NEW ORLEANS – There are currently five African-American general managers running NFL teams. One of them, the Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome, won the Super Bowl two nights ago. Another, the Giants’ Jerry Reese, saw his team carry away the Lombardi Trophy a year ago.
There were two black offensive coordinators in the league this past season. One, the Bills’ Curtis Modkins, was the coordinator in name only. It was Chan Gailey who called the plays.
The other offensive coordinator was Baltimore’s Jim Caldwell, who was elevated from quarterbacks coach when the Ravens fired Cam Cameron in December. Caldwell became the NFL’s only African-American playcaller. He called the plays for Joe Flacco in the Super Bowl the other night.
So it’s easy to understand why the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a group of minority coaches, executives and game-day officials, were up in arms over the league’s most recent spate of coach and GM hires.
There were eight openings for head coaches (including Buffalo) and seven for general managers.
Not one was filled by a black man. The NFL teams were required by the Rooney Rule to interview at least one minority candidate for each position. But all the hires were white.
Lovie Smith, who went 10-6 with the Bears and has coached in the Super Bowl, didn’t get a head job. There are now three black head coaches: Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, Leslie Frazier of the Vikings and Marvin Lewis of the Bengals. Carolina’s Ron Rivera is Hispanic-American.
Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s vice president of human resources, understands that the loss of momentum in minority hiring is an issue in a league whose players are roughly 70 percent black.
Gulliver, while acknowledging that teams had satisfied the Rooney Rule, characterized the overall hiring outcome as “unexpected” and “reflect a disappointing lack of diversity.”
The disappointment has to be even more profound when you see how successful minorities can be, given the opportunity. All they want is a chance.
Newsome is regarded as one of the finest leaders in the game, a man whose gift for recognizing and nurturing talent has made the Ravens one of the most consistently competitive teams in the league.
Caldwell took over a struggling Baltimore offense and produced stunning results. He put in a more fast-paced, aggressive attack, which gave Joe Flacco more freedom to attack down the field. The Ravens averaged 400 yards and 30 points a game during the playoffs.
Of course, it shouldn’t have been any great surprise that Caldwell got results. In his first season as a head coach, he guided the Colts to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl appearance three years ago. He was fired after the Colts went 2-14 without Peyton Manning last season.
You could argue that Caldwell was a product of Manning’s success. Of course, there’s a long line of coaches who did it with a great quarterback. Anyway, Caldwell didn’t get a single call for any of the eight head coaching vacancies.
Caldwell was gracious about the snub during Super Bowl week. He didn’t betray disappointment in his personal situation, but agreed the NFL might need to refine the Rooney Rule in the future.
“It has been a great rule and it has worked in the past,” Caldwell said. “Just like anything else, after a certain period of time, you have to revisit it and take a look and see if it needs a little tweaking. I think it does in this particular case.
“I know for a fact,” he said, “that there are a lot of people interested in making certain that it works across the board, not just for coaching, but also front office jobs. I think they’re trying to work out a way to make it a little bit more effective.”
The Pollard Alliance wants the NFL to expand the rule to include offensive and defensive coordinator positions. I’d like to see them expand it for all assistant coaching hires. The lack of black “offensive gurus” is especially troubling. For some reason, minorities have been far more prominent on the defensive side.
Is that because they’re not regarded as innovators who direct strategy at the game’s most important decision? Whatever the case, when teams are looking for top offensive minds to run the show, there aren’t any trendy black offensive coordinators.
John Wooten, chairman of the Pollard Alliance, said they’re “very, very conscious” of the dearth of minorities in offensive leadership positions. Wooten said they will make a more concerted effort to get blacks into the pipeline for offensive coordinator positions.
The last two times the Bills searched for a head coach, they were looking for an offensive guy. I’ve wondered if I might have pushed harder for a minority candidate. If there were a hot black offensive coordinator on the market, maybe I would have.
When a retread like Chan Gailey gets a second shot at a head job, the Fritz Pollard crowd rolls its eyes. There’s a sense that white coaches are more likely to get a second shot. Caldwell is almost exactly the age that Gailey was when he went to the Bills.
Maybe it’s a matter of getting more blacks in prominent front office jobs. Newsome, who has done a masterful job putting together a Super Bowl roster, was smart enough to grab Caldwell after the Colts fired him.
Reese, the Giants’ general manager, brought in Perry Fewell to run his defense when Fewell left Buffalo after a tryout as head coach.
Fewell’s defense contained Tom Brady in the Giants’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots last year.
Fewell was a hot head coaching candidate at the time. I didn’t even hear his name mentioned for jobs this time around. His Giants defense slipped this season. Still, it makes you wonder.