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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Leaving it to SI's Michael Silver to Write The NFL Minority Hiring Column ESPN's Michael Smith Couldn't Pen

Well, it's UC Berkeley and Daily Cal Alumn Mike Silver to the rescue. (He's the guy with the Mick Jaggeresque black leather jacket in the photo talking to Daily Cal Alumn and former San Francisco Chronicle Publisher John Oppendahl.) It's a sign of the times that non-black writers like my friend, "Sil" are penning columns taking the NFL to task for it's terrible record of minority head coaching hires, while black writers like ESPN's Michael Smith are protecting an obviously racist system. (Well, there is the Oakland Tribune's Monte Poole, who's not afraid to tell it like it is.)

I can see the late SI scribe Ralph Wiley, somewhere in heaven, shaking his fists and screaming his lungs out...And plotting some form of spritual revenge.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here's Sil's column, with the title post as a link to it as well.

Race still a factor?
In my opinion, lack of black coaches is no coincidence
"Open Mike" Michael Silver

For all of the disturbing images we've witnessed in the NFL as of late -- and there have been many, beginning in Indy with the most horrific decision by a man in stripes since Roger Clemens threw a broken bat at Mike Piazza -- the parade of press conferences being piped in from team headquarters stand out most glaringly.

Over and over, the smiling man at the podium looks eerily similar. He is white. He has never been a head coach. And though he beat out several candidates who were more qualified, at least on paper, he was just so darn impressive in his interview that hiring him became a matter of great urgency.

Think Marty Mornhinweg after a disastrous trip to the barber.

This is not to say that Brad Childress (Vikings), Sean Payton (Saints), Rod Marinelli (Lions), Mike McCarthy (Packers), Eric Mangini (Jets) and Scott Linehan (Rams) are bad coaches who are doomed to fail. The same goes for the white dudes soon to be hired -- Gary Kubiak (Texans), Mike Sherman (Bills) and Gerry Faust (Raiders). (And yes, the Faust reference was a joke, and not even a fair one: For all his flaws, Al Davis is gutsy and racially enlightened enough to surprise us with his hire.)

The reason I point this out is that after weeks of reading and hearing that the NFL's age-old minority-coaching embarrassment had finally become a non-issue, I regret to inform you that this is a complete load of crap.

Sure, Lovie Smith was recently named the NFL's Coach of the Year, and he and the two other obvious candidates for that honor -- Tony Dungy and Marvin Lewis -- are African-American. Their hires, we were to assume, would open up the floodgates. But with 10 teams searching for coaches after this season --nine, really, because the Jets job only became open after the Chiefs traded a fourth-round pick to New York for the right to hire Herm Edwards -- the number of African-American head coaches remains at six, unchanged from the start of 2005.

So what happened to supposedly hot minority candidates like Tim Lewis, Ron Rivera, Jerry Gray and Donnie Henderson, who interviewed for many of the jobs in question? And why weren't obvious prospects like Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and Redskins defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Greg Blache even in the mix?

Gee, I wonder.

When most of my fellow journalists and various electronic-media commentators discuss this issue, they talk about social realities, the comfort zones of those doing the hiring and a lack of awareness about attractive minority candidates. That's one way to say it. Or, you could just do what I do and talk about what's really going on: Racism.

I'm not merely talking about subconscious or subtle racism, either. I'm saying that it seems to me that some of the people who run NFL franchises don't want a non-white man running their football teams. And don't just take it from me, ask the players, 70 percent of whom are African-American. Were they to tell you their honest opinions, I think most of them -- yes, the white dudes, too -- would convey a very similar sentiment.

I could give you years and years worth of obvious examples of minority coaching candidates getting the shaft, but for the sake of brevity, let's stick with what's happening now. And since Green Bay is home to one of the NFL's storied franchises, that's an excellent place to start.

Typically, coordinators from the teams that are most successful in a given season emerge as the hot candidates. The Packers hired McCarthy, who coordinated the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense in '05. Wait, I know what you're thinking: That was the 49ers offense, it's not fair to judge anyone involved with that mess. Apparently, then, we should evaluate McCarthy based on his impressive work with Aaron Brooks in New Orleans or on his lone season as the Packers' quarterbacks coach, in 1999, when Brett Favre threw more interceptions (23) than touchdown passes (22)?

Then there is Payton, who burst into the public consciousness during the '02 season, when then-Giants coach Jim Fassel stripped play-calling responsibilities from his young offensive coordinator. The fact that New York then improved offensively and rallied to reach the playoffs did not particularly enhance Payton's stock, though he did rebound by running the offense for Bill Parcells' Cowboys, which ranked 13th in the NFL this season. We can only hope that Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, with his first-ever hire, knows head coaching talent better than he does personnel.

Marinelli, who was strongly considered for the Cal job that ultimately went to Jeff Tedford following the '01 season (among the other candidates for that position were Lewis, who turned it down, and Gray), lost out in part because he had never been a head coach or coordinator at any level. That didn't bother Matt Millen, who previously hired Mornhinweg (days before he could have interviewed Lewis or John Fox) and Steve Mariucci (incurring a $200,000 fine for violating a new NFL rule requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate. That rule, by the way, is now circumvented as teams grant token interviews, like the one Ted Cottrell received from the Vikings and Henderson from the Jets.)

