It's Not All Black and White

IRVING, Tx -- "Glory Road.'' MLK Jr. Day. New Orleans as a "chocolate city.'' And, I guess as a karmic way of making up for it all, another round of NFL hirings that don't include black faces.

You might recall my annual review of NFL hiring practices a year ago, when I told the following story:

A few seasons ago, the Dallas chapter of the NAACP swooped down on Valley Ranch, intent on proving that Jerry Jones was guilty of racist hiring practices. The group's Exhibit A: In a company as large as the Dallas Cowboys, there were no "vice-president''-level executives of African-American descent.

And it was true! The NAACP was on to something! Except for the fact that the Cowboys only employed one person at the "vice-president''-level, and that that executive was named Stephen Jones, who happens to be Jerry's son.

Who is, I guess unfortunately, white.

I wrote at the time that the Jerry Jones I know would have happily employed as his right-hand executive a black person. ... as long as that black person also happened to be Jerry Jones' own offspring. That the 'N' in "NAACP'' in this case better stand for "nepotism,'' the only possible charge against a man who hires his son. And that surely the movement to diversify the NFL has more worthy targets than a father-and-son business team who's only crime is being white.

And the NFL continues to supply that more worthy target with its notable paucity of African-American head coaches.

Well, here we are a year later. And we've got progress of a sort.

More black faces? Nah. Hiring white guys is now an annual event: Six or eight or 10 head-coaching jobs open up. And each of them is filled by a pasty face.

There are 32 of these precious, high-profile, high-powered jobs. Six of them are presently filled by African-Americans. Let's assume that number is too few. (Is it? What would be the "right number''?) How is progress made?

Well, here's your progress: The Coaching Carousel of old -- the Carousel black men were not allowed to ride -- featured the retreading of coaches. Familiar white faces, good ol' boys, who had failed to lead one team to success and were fired, were kicked off the Carousel. ... and then allowed to jump on another horse, another team, a month later.

Progressive-thinking critics screamed, "Why can't new faces get a ride?''

This offseason, new faces have their fresh mounts. The old Coaching Carousel is dead.

Meet Brad Childress, Mike McCarthy, Eric Mangini, Sean Payton, Gary Kubiak, Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli. Unlike you, the casual fan has never heard of any of them, and for good reason. They are new riders of the Carousel, fresh faces, guys getting their first chance to perform the duties required of those 32 precious, high-profile, high-powered jobs. (Admit it: Even as a Cowboys fan, you can't quite figure out what Payton did to become a head coach.)

That's progressive, right? A bunch of new faces? First-opportunity-ever guys?

Yeah, except all the faces are white. Again.

The Vikings' Childress has never been a head coach. Ever. Nor has the Rams' Linehan. Nor has the Saints' Payton. Nor has Texans' top choice Kubiak. Nor has the Lions' Marinelli. Mangini, the Jets' new coach, pretty much couldn't have ever been a head coach before, given the fact that he just recently started shaving. McCarthy, the new boss of the Packers, is not only young, but carries the dubious distinction of having been hired fresh from being the 49ers' offensive coordinator, where he coordinated the worst offense in football.

As the weekend opened, Buffalo and Oakland still had vacancies. Would they hire black guys?

And oh by the way, SHOULD they hire black guys? How is it happening that teams don't?

There is a "comfortability'' factor here. People like being around people that are like them. So logically, Wisconsites feel "comfortable'' with a white guy. That's not necessarily "racist'' -- but it is "racial.''

And oh, there are other factors in this trend of hiring uncredentialed guys (of whatever color): Maybe it's money-related. Or maybe some of the GM's in power, who are doing the hiring of coaches, want to add men who will remain under their thumbs.

Or maybe it's just happenstance, a roll of the Roulette Wheel ball in which once again it keeps not landing on "black.''

As troubled as I personally am by the elevation of white men to jobs for which they seem under qualified, finding a solution is problematic for me in two ways:

1) The push for more black head coaches assumes that there are qualified black candidates. Now, more than ever, it can be argued that there's got to be a black guy with better credentials than, say, a Marinelli (who jumps up after being a D-line coach in Tampa; he wasn't even a coordinator!). OK. Name him. Name that black guy who just MUST get hired now.

My friend James Lofton, who is black, is getting interviewed. He's got a couple of years of experience as the Chargers' receivers' coach, and before that had never coached before on any level. Another personal favorite, 49ers assistant Mike Singletary, will eventually get his chance. (I'd grab him right now, before he becomes twice the commodity a year from now.) But he could use more seasoning. Donnie Henderson, the Jets assistant, was said to be "hot'' a month ago. Well, now he's been fired as the Jets' D-coordinator. End of hotness.

One Dallas columnist, under the heading, "What Are They Waiting For?,'' listed his top four minority candidates and featured Dallas-ex Maurice Carthon, the Browns O-coordinator. With all due respect: Maurice Carthon of the Browns, with one season as a full-time coordinator, DESERVES to be a head coach? Really?

Is that the "equality'' the movement desires? Unqualified blacks should be hired at the same rate as unqualified whites? Is that progress?

2) Back to the Jerry Jones anecdote: How do you force a team owner to hire somebody he doesn't want to hire? And maybe doesn't need to hire? As wrong as it's been to hire white faces on the basis of their whiteness (and God I wished I could believe that isn't part of this latest round of hirings), wouldn't it be wrong to hire Lofton, Singletary or Henderson because of their blackness?

I acknowledge the questions, the issues, the problems. It's the answers I continue to find elusive.

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