Happy MLK Day everybody. Dr King’s Dream is alive and it’s so apparent on this day, President Barack Obama’s…2nd inauguration. But apparently a lot of team owners in NFL don’t believe in the dream of equality, that is unless it fattens their bottom line. Once again the NFL’s Rooney Rule came under great scrutiny last week when out of 8 head coaching vacancies, not one qualified African American was hired for the job of ‘Head Coach’. Just in case you were unfamiliar, the NFL’s Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations positions. The rule is named after Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee.
Dan Rooney and his family have been a leaders in equality within the NFL for years. Their franchise, The Steelers, was the first: to hire an African American assistant coach, Lowell Perry in 57; to have an African American starting QB in Joe Gillam (1973); and to have an African American Superbowl MVP with Franco Harris in 1975. Back in 1984, The Steelers hired future Superbowl XLI winning coach Tony Dungy as the first African American coordinator. The Rooney family’s present day examples of equality include the hiring of the first full time female trainer, Ariko Iso and of course the hiring of African American coach Mike Tomlin, who has guided The Steelers to 2 Superbowl titles during his tenure.
It’s no secret that African Americans excel to the highest of heights in football. It’s also no secret that it’s very difficult to win in the NFL. God bless The Rooney Rule and it’s positive intentions. But this years hiring efforts by owners in the NFL prove that the rule is merely a formality when it comes to bringing in ‘who you really want.’ The 8 teams that had head coaching opportunities were the:Cardinals, Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Chiefs, Eagles, Chargers and Bears. Longtime Eagles head coach Andy Reid was the first to get fired and be hired when the Chief’s made him their guy, even after his Eagles Team went 4-11. Successfull college head coach Chip Kelly left Oregon for the Eagles head coaching job after being lured away by Jeffrey Lurie. The rest of the positions were filled by various up and coming but unproven NFL coordinators and assistant coaches. Not one was a person of color.
Of the 32 NFL franchises to begin this season, only 5 teams had African American head coaches: Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Leslie Frazier (Vikings), Romeo Crennel (Chiefs), Tomlin (Steelers) and Lovie Smith (Bears). 2 weeks ago that number dropped to 3 when Crennel and Lovie Smith were both fired. Lewis and Frazier’s teams both made this season’s playoffs. Tomlin’s Steelers missed the playoffs entirely and Crennel’s Chiefs were just horrible this year. It should be noted that Coach Crennel only got a season and 3 games as the head coach of the Chiefs. By comparison his predecessor Todd Haley got 3 seasons with the Chiefs before they let him go with 3 games left in the 2011 season.
Lovie Smith’s firing and lack of hiring was the most puzzling. Even though the Bears ‘barely’ missed the post season, Smith’s team posted a healthy 10-6 record in a tough NFC North division. Stats and sports analysts have said his teams were anemic offensively but one the leagues best defensively. The Bears organization gave Coach Smith 9 seasons and he had an overall winning percentage during his tenure. Yes his Bears teams struggled at times, but Lovie Smith is a winner. He won 3 divisional titles, a conference title and a Superbowl berth in which he shared in the spotlight of being the first African American head coach to lead his team to the big game along with Tony Dungy. Even though he was 10-6 this year and had all of these accolades to his coaching resume, Lovie Smith wasn’t hired to rejuvenate any of the 8 franchises that could have used his experience.
Jim Caldwell is the offensive coordinator for Superbowl contending Baltimore Ravens; the same Ravens that just knocked off The Patriots in their home stadium. Before he did this though he was the head coach of The Indianapolis Colts team that went 14-2 in 2009 before losing in the Superbowl to the Saints. The following season his team made the post season again. In 2011 though, without his franchise QB Peyton Manning for the entire season due to injury, his team posted a 2-14 record, his only losing season. The Colts owner, Jim Irsay, fired Jim Caldwell after the season despite the fact that his star player and leader of the team wasn’t even there to help the team that entire season. Caldwell would have been an obvious choice even over Lovie Smith, but especially before, Chip Kelly and ANY unproven coordinator for any team coaching vacancy..
So why have a Rooney Rule or other rules like it if the owners don’t take it serious enough to honor it? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a stickler for the rules when it comes to player safety. So it’s not surprising that players don’t look at him too favorably. But Goodell could win back some gratification from his players if he pushed harder for and demanded that more NFL owners and franchises embrace equality within their organizations. No person should ever be given a job because of his or her skin color. But more must be done in the NFL to ensure that those who create the ‘playing fields’ are themselves playing fair and giving all a fair chance at opportunity and not just a ‘fare’ chance to make some money. After all, that’s what Dr. Kings Dream is truly about. Until We Read Again…
Brandon ‘TNT’ West
Music Exec / Industry Insider/ The Andy Rooney of Hip Hop Culture
Holla at him @tnt718