Lack of Minority Hiring Called a Disappointment
NFL's New Coaches Are Mostly White And Mostly Young
By Mark Maske and Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 20, 2006; E09
The head of the group formed to promote minority hiring in the NFL said yesterday that the organization is "very disappointed and surprised" by the lack of diversity among the new head coaches named by teams over the past two weeks, but it won't seek further changes to the rules governing the interviewing and hiring process for coaches.
"We don't question the process," John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said in a telephone interview. "The process has been great. We're disappointed with the results. We're surprised. But we're on the right track. It's not like it was a few years ago. Back then, very few guys even got interviews."
Ten NFL teams parted with their coaches during or just after the regular season, and eight have hired or reportedly have chosen replacements. Only one of the newly picked coaches -- Herman Edwards, who was released from his contract with the New York Jets and hired by the Kansas City Chiefs -- is black. The Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders still are searching for coaches.
This is the fourth hiring cycle for coaches since the NFL, under the threat of litigation, implemented a rule -- known widely as the "Rooney Rule" for Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the head of the league's workplace diversity committee -- requiring each club with a head-coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate. This could be the first time in those four hiring cycles that the number of minority coaches in the league didn't increase.
The league had an all-time-high six minority coaches this season -- Edwards, the Indianapolis Colts' Tony Dungy, the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith, the Cincinnati Bengals' Marvin Lewis, the Arizona Cardinals' Dennis Green and the Cleveland Browns' Romeo Crennel. Only Edwards and Dungy were in the jobs they held this season before the Rooney Rule was enacted. Edwards's switch of teams leaves the league still with six minority coaches, but Dungy this week did not rule out possible retirement after a trying season in which his 18-year-old son, James, died.
Dungy, Smith and Lewis led their clubs to the playoffs this season, and Smith was voted NFL coach of the year. Wooten said he thought that might lead to more diversity in this offseason's coaching hirings, particularly with so many openings.
He said he thought two minority candidates, Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who is Hispanic, and New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, would be the finalists for the St. Louis Rams' head-coaching job. Instead, the Rams settled on Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Scott Linehan yesterday. Wooten said he thought Lewis would vie with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm for the Detroit Lions' job. Instead, the Lions announced the hiring of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line coach Rod Marinelli yesterday.
"As I've said to our guys, I'm very disappointed and surprised," Wooten said. "From what we've heard, things went very well during the interview process. I know there have been some changes of heart [by teams selecting coaches]. . . . We've told the coaches, 'We understand disappointment because we're disappointed as well. But don't be discouraged. Keep working at it.'
"With the success of the diversity program in the NFL, with the success of Lovie Smith and Marvin Lewis, we thought that would open some doors this year. We're surprised. We've seen some things we don't understand. But we're not on the inside of the process, so it's hard to understand every decision. We're not going to give up. We're not going to despair to the point where we say, 'We don't have a chance.' We still think the NFL has a great program in place."
Wooten did not express concerns that any of the teams looking for coaches this month violated the interview rule. With the Raiders and Bills still searching for coaches, Washington-based attorney Cyrus Mehri, who serves as counsel for the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said he is still hopeful that a minority candidate could land a job.
The Raiders have interviewed San Diego Chargers wide receivers coach James Lofton and might be interested in their former head coach, Art Shell. The Bills interviewed Lofton yesterday and, according to a source, might be interested in Colts assistant head coach Jim Caldwell. But reports have pegged Lions defensive coordinator Dick Jauron -- formerly the Bears' head coach who served as Detroit's interim coach this season after Steve Mariucci was fired -- and former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman as the front-runners in Buffalo and the Raiders reportedly are interested in a college coach, Bobby Petrino of Louisville.
"It's still too early to make any final judgment . . . so we're still hopeful that we'll add more minority coaches," Mehri said. "I do think we have a greatly improved process and a record number of interviews [with minority candidates], and we're ultimately looking for some good results with the remaining spots. We had all these openings and many teams interviewed two or more of our candidates, and that's always good.
"Some of the hires have raised some eyebrows, particularly Green Bay and the Jets, just because of the lack of experience in the people they picked. I'm not saying those teams broke any rules, but those were a little surprising."
Rooney said by phone that the lack of minority hirings this month "is a concern, yes," but added: "Then again, if they say we've got the old-boy network going, well, Herm Edwards, I guess, is part of it because he got a better job.
"I think we're still in a position where things are definitely improved. People are getting legitimate interviews, and that's good for the future, too. If a guy is good, if he doesn't get it this time, he'll have a better shot the next time and these things are talked about all around the league."
Edwards is different than the league's other just-hired head coaches, and not only because he is black. He has head-coaching experience and he was relatively expensive, signing a four-year contract with the Chiefs worth about $3 million per season. Marinelli and Linehan continued the trend of clubs selecting coaches who not only are white, but have no previous head-coaching experience and came relatively cheap.
The only one of the new coaches with any previous head-coaching experience is Edwards's successor with the Jets, former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, and his head-coaching experience came with a semipro team in Australia while studying abroad as a college undergraduate. Four of the new coaches are younger than the league's youngest head coach this season, the Buccaneers' 42-year-old Jon Gruden. Linehan, the Packers' Mike McCarthy and the New Orleans Saints' Sean Payton also are 42. Mangini turned 35 yesterday.
Teams passed over just-fired head coaches such as the Rams' Mike Martz, the Saints' Jim Haslett and the Minnesota Vikings' Mike Tice to give chances to untested assistant coaches.
"We went through a period where they were hiring the older guys -- and I say that in a nice way -- the [Bill] Parcells, [Joe] Gibbs, [Dick] Vermeils and [Marty] Schottenheimers," said Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association. "But now it looks like they're going the other way. It's swinging back now to the younger guys."
Kennan said he thinks that eight to 10 NFL head coaches will earn less money next season than Gregg Williams, who signed a three-year contract extension reportedly worth $7.8 million to remain in charge of the Washington Redskins' defense as Gibbs's top assistant. Aside from Edwards, most or all of the newly hired head coaches probably will fall into that category.
"I think in different places money is definitely an issue," Kennan said. "I think it is in Buffalo and New Orleans. But in St. Louis it was never about the money. To be honest, I would have thought that guys like Martz, Sherman and Haslett would have gotten another chance. These are veteran guys who have had some success. But it's been for the most part about the younger guys."