the league from one team o another over its history. "What you have is friends hiring friends," says Bobby Mitchell, "and you're getting a lot of bad coaching." Now how much coaching do owners need in their board rooms before they wake up to this possibility?