Willie Wood, the first black head coach in professional football, is being accused of "discrimination."
Wood's Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League are being criticized by the college coaches association in Canada for rarely drafting Canadian-born quarterbacks and when they do, of switching them to other positions.
It is a charge that has been familiar in the United States. U.S. black college quarterbacks have encountered the same obstacle.
Wood was a successful quarterback at the University of Southern California, but he was not drafted by a National Football League team. He wrote to the Green Bay Packers for a tryout and was a safety under Vince Lombardi, eventually being selected on the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
The problem in Canada has to do with the quality of football played in college as against the caliber played at U.S. colleges. There is also a mathematical problem in the Canadian pro league.
The CFL squad limit is 34 players. There may be only 14 U.S. players on a team against 19 Canadians, plus one "designated import," who is restricted to playing quarterback.
Because the Canadian college quarterback usually are not as "schooled" or skilled as their U.S. counterparts, CFL teams seldom draft home-grown quarterbacks.
Because of the numbers game, CFL teams reserve two quarterback spots for U.S. players, one the "designated import."
"I let a Canadian quarterback named Scott Mallinger go and I got hell," Wood said yesterday on the telephone from Toronto. "There was quite a fuss.
"The Canadian College Football Association called it discrimination. I just told those coaches that I let the kid go because he had no chance to make our team. I had an option to try him as a defensive back, too.
"The college coaches complain that they can't motivate their quarterbacks with those players knowing they don't have much chance to make the pros, at that position. The other side for us is, that as a result of the Canadian quarterbacks not getting as much quality coaching as they do in U.S. colleges, they are not ready to play in the CFL right away," Wood continued.
"We keep a Canadian as the No. 3 quarterback if he can play another position. If we can keep him for two or three years we can train him well enough to make a competitive try at quarterback.
"Montreal now has a Canadian as its second-string quarterback, but they first used him as a wide receiver for two years."
Wood is in no trouble with Toronto fans.He is the toast of the city after coming off an 0-4 exhibition season and upsetting Montreal, finalist against Grey Cup champion Edmonton, 18-11, before an unusually large home crowd of 35,250 for his first victory as a CFL coach.
Though he couldn't land a head coaching job in the National Football League, at Toronto he succeeded Forrest Gregg, who got his second try as a head coach in the NFL at Cincinnati after failing at Cleveland.
Wood has taken the Argonauts, 4-12 in 1979, and turned them around with wholesale changes. Their next game is Wednesday against the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, not a highly regarded club. If Wood can keep the momentum, NFL teams are going to be watching.
The Argonauts' game was shown on cable television in the United States and CBS is preparing a feature on Wood for home television.
The Canadian media gave Wood high tributes for his "imaginative" offense, Fourteen of his starters are first-year men and regular quarterback Tony Adams, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, missed the opener with a shoulder injury. Terry Metcalf, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals, missed the exhibition season with a stretched knee ligament.
Metcalf carried the ball nine times for 20 yards in the opener and ran 22 yards on a short pass reception to set up a field goal.
Former defensive back Wood was gratified by the performance of his secondary, coached by Rickie Harris, former Redskin cornerback and former defensive backfield coach at Howard University. The Argonauts intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles.
Two Howard products tried out for the Argonauts, slot back Fitzherbert Fowler and split end Greg Scott. "They played well, "Wood said," and I hated to let them go, but we can carry so few on a squad of 34."
The Argonauts won the battle with Gren Bay to sign the Packers' No. 1 draft choice, end Bruce Clark of Penn State. Wood siad of his opening-game performance, "He played extremely well. He was best at rushing the passer; the Alouettes had trouble trying to block him."
Wood had the Argonauts so keyed up that when they intercepted a pass near the end of the game, defensive end-assistant coach Jim Corrigal did a cartwheel on the field. An Alouette threw a punch at him, a teammate of Corrigal unloaded a punch in his behalf and there was a lively scuffle before officials restored order.
It seemed as though Wood would have no morale problem for a while.