Sunday, February 7, 2010

Caldwell’s Colts Key To Rooney Rule’s Future

By Mark F. Gray

Liberals and conservatives who sit on either side of the political spectrum these days don’t agree on much except for one thing. Now with an African American president the nation has finally overcome and there is equal opportunity for everyone.

Well…not exactly!

Ask the plethora of competent minority head coaching candidates who continue to be ceremoniously interviewed by teams who have already made hiring decisions and its clear that opportunities to be head coaches in the NFL still aren’t equal for coaches of color. Despite the success of the few African American coaches most owners are still genuinely reluctant