League's new policy has mixed success

The minority report surrounding the National Football League's hiring practices offers encouraging signs of progress, and some stubborn resistance to a new idea. There's also the disturbing notion alive that the league's new guidelines intended to promote more diversity among its 32 head coaches have a bent toward affirmative action, or outright quotas. That's not the intention, but it's a common misperception of a sensitive situation.

Truthfully, teams sent mixed messages in the manner in which they complied with the hiring process or ignored a mandate to interview at least one minority candidate.

Here's the scorecard: Out of five openings this job cycle, one minority was hired for a grand total of only three black head coaches. Seventy percent of the players are black.

In the case of the hapless Cincinnati Bengals, they were the picture of fairness during a deliberate search. They ultimately hired the talented Marvin Lewis, who joins incumbent black coaches Tony Dungy and Herm Edwards.

Score one for celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who is teaming with civil rights activist Cyrus Mehri in championing the cause of minority coaches' job advancement.

No, O.J. Simpson and Cochran still haven't found the real killers. Stop laughing.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones was determined to land Bill "The Tuna" Parcells, and conducted a cursory telephone interview with Dennis Green to meet the league requirement. Flimsy, at best, but Parcells is eminently qualified.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver interviewed Green before hiring former Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio. Weaver was criticized for considering Green for a position without much personnel power, making it a poor match from the start.

Apparently, Green's skin color isn't what concerns owners. It's his reputation for having a large ego and some troublesome off-field issues in his past. He's also expensive.

After the dysfunctional San Francisco 49ers' palace coup sent Iron Mountain, Mich., native Steve Mariucci out of 4949 Centennial Blvd. in a janitor's van, the Detroit Lions' Matt Millen wanted Mariucci in the worst way. He hired him for $5 million a year.

Because of Millen's candor, or lack of savvy, no black candidate would consent to meet, causing non-compliance with the league's diversity committee. The Lions may actually face sanctions in the form of a fine and/or loss of draft picks.

 Understandably, men like the Steelers' Tim Lewis didn't want to become tokens. Yes, Millen could have hidden his true feelings. Yet, disingenuous behavior isn't constructive.

That brings us back to the 49ers, whose meandering search ended with Dennis Erickson, a recycled failure with the Seattle Seahawks who was successful on the college level.

The 49ers, however, did discuss the position at length with respected black defensive coordinators Ted Cottrell, Romeo Crennel and Greg Blache. If the 49ers are content with Erickson's 31-33 NFL mark and history with the bottle, more power to them.

Perhaps Cottrell won't be left holding the silver medal next time.

It's not about racism. It's a matter of owners growing more familiar with top minority candidates. Connections are the key.

Ultimately, franchises will hire the person they believe gives them the best opportunity to win a Super Bowl title.

This is an elite league. It will remain so on its sidelines as long as it continues to be a meritocracy.

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