Perhaps, in his coaching searches, Millen simply looks for the best coach available whose last name begins with "M." Or perhaps his bosses, the Fords, have other criteria. I wonder the same things about the men running the Bills and Saints, to name a couple of other franchises who habitually hire white guys.

Then there is Mangini, who just turned 35 after completing his first season as Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator. As one high-ranking executive for an NFL team told me last week, "The guy has what it takes to be an NFL head coach, eventually. But now? The sense is that he's in way over his head."

On paper, Childress, Linehan and Kubiak are legitimate hires -- successful coordinators who have proven their worth over a number of years. Then again, Tim Lewis, Cottrell and Gray also fit that description (as do white assistants like Al Saunders, Jim Johnson and Gil Haskell, to be fair), and none of those guys will be pacing the sidelines with a headset this coming fall.

In fact, amid all the maneuvering, promising African-American assistants are actually losing ground. Gray, impressive in his five-year stint as the Bills' defensive coordinator, essentially got fired after Mike Mularkey resigned. Cottrell, who has a great track record and whose defense rebounded nicely in '05 after a rough start, was booted by the Vikings. Henderson, supposedly a rising star in his profession, got run out of New York. All three men are currently looking for work, and there don't seem to be a lot of coordinator openings at the moment.

If you really break it down, this shouldn't be all that surprising. Yes, Smith, Lewis and Dungy were impressive this year, but African-American coaches having success is nothing new. Name one who didn't appreciably improve his team in his first two years on the job?

The only example you could cite is Ray Rhodes, a former Coach of the Year in Philly who, in his second head coaching stint, went 8-8 with the Packers. After that, general manager Ron Wolf fired Rhodes (citing the team's alleged lack of discipline) and hired Sherman, who was 6-7 in his first season before rallying to win his last three games.

Shortly thereafter, Wolf retired and Sherman was named the team's general manager.

Why have African-American coaches fared so well? My theory is that because so many were denied opportunities for so long, the talent pool is artificially strong. Meanwhile, white assistants in similar jobs keep getting snapped up by teams, and many of those teams end up disappointed. As I wrote soon after the Bills made a coaching hire two years ago, it's a bunch of Mularkey.

Perhaps the Raiders' Davis will come through and salvage what has turned out to be an abysmal year on the minority-coaching front by making another bold hire. Or perhaps he'll choose Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, he of the 18-37 coaching record at Indiana -- despite the presence of star quarterback and future Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El -- who has been making the interview rounds and is scheduled to come to Oakland.

If that doesn't work out, there's always Gerry Faust.

An Open Letter to ESPN"s Michael Smith On The NFL And Minority Coaches

Dear Mr. Smith, (pictured to the left)

I just read your column on the NFL (Coaching issue not simply about race) and I can't disagree with you more. I don't know how many people -- some members of the Pro Football Writers Association -- have told me that the reason why there are so many white coaches is that the general managers and owners of the teams are white, and that "Whites are comfortable with whites."

While I think this is very disturbing, what's even more troublesome to me is the complacency demonstrated by your prose in the article. For example, this statement you wrote just sent me to the moon:

Bottom line: Minorities have been issued a different dues-paying schedule. The double standard -- be twice as good, and often that isn't good enough -- is something minorities, African-Americans especially, are just burdened with.

Just burdened with.

You mean to tell me that I have to accept my lot in life? That I should not be competitive. That I should not insist on fair and equal treatment. That I should -- by my inaction -- just cause the maintance of this stupid quasi-caste system and feed the ego of every mentally-ill racist out there?

To you I write "Hell no."

If there is still such a thing as Black Self Determination -- and I believe it is -- then we as a group in America must begin to engineer ways to own corporations, and yes, even NFL Teams. I am majority owner of my company and it's 60 percent minority owned. We've grown on our own and don't have some large investor pulling our chain. We've made our revenue via our willingness to succeed and try new ideas.

I think you should not only use your ESPN-provided platform to encourage NFL teams to hire blacks, and push black coaches to network more than they may do. But you should not use your column to appologize for this caste system and tell other blacks and Latinos to just accept their lot in life.

I can imagine you giving such a speech to kids in East Oakland, here in Oakland, California. They'd laugh at you and tell your you're just afraid of "the man." Then -- lacking any encouragement from you to take on another direction -- some of them would continue to take on activities that we wish they would not do. But they're just trying to make money and they don't want to be someone's slave or second-class citizen. They're teenagers, but they do know what the problem is in society. They want to have the same freedom of choice of occupation that others have -- those who are white.

You should never send a message to anyone black that they should enjoy second-class status. Just because we're better integrated with in America and interracial interaction and marriage is the norm doesn't mean we can stop advancing. Sorry.

It's apparent to me that the next frontier of advancement in the African American community is right between our collective ears -- and exemplary in your column. We must believe we're the best, want nothing but the best, and always strive to be the best.

And most important, we must encourage each other and openly point to the need to remove the number one social roadblock to advancement -- racism, the number one mental illness in America.

You failed to do that in your article.

Please don't send a message of "accept your lot" to African Americans again. Mr. Smith, as a black man you should be ashamed of yourself. I have many friends who would read your column and ask what was wrong with you -- and they're white.


Zennie Abraham

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