Sunday, January 22, 2006

March of the unknown white guys

The National Football League, long known for its teams' inability to hire minority head coaches in significant numbers, found itself this season with three black head coaches whose teams were among the best in the league: Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals) and Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears). Lewis and Smith, in particular, produced amazing success stories by turning abysmal teams into Super Bowl contenders. And Dungy's Colts managed one of the best regular season records in NFL history.

Meanwhile, seven NFL head coaches were served pink slips during or after the 2005 season. The common denominator? All seven of them are white: Steve Mariucci, Mike Tice, Norv Turner, Dom Capers, Jim Haslett, Mike Sherman and Mike Martz. Two other head coaches, Dick Vermeil and Mike Mularkey, stepped down after their teams missed the playoffs. Both are white. (Herman Edwards, who is black, left the Jets as head coach in order to take the same position with the Kansas City Chiefs.)

So, given the relative success of black head coaches this season in the NFL and the lack of success of many white head coaches, one would think that several top African-American assistant coaches would be in line to get a shot as a head coach. Seems logical, right? As it turns out, not so much.

While a number of black assistant coaches have been mentioned as possible candidates for the many open jobs, and several have even been invited for interviews, none have been given a shot as a head coach. In fact, all of the open jobs filled to date - Detroit, Minnesota, New Orleans, St. Louis, Green Bay, New York Jets - have been given to unknown and relatively inexperienced former assistant coaches, all of whom are white. Their names read like a "who's that?" list of nobodies:

Rod Marinelli (Detroit)
Brad Childress (Minnesota)
Sean Payton (New Orleans)
Scott Linehan (St. Louis)
Mike McCarthy (Green Bay)
Eric Mangini (NY Jets)

Meanwhile, quality minority assistants such as Tim Lewis, Ted Cottrell, Jerry Gray and Ron Rivera, to name just a few, are being passed over like three-week-old leftovers crammed into the back of the refrigerator.

Interestingly, even among the many fired head coaches, several of them are being considered for other head coaching jobs, in spite of their apparent failures with their previous clubs. In fact, Dick Jauron, who was the interim head coach in Detroit after Mariucci was fired mid-season but was not retained, may well land the top job in Buffalo. Jauron was the head coach of the Chicago Bears for five seasons before losing his job after going 35-46. Oh, and Jauron is white. Tice, Sherman and Haslett have been interviewed by other teams, as well.

While I would like to believe that this is nothing more than a numbers game in which it's merely an ugly coincidence that black coaching candidates are being ignored in favor of white coaches, I find it hard to fathom how so many relatively-unqualified white candidates could have landed jobs ahead of more qualified black candidates without some kind of nefarious intentions at work.

For example, new Packers coach McCarthy was the offensive coordinator for the NFL's worst offense this season in San Francisco. The Vikings' Childress, who previously had been the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, didn't even call his own plays for the Eagles. The Jets' Mangini spent just one season as a defensive coordinator with the Patriots before being offered a head coaching position. These guys arguably haven't proven they can be effective assistants let alone head coaches.

There still are a few open head coaching positions around the NFL. Perhaps Al Davis, longtime owner of the Oakland Raiders and a man not afraid to buck the status quo, will give a qualified minority candidate a chance. After all, he's the one who hired Art Shell as the NFL's first black head coach in 1989. Shell lasted six seasons with the Raiders, posted a 54-38 record and led the team to the playoffs three times. Strangely, he hasn't been offered another head coaching job since he was let go by the Raiders in 1994.

With the success enjoyed by Dungy, Lewis and Smith in 2005, let's hope others will get a chance to show what they can do as head coaches. Clearly, ethnicity has no bearing on how successful someone can be as a head coach. Based on what we've seen over the last month or so, though, I'm not holding my breath. And that really is a crying shame.


At 10:08 AM, Blogger vcthree said...

I'll summarize my opinions on some of these hires:

--Mangini is riding the coat tails of Crennel and Belichick. It's a total system hire--just like they hired Parcells, then Belichick--who quit--then Al Groh...(all from the Parcells tree), then Edwards (who I was never convinced they liked), now Mangini (back to the Parcells/Belichick tree).

--McCarthy didn't have a gameplan for Alex Smith, and his offense was the worst in the now, he's the guy to help Aaron Rodgers along? WTF?

--Buffalo should have hired Jauron TWO YEARS AGO, instead of being cheap, hiring that no-account coach Mularkey (who the Steelers managed to get to a Super Bowl without his playcalling), and then sabotaging his efforts by forcing him to can half his staff. Buffalo--light years away from their old AFC dominance. And Jauron's defense in Detroit wasn't exactly stellar, either--nor was his coaching effort at the end of last season.

--Excuse me...Sean Payton? The hell? Of all the coaches the Saints could have hired, they chose...Sean Payton? Payton had playcalling duties yanked from him in New York, for crying out loud.

--Rod Marinelli...well, it's the Lions. You figure it out. Meh.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger DrewL said...

Yeah, Detroit's problems go much higher than the head coaching spot, and I think everyone with half a brain knows that. Millen is utterly clueless. In fact, he makes former NY Islanders GM Mike Milbury look like a genius in comparison!

Payton's hiring in New Orleans stunned me. This guy has no business being a head coach anywhere. Apparently at his press conference last week, he constantly had to refer to his notes and looked completely out of sorts. He won't last long.

Of all the guys who have been offered jobs so far, the one who probably most deserves it is Gary Kubiak in Houston (to be announced today, I believe). He's put in his time in Denver, even as Elway's backup for years, and may be able to do some good things with the Texans' offense. Getting Reggie Bush won't hurt, either!

As a longtime Vikings fan, I was hoping they would give D-Coord. Ted Cottrell or Jerry Gray a shot. I'm not sold on Childress, who was involved with the whole TO mess in Philly. Of course, after Tice, anyone else is likely an upgrade.

At 1:36 PM, Blogger vcthree said...

Agreed on Kubiak--he's won two Super Bowls, and has put in more than his share of years in the business. No problem with Kubiak going to Houston.

And I can live with Childress, Marinelli, and even Mangini and Jauron. But Payton? You mean to tell me that he's still living off the legacy of the 2001 NFC Championship Game (sorry, Drew, for bringing that up...)? And the fact that he couldn't put together a decent pass-protection scheme to prevent Drew Bledsoe from getting mauled by Washington and St. Louis?

Payton isn't so much the top candidate as he is the cheapest candidate.


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