As M. Lewis still waits, NFL runs out of excuses

January 11, 2002|By Mike Preston

MIKE TICE was named head coach of the Minnesota Vikings yesterday. Early speculation has Nick Saban taking the top job with the Indianapolis Colts. And then there is Steve Spurrier, who can pick one of several possible openings.

So where does that leave Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis? Wondering when it will become his time again.

NFL owners apparently have cooled on Lewis, once the NFL's "hot" coaching commodity last season, despite the Ravens having one of the best defenses in the league again.

It would be so presumptuous, so ridiculous to suggest that the Good Old Boy network known as the NFL would ignore Lewis because he is an African-American. That's why I've decided to look at other logical reasons, and here are my conclusions on why Lewis is not in the running for a job:

Lewis is not a top candidate because he wasn't a head coach in the Southeastern Conference; Lewis is not a top choice because his defense slipped from No. 1 in points allowed to No. 4 this season; the league office doesn't have the Ravens' or Lewis' phone numbers. That's about it.

Teams aren't allowed to interview prospects until their teams are out of the playoffs, but they can contact the respective teams. As of yesterday morning, neither Ravens owner Art Modell nor Ozzie Newsome, the team's senior vice president of football operations, had been contacted about Lewis.

It's a shame and a sham.

"It's hard to understand," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "When you look at his credentials compared to other people, you have to ask yourself why he doesn't have a job. I don't know if it's black or white, but it's a very touchy subject."

League officials know there is a problem, and it might become bigger soon. There were only three African-American coaches among the 31 teams before the season, and only two remaining after the Vikings and Dennis Green parted ways last week.

If Tampa Bay fires Tony Dungy, which could happen if the Buccaneers don't win the Super Bowl, then the New York Jets' Herman Edwards would be the only African-American head coach in a league that's 60 percent black.

League commissioner Paul Tagliabue knows there is a growing concern. He recently reminded the owners about the importance of conducting an open hiring process, something he usually doesn't do publicly until the jobs are filled and he needs to pacify minority hiring groups.

Lewis hasn't said much about being left out. He prefers to concentrate on the playoffs. But this has to sting, just like it did for Dungy and Green when they were passed over countless times. Just like it does for Art Shell, who hasn't been given another chance despite going to the playoffs during four of the five years he coached the Oakland Raiders.

Lewis has paid his dues, especially coming to Baltimore, where he initially had to work with trash-heap players such as Jerrol Williams, Mike Croel and Ike Booth. His resume is just as impressive as Saban's or Spurrier's. He has worked under two of the league's most highly recognized families, the Rooneys in Pittsburgh and the Modells in Baltimore.

You know he is organized because he has worked for two of the league's top coaches, the Steelers' Bill Cowher and the Ravens' Brian Billick.

Though he hasn't run his own program, neither Saban nor Spurrier has developed NFL players such as Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper, Kevin Greene or Greg Lloyd. There has to be just as many questions about whether both Saban and Spurrier can develop a rapport with pro players, especially Spurrier, who irritated a lot of front-office personnel when he coached the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits to a 35-19 record from 1983 to 1985.

Lewis has already proved that, and he has won. He built one of the best defenses in league history last season, one that shattered the record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season. This year's defense isn't as good, but no one with an ounce of realism expected the Ravens to be as dominant.

But they are No. 4 in points allowed, ranked in the top five in seven categories. They are back in the playoffs, and if the Ravens win the Super Bowl again, it will be because Lewis and the defense carried them through the postseason.

"When he tells you something, it's strictly to help you," said Boulware. "It's always in your best interest as a player. There are a lot of coaches who just like to talk, not Marvin. He is a great teacher, and gets the utmost respect."

You can't under-value what Saban (still as LSU) or Spurrier have done. Along with Tice, they could become great NFL coaches. But they don't have to jump through as many hoops. With African-American assistants, they had to become a coordinator, then the coordinator of a Super Bowl team.

As soon as African-American coaches like Green Bay's Sherm Lewis filled those qualifications, then you had to become a coordinator who "called the plays" for a Super Bowl-winning team.

Let's look a Tice's resume. He has never been more than an offensive line coach, even though he was given the title of assistant head/offensive line coach for this season.

Last year, there were some who said Lewis suffered from poor timing, that teams couldn't wait for him while the Ravens went to the Super Bowl. But the owners waited for Buddy Ryan when he was with the Bears in 1985. The Ravens waited for Billick until the 1998 NFC championship game.

Shouldn't the Detroit Lions have waited for Marvin Lewis last season instead of hiring Marty Mornhinweg?

It's all unbelievable. Possibly the best defensive coordinator in the game can't even get an interview. There were those who thought Lewis would get a job, especially if the defense maintained the same level of play. Lewis has kept up his part of the bargain, but the NFL hasn't. We may never know if he'll be a great head coach.

The Good Old Boy network can't seem to find his phone number.

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