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Thursday, February 22, 2007
One Step Forward - Two Steps Back

In a blog post three weeks ago, I asked the question whether progress on the minority NFL head coach hiring front had been realized. Now three weeks later, the answer to that question appears to be “probably not.” With the hiring of Norv Turner a few days ago by the San Diego Chargers, and the recent hiring of Wade Phillips by the Dallas Cowboys, we have two white coach retreads, who are both two time losers. Both Phillips and Turner have been hired as head coaches again after literally failing in previous stints as head coaches. Turner has posted a career won-loss record of 58 wins and 82 losses in head coaching stints with the Washington D.C. professional football club and the Oakland Raiders (overseeing winning seasons in only three of nine seasons as head coach). Phillips has posted a pedestrian career won-loss record of 48 wins and 39 losses in head coaching stints with the Buffalo Bills and the Denver Broncos (as well as an interim stretch with the Atlanta Falcons). That each man has been hired as a head coach once again, for a third time, is truly confounding.

Both the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys followed the Rooney Rule, described in this space several weeks ago. Dallas interviewed at least three minority candidates, while the Chargers interviewed at least two. Mike Singletary and Ron Rivera, in fact, have been interviewed by a number of NFL franchises in the past two years, but have yet to land a top job. Why are twice fired, often times losing white coaches being recycled into virtual “winning” situations while prolific minority assistant coaches are being passed over (many would agree that the San Diego job is the best one in the NFL, while the Dallas job has the look of a sure winner)?

The hiring of Mike Tomlin by the Pittsburgh Steelers, with the Steelers one year removed from a Super Bowl title, appears to be one of the only times an African American head coach has been hired to coach a team poised to win, rather than being hired to resurrect a moribund franchise (see Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Romeo Crennel in Cleveland, Dennis Green in Arizona, Lovie Smith in Chicago, etc.). While Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes and Tony Dungy have been recycled (hired a second time) after being fired previously, both Green and Dungy had winning and exemplary records with the teams by which they were fired (Rhodes was 29-34-1 with the Eagles). It strains reality to imagine that an African American head coach with a 58-82 won loss record (exactly the same as Norv Turner) would ever be hired again as a head coach in the National Football League.

Still, the NFL clubs are owned by wealthy white males. They will continue to hire retread candidates and pray that one will turn into the “recycled” Bill Belichick who was run out of town after mostly failing for several seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Will the Rooney Rule be enough to break this outdated reality?


Eperience counts for something. But it's the old circular argument, how can you get experience if no one will give you experience.

I still think this "problem" will work itself out as more and more minorities have moved into the game. There was a greater influx of minority players in the 70s-80s. Those players have now moved into and up the coaching ranks. It is only now that you would expect to see those players turned coaches begin to be hired as head coaches. Sure, there are some hires of coaches lacking experience, but if the question is why not turn over a "win now" team to minority coach, it may be due to lack of experience of minority coaching candidates.

I understand that it is hard to look around the league made up of a "majority of minority" players and see only a small fraction of the teams with a minority head coach, but again, I would argue that it is a product of the system of grooming coaches. Most coaches are well aged and seasoned before getting that head coaching job. And, for what it's worth, experience still counts, whether its getting a head coaching job or whether its moving up into an executive position in the corporate world.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/22/2007 12:20 PM  

One could argue that Turner is getting a better opportunity than he ever had elsewhere. With Phillips, however, management experience carries only so much weight if you're always unsuccessful -- he wasn't exactly taking over sinking ships in Denver and Buffalo.

As for the "greater influx" factor, I'm not sure it holds water when you consider the average length of a NFL career, about three or four years.

By that measure, a player entering the league in the early 1970s would have been up for consideration by the late '80s. That simply wasn't in the cards for former African-American at that time, or for most of the next decade.

That tells me that it was probably pressure of some sort, and not influx that led teams to take African-American coaching candidates seriously.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/22/2007 4:51 PM  

ummmm... Art Shell was hired back in Oakland after a coaching career with a "pedestrian career won-loss record" of 56 wins and 52 losses.

Was that any different than Wade Phillips or Norv Turner?

Norv Turner and Wade Phillips ended up being "retread" coaches for 2 very specific reasons. Phillips because of his experience with a 3-4 scheme and Turner because of his creativity on offense.

These were two situations in which owners/gms were looking for coaches with Head coaching experience knowing that they could win next season. With the talent on their teams, they could not afford to give the time necessary to allow rookie head coaches a chance to mature (like the Raiders are clearly doing with Lane Kiffin or the ).

If you're going to advocate for Denny Green in this case, you may have a point (he is an experienced coach who did some fine work in Minnesota), but pushing Mike Singletary and Ron Rivera, two coaches with NO head coaching experience, seems to be wrong headed.

Should people be similarly complaining for Rex Ryan or Russ Grimm, two white coaches with NO head coaching experience who did not get head jobs?

Now I grant that there are fewer minority individuals out there with "head coaching experience", but that will obviously change over time. Claiming that there is "probably not" any progress, insults the strides that have clearly been made.

You seem to want a revolution and complain that change is coming more slowly. But you should acknowledge what has been done and how things are different than they were before.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/22/2007 8:21 PM  

How is it "confounding" that a coach with a 48-39 career record would get another shot? That's an average record of 9-7 - a borderline playoff team. And he was perceived as a key reason for the success of San Diego this past season - the team with the best record in all of football.

I'm not sure how thrilled I am about Phillips as a coach, but there's certainly nothing surprising about him being hired or about his qualifications. Granted, his coaching pedigree makes him a charter member of the old boy's club, but that doesn't automatically make him a retread.

And given that Dallas expects to contend for a championship, and given the very unsatisfying experience of the last couple of coaches without NFL experience Jerry Jones hired, it seemed very unlikely they'd go in the direction of a first-time head coach.

Blogger Leigh -- 2/23/2007 5:36 PM  

As a Cowboys fan, I followed the hiring of Phillips with great interest. Here is my take of some of the candidates.

Ron Rivera: Not at all interested in Rivera primarily because he would have been a step back on the defense. He is a 4-3 coach coming to a team that is just now getting accustomed to the 3-4.

Mike Singletary: I was very interested in Singletary because of his enthusiasm and intensity. I have some doubts of his X and O experience, but that could have been taken care of with good coordinators.

Wade Phillips: He and Singletary were my two choices. I don't know if Phillips is as enthusiastic and intense as Singletary is, but I think Phillips has done a fantastic job with the 3-4 defense. I look forward to the Cowboys attacking more.

Norv Turner: I had 0 interest in him being here, especially since Jones got Jason Garrett.

Jason Garrett: A great choice as O-Coordinator, but a little inexperienced as head coach.

There were some other interviews, but these were the top five. I don't see how Phillips having coached before and being white makes the Cowboys discriminatory. The Phillips 3-4 defense is very exciting to me, and I'll bet it was exciting to Jones. Singletary's intensity will get him a job soon, I just think that Jones felt Phillips would bring more in 2007 than Singletary.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/27/2007 12:14 PM  

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