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Stopped for No Gains

Despite many NFL openings, the number of black head coaches is not expected to increase.

January 22, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Nearly a third of the NFL's 32 teams will have new head coaches next season, but the number of black coaches walking the sidelines is not expected to increase.

Eight teams have filled their vacancies in the last few weeks, leaving Buffalo and Oakland as the only franchises still interviewing. Herman Edwards is the only black head coach who has been hired, and he made a lateral move, going from the New York Jets to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The head of a group formed to promote minority hiring in the league called the situation "disappointing" and equated watching the opportunities evaporate one by one to "losing a game in the final two minutes."

"It's like you're winning, you're winning, you're winning, and all of a sudden you lose," said John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

Advocates of more diverse hiring practices were hoping to build on the momentum created by the success of Chicago under Coach Lovie Smith, Indianapolis under Coach Tony Dungy and Cincinnati under Coach Marvin Lewis. Smith, Dungy and Lewis, all of whom are black, had a combined regular-season record of 36-12 and their teams all won division championships.

Hope has dwindled, however, as several apparently qualified minority candidates have gone without job offers, among them Tim Lewis, New York Giant defensive coordinator; Ted Cottrell, Minnesota Viking defensive coordinator, and Maurice Carthon, Cleveland Brown offensive coordinator.

"It's been disappointing," said Wooten, a former NFL offensive lineman. "But I've said this to our guys: 'Is it disappointing? Yes. Is it discouraging? No.' I told them, 'Don't let this discourage you. Because if you do, it will cause despair and hopelessness.' "

Less than three weeks ago, Wooten said he thought there could be two or three new black coaches by month's end. Now, apparently, the only black candidates still under consideration are Jim Caldwell and James Lofton.

Caldwell, who coaches Indianapolis quarterbacks and briefly filled in for Dungy as interim head coach, interviewed Friday with Buffalo. Lofton, San Diego's receiver coach, has met with the Raiders and Bills.

Under threat of litigation, the NFL implemented a rule in 2002 requiring teams with head-coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate. It was nicknamed the "Rooney Rule" for Pittsburgh Steeler owner Dan Rooney, the head of the league's workplace diversity committee. This could be the first time since the rule went into effect that an off-season passes without the number of minority head coaches increasing.

That's especially noteworthy considering the success of Smith, the NFL coach of the year, Lewis and Dungy.

"Those guys are the best advertisement we could have," said Harry Carson, the alliance's president. "Each of them was a case of a coach resurrecting a franchise that had fallen onto hard times.... You would think there would be some owners and general managers out there who would want to take a much deeper look and step outside of the box."

Wooten said the alliance, named in honor of the late Fritz Pollard, the league's first black coach, is not pushing for further changes to the rules governing the interviewing and hiring processes. In fact, he said he was pleased by the feedback he was getting from teams after they conducted interviews with minority candidates.

According to the NFL, 13 minority candidates -- 12 blacks and one Latino -- have interviewed 25 times since the end of the season, the most ever in both categories. Of the 568 NFL head coaches and assistants, 183 are black.

"The process is good, but we're disappointed in the numbers so far," said league spokesman Greg Aiello, referring to this year's head-coach hiring cycle. "But we're just looking at a snapshot. There's a short term and a long term. And although the short team is not positive in regards to the results, the long term has yet to be determined."

Cottrell, 58, who recently lost his job in Minnesota along with the rest of fired coach Mike Tice's staff, said he felt good about his chances of replacing Tice after a three-hour interview with Viking owner Zygi Wilf and three other members of the organization. The group talked about a range of issues, among them Cottrell's philosophies on practices, training camp, ways to organize a staff, dealing with problem players and managing crises -- of which the Vikings have had many.

"I felt I did a pretty good job," Cottrell said. "I got my point across. I was told they were very pleased with the interview. Mr. Wilf said he was very impressed with me and he wished he had spent some time talking to me during the season. He said he saw a different side of me he'd never seen."

The next time they spoke, however, Cottrell was told the franchise was heading in another direction and would be hiring Brad Childress, offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia's Eagles.

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