Lewis' stance, like that of the four other black assistants who turned down the same interview request, was understandable to many because Lewis knew he wasn't going to get the job.">
Lewis' stance, like that of the four other black assistants who turned down the same interview request, was understandable to many because Lewis knew he wasn't going to get the job.">

Loopholes in League Initiative Surface in Detroit

Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis offered a quick and resolute "no comment" when asked why he'd turned down an interview request by the Detroit Lions, who eventually hired Steve Mariucci as their new head coach.<br><br> Lewis' stance, like that of the four other black assistants who turned down the same interview request, was understandable to many because Lewis knew he wasn't going to get the job.

His silence was also understandable. Lewis works for Dan Rooney, whose committee last year came up with the plan that calls for teams to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coaching vacancy.

Because of that silence, it can be assumed that Rooney, the Steelers owner, had expressed dissatisfaction with Lewis' decision. If so, Rooney wasn't the only one.

"I'm disappointed, very disappointed and on the verge of being upset," said Stratton Nash, a career management consultant working in Washington D.C. "I think it defies the spirit of the league's intent. The system they put in place is a good step and I think a half a step was taken back by this."

Nash is a Pittsburgh native and self-described "diehard" Steelers fan. He's also black and has spent much of his career dealing with situations such as the one described above. Without having a stake in either side of the debate, Nash believes the "Rooney Plan" is on the right track toward solving the following dilemma: Seventy percent of the NFL's players are black but only 10 percent of the league's head coaches are black.

"From what I know, the plan is well-intended," said Nash. "But without knowing a lot more about it I'll make a blanket statement that there are a lot of loopholes that will continually resurface. Detroit is a prime example."

Nash believes the NFL could plug those holes by adhering to some of the career management ideals he spends his days implementing.

"Lost in this initiative," he said, "is the fundamental issue that an NFL executive's hiring motives are strikingly similar to that of a senior executive employed at USX or Heinz. Corporations, as a practice, hire within a network of known candidates. Studies show that 80 percent of senior executive-level hirings were filled without the job posting ever being made public. In other words, qualified candidates not known, directly or indirectly by a decision maker, never stood a chance to be considered, much less hired. The NFL doesn't work in such clandestine ways, but it's not much different."

Of course, Notre Dame is on the collegiate level, but Nash draws a parallel with that university's hiring of Tyrone Willingham last year. Willingham interviewed for the Notre Dame job as a long shot candidate, but became the fallback choice after George O'Leary's resume was found to be fraudulent.

"The rest is history," Nash said. "Willingham's willingness to respond to Notre Dame's tokenism merely exalted him into a position whereby if he maintains last year's success for 10, 15 years, he'll have positioned himself to rank alongside that school's coaching legends. That's not bad for saying ‘yes' to an interview. Willingham rose above the pettiness."

So getting acquainted is the first and most important step. However, Nash would like to see the applicant approach that first interview with a better game plan.

"The issue and the answer is the lack of career management principles that are not included as part of the remedy," he said. "Between 25 and 40 percent of Fortune 500 executives use career management consultants to craft a career business plan that includes specific performance levels over a 2, 5, 7 & 10-year time frame."

"Steps taken would be a marketing strategy specifically designed for the candidate, and an arduous but necessary assessment of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses, along with other potential barriers that are unknown by the candidate and his supporters."

Also, Nash says, the applicant would be better off by having met his interviewer at an earlier date.

"Preferably, the one-on-one dialogue would take place well before an opening takes place, so that the minority candidate is truly playing on an even playing surface and minus the negative energy created by the NFL when minority candidates must succumb to a ‘set aside' type of interview, rendering themselves open to ridicule. Remember, the general manager is also frustrated or embarrassed by being rebuffed publicly. This is not a conducive environment for resolving this issue. It's become somewhat inflamed."

"While I understand why Tim Lewis and other minority coaches are resisting perceived token interviews, much is being lost here and it had better get fixed fast. The minority coaches must go to the interviews and do well in the process and the NFL needs to revamp its execution to remove the undue burden being placed upon those hiring and the minority coaches themselves."

Jim Wexell
SteelCitySports.com


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