Biz Blitz: The NFL is too smug with hiring two black coaches in 2014

The NFL gives itself an "atta-boy" for its head coach diversity hires in 2014 after shooting blanks the year before.

 I have not been impressed. The optics are still under-whelming. 

Teams filled two of seven head coach vacancies with African-Americans, Tampa Bay signed Lovie Smith and Detroit picked Jim Caldwell to take them over the top. That's two black head coaches in the last 15 hires over two seasons.    

Every industry has a small population of non-whites at the executive level, but none of those industries has a workforce that is so overwhelmingly minority as the NFL and NBA. That dynamic is an invitation to labor strife.

Even when minimum-wage employees have six-figure incomes, it's tough enough to deal with a unionized workforce and tougher still when complicated by racial mistrust. Avoiding that is a management imperative. 

Sports is every player's dream job. A number of players hope to extend their involvement in the business as coaches and front office executives when their playing days are done. NFL hiring practices seem to lock some of them out.

They hired WHO?

Owners made head-scratching choices as they overlooked black candidates.

Daniel Snyder backed into Jim Zorn for head coach in 2008. Zorn was in demand as coach material by exactly no one else. But, that was typical Daniel Snyder.

Pat Bowlin tried to import The Patriot Way to Denver by hiring New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who promptly alienated starting quarterback Jay Cutler and later mishandled a violation of league rules involving video taping.

Tampa Bay hired Rutgers' Greg Schiano despite the poor track record of lateral jumps by college head coaches to the pros. Schiano replaced Raheem "promoted-too-soon" Morris whose selection made the NFL look downright progressive in 2009.

Norv Turner got three bites at the apple with the Redskins, Raiders and Chargers.

Silent progress

The league itself prompted teams to cast a wider net this offseason for coaching talent. 

Fired coaches who've had any success usually get a second chance. Smith and Caldwell were given that chance.

The Redskins interviewed several black assistants for the head coach job, not that they had a real shot. Jay Gruden got the job moments, it seems, after Washington was allowed to interview him. The exercise revealed that there are assistants considered head coach material.

Ozzie Newsome and Jerry Reese are still two of the best GMs in the NFL. Martin Mayhew helped the Lions recover from the Matt Millen era.  Add Reggie McKenzie in Oakland and the ratio of black GMs is in rough proportion to African-Americans in the US population.

Misunderstanding the Rooney Rule

The Rooney Rule was never intended to be a traditional affirmative action hiring program. Its goal is to expose owners to over-looked talent, sometimes on their own payroll, that they did not know and were not considering for head coach. The owners expanded the rule to apply to all minorities and a requirement for coordinator and GM vacancies as well as head coaches.

The owners imposed the interview rules upon themselves in 2002.

A study led by Indiana University economist Todd Walker says the Rooney Rule had little effect on head coach hire decisions, because race was not a big factor in those decisions.

Walker's team charted every offensive and defensive coordinator between 1970 and 2008 and examined head coaches selected from that pool. They found that "decisions were based largely on the candidates' experience and success as assistant coaches ‒ with success determined by rankings according to points scored for offensive coordinators and points against for defensive coordinators."

Success as a coordinator was a bigger factor than race in a hire decision.  

Somehow I doubt the pool of coordinators reflected player demographic over that period.

In one step to fix that, the NFL reintroduced a career development symposium attended by minority and non-minority coaching and GM candidates, according to a January 15, 2014, Washington Post story. Call it the NFL Executive Combine.

I'm hoping for TV coverage with commentary by Rich Eisen, Bill Polian, Steve Mariucci … anyone but Deion Sanders or Michael Irvin.

The process is more important than results to John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

"We want the owners to only interview a candidate if it’s someone they would really be willing to hire," says Wooten. "We don’t want it to just be compliance with the rule. We want there to be true interest. We felt that the league did an outstanding job of communicating that to the owners and the people doing the hiring.” 

Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.