Lack of hiring judgment right there in black, white

December 31, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

You'd think by now that NFL teams would tire of their own ineptitude, and the embarrassment of firing coach after coach.

You'd think by now they'd start hiring coaches who share a common background with their players, not their owner.

The owners are 100 percent white. The players are two-thirds black. Yet, white candidates again head the lists of the teams searching for new coaches.

Mike Holmgren and George Seifert won Super Bowls, so they warrant the most interest. But why are unproven whites preferable to unproven blacks?

That's easy.

The owners are more comfortable with them.

Art Modell is an exception -- the Ravens are the industry leader in minority hiring, with more blacks in their front office than any other team.

Modell fired a black defensive coordinator and four other black assistant coaches Monday in dismissing Ted Marchibroda and his entire staff.

But vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome said yesterday that the team had "serious interest" in more than one minority head coaching candidate.

"We're looking for the best coach. We're not looking at color," said Newsome, who is black. "I can only speak for the Modell family and myself. Race has nothing to do with it."

The Ravens badly want Seifert, but if they can't get him, they likely will consider three minority candidates -- Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham, Eagles defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas and perhaps former Raiders coach Art Shell. It only makes sense, considering the qualifications of those individuals, and that 40 of the 53 players on the Ravens' final roster were black. We're not saying that black coaches relate better to black players than white coaches -- a bad coach is a bad coach, no matter his skin color.

What we're saying is that if the owners can't understand equal opportunity, they should consider the bottom line, bless their PSL-loving hearts.

They can't be trusted to do the right thing, or they would have done it already. They can't even be trusted to watch the videotapes that the league office is preparing to showcase viable minority candidates.

They're not social engineers; they're ruthless tycoons.

And their hiring practices resulted in 11 coaching changes in 1996, four in '97 and seven in '98, with the potential of three more to come.

This is smart business?

Winning maximizes profits. Dennis Green is winning in Minnesota. Tony Dungy has made Tampa Bay a contender. Even Ray Rhodes, fired Monday by Philadelphia, was NFL Coach of the Year in '95.

Who's to say Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak would be a better head coach than Oakland defensive coordinator Willie Shaw? That Shell doesn't deserve a second chance after going 56-41 in Oakland?

You'd think by now the lessons would be obvious.

Green, Dungy and Rhodes were the only black coaches in the NFL last season. The last 16 coaches hired have been white.

That list includes Marchibroda, Dick Vermeil, Jim Mora and Mike Ditka. It does not include Bruce Coslet and Norv Turner.

Those six coaches are a combined 89-157-2 in their most recent tenures. And only Marchibroda has been fired.

A top black couldn't do better?

Now comes the next wave -- three offensive coordinators (Kubiak, Brian Billick, Chris Palmer), two defensive coordinators (Jim Haslett and Greg Robinson) and one fired head coach (Dom Capers).

Maybe all of them will make fine head coaches. Maybe none of them will.

But the top minority candidates deserve the same chance to succeed -- or fail.

To be sure, nothing is guaranteed. Willingham has won only four of his last 17 games at Stanford. Thomas has never been a head coach. Shell's final Raiders team set an NFL record for most penalties in a season.

Still, what are we talking about?

If the Ravens hire Willingham, they can say that Green was 16-18 at Stanford before the Vikings hired him, and that Steve Mariucci was 6-6 at Cal -- with a loss to Navy in the Aloha Bowl -- before replacing Seifert in San Francisco.

Thomas' lack of head coaching experience? Virtually every coordinator faces that obstacle. Shell's failure to hold the Raiders together? The team hasn't been above .500 in the four pTC seasons since he departed, and Al Davis called his firing "a mistake."

Teams create rationales to hire white coaches, excuses not to hire blacks. Ray Handley, Rich Kotite and David Shula were deemed "qualified." Each was white. Each was a spectacular flop.

Remember when teams ran from black quarterbacks? Randall Cunningham is an MVP candidate. Steve McNair could be a future MVP. Three more black quarterbacks could be chosen in the top 15 picks of the next NFL draft.

You'd think by now that NFL owners would take the final step, and hire an appropriate number of black coaches.

Who knows?

Some of them might even keep their jobs.

Pub Date: 12/31/98

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