Lovie Smith smiles during his introductory news conference with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Chris O’Meara/The Associated Press)

The head of the diversity group that works closely with the NFL on its hiring practices said Tuesday that teams league-wide have done a far better job in recent weeks of giving legitimate consideration to minority head coaching candidates than they did a year ago.

The Detroit Lions’ hiring Tuesday of Jim Caldwell as their coach means that two NFL teams have hired minority head coaches during this hiring cycle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith earlier this month. Caldwell and Smith are African American.

Last year, no minority coaches were among the eight head coaches hired league-wide.

“It’s not so much the numbers,” John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It’s the process. We were very disappointed in the way the process went last year. We felt in many cases last year it was [interviews with minority candidates being done for the purpose of] complying with the rule, rather than going through the process and really doing what the rule is there for.

“The rule is there for opportunity based on being qualified for the job. … That’s what was disappointing to us. This year is totally different. We give a great deal of credit to the NFL for the approach they have taken.”

The Fritz Pollard Alliance was formed to promote diversity in hiring in the NFL.

By rule, each team with a head coaching vacancy must interview at least one minority candidate.

Wooten and other leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance have said in the past they are less concerned about the number of minority coaches hired than they are about ensuring the rules governing the interviewing process are followed and minority candidates are given fair opportunities to compete for jobs.

The issue generated increased attention last year, when minority candidates also were shut out in the hiring of seven general managers league-wide.

“The NFL said to the owners, ‘This is not the way we should do our business,’ ” Wooten said Tuesday. “We believe so strongly in the process, that it’s the right way to do it. We want the owners to only interview a candidate if it’s someone they would really be willing to hire. We don’t want it to just be compliance with the rule. We want there to be true interest. We felt that the league did an outstanding job of communicating that to the owners and the people doing the hiring.”

Five NFL teams, including the Washington Redskins, have filled head coaching vacancies since the regular season ended. The Redskins hired Jay Gruden. The Houston Texans hired Bill O’Brien. The Tennessee Titans hired Ken Whisenhunt. Those three coaches are white.

The Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings continue to search for head coaches.

Jim Caldwell interviewed for the Redskins' coaching job and was hired Tuesday by the Lions (Getty Images) Jim Caldwell interviewed for the Redskins’ coaching job and was hired Tuesday by the Lions (Getty Images)

The Redskins are known to have interviewed at least two minority candidates, Caldwell and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. They also are believed to have attempted to arrange a meeting with Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin before they hired Gruden and Franklin was hired at Penn State to replace O’Brien.

Wooten said he has no objections to any of the coaching searches conducted by the seven teams with head coaching vacancies during this hiring cycle. Two teams, the Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins, continue to conduct general manager searches.

“That’s all you can ask for,” Wooten said. “I haven’t seen one interview situation this year where I felt it was just an interview for the sake of compliance with the rule. I don’t have that feeling about any interview that has happened this year. I’ve always said there are plenty of good candidates out there. They’re all over the place. We still have the process with the general managers in Tampa and Miami. I think they’re going to come up with some outstanding people to run their ballclub.”

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

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