Generally, the National Football League has been sensitive to suggestions about how to improve its product over the years. There is overtime; the guilty player on penalties now is publicly fingered; the officials consult with one another on the field and -- gasp -- even admit mistakes sometimes. The game is more entertaining than ever -- and dramatically safer.

At least two areas need improvement: black players still do not have an equal chance at football-related jobs when their careers are over and fans still do not get full return for their ticket money.

A study released by the NFL Players Association Monday confirms the obvious: that while blacks are in almost 50 percent of the playing positions they are in an almost minuscule number of coaching and management positions. Some numbers cannot be ignored any longer.

In the 20 years since 1960, an average of one of five NFL players was black. But an average of just one of 13 former NFL players hired as NFL assistant coaches was black. And none of the 68 former NFL players hired as NFL head coaches during that period was black.

Race was a more significant factor than education, leadership and accomplishments as a player, said the John Hopkins sociolgist who conducted the study, Jomills Braddock II. He added that excluding race, but including the other factors, that 92 black assistants and 10 black head coaches should have been hired in the last two decades.

The emphasis of the response by Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, was almost as tasteless as it was evasive. Instead of admitting those numbers were almost numbing, he charged that Garvey arranged their timing to bolster his position as head of the NFLPA from an attack by some player agents.

If he has, so what?

Garvey hardly is the first to bore into the issue -- and whatever practical benefits come of it for him hardly negate the fact that the league must work to correct the problem.

Of course, the study did not touch one important factor: the pool from which many pro assistants and head coaches come. Many NFL executives are not much more knowledgeable than NFL fans about potential head coaches. This is why New Orleans, for instance, has been among the sorriest franchises in all of sports during its 14-year history.

What the brightest NFL minds have learned over the years is that, like race horses, a potential coach's football breeding is vitally important. Many coaches win; few produce head coaches, either from their former players or assistants.

Nobody is totally sure why, but almost none of Vince Lombardi's former players or assistants have become more than moderately successful head coaches. Neither have Don Shula's, or at least so far. Nobody who has worked regularly for Tom Landry has even been offered a significant pro job, though Danny Reeves is whispered to have immense ability.

Paul Brown's football progeny do well as coaches. Chuck Nol, Weeb Ewbank and Shula, to name the coaches of half the 14 Super Bowl winners, had extensive training under Brown. But the Bold Ruler of coaches still is Bear Bryant. He has produced more successful head coaches than anyone probably ever will.

The point here is that a few key leaders, within the colleges and the NFL, must target the black players with clear coaching potential, allow them to develop and then campaign to give them every chance to run over previous barriers.

For its paying customers, the NFL still does not offer as much action as the colleges. It very likely has more diversity and a higher degree of sophistication; it's players are swifter and stronger.

But the colleges run more plays.

Most of the college factories are able to cram more runs and passes into the same 60-minute game then the pros. Most games between major colleges have many more plays than most NFL games.

Last week the Oklahoma-Iowa State game had 15 more plays than the Eagles vs. the Bears. Nebraska vs. Colorado had 146 plays; the Redskins vs. the Saints had 130. Penn State got off 77 plays against West Virginia; the Oakland Raiders got off 65 against Seattle.

In the most remarkable contrast of all, Maryland's Charlie Wysocki carried the ball himself against Duke four more times than everyone with the New England Patriots passed and ran against Buffalo. Wysocki ran 50 times Saturday; the Pats ran 46 plays Sunday.


"We (the pros) use a lot more motion, which stretches time," said Redskin assistant Fred O'Conner. "Also, our quarterbacks have the liberty of a pre-snap read (a few seconds before the count where they can judge the defense and determine whether an alternate play called at the line is necessary)."

The colleges have 25 seconds to run their plays; the NFL has 30.

Until all those situation substitutions became fashionable a few years ago, the pros certainly seemed capable of running a play in the same allotted time as the colleges. Perhaps that no longer is possible. But the pros could stop the clock while the first-down chains are being moved, as the colleges do. And begin to consider other ways to offer their fans more plays per dollar.

It is almost impossible to understand why former Redskins Len Hauss and Brig Owens failed to disquality themselves from voting on former teammate John Riggins' fate before the NFL Player-Club Relations Committee last week. This is not to imply that they would not be impartial, for Hauss has voted with management in other cases.

But Hauss was dropped by the very Redskin management that is fighting Riggins. Surely there were two other active or former players, with no blatant ties with Riggins, acceptable to the NFLPA for the hearing. Hauss and Owens sided with Riggins, the NFL management representatives sided with the Redskins. So the matter will be determined, possibly within a month, by an arbitrator agreed upon by both sides.

The second-best rookie runner in the NFL, Joe Cribbs of Buffalo, very nearly was a Redskin. If someone ahead of them in the first round had taken wide receiver Art Monk, the Redskins would have grabbed Cribbs. They rated him the second-best running prospect in the draft, behind Billy Sims but far superior to the more publicized Charles White.

Some Redskin officials the day of the draft were certain they would choose the relatively unknown Cribbs, the assumption being that either Kansas City, which eventually took guard Brad Budde, or someone else before them would snap up Monk.

Had they realized Riggins would not be available this year, the Redskins might well have drafted Cribbs instead of Monk anyway. They are quite satisfied with Monk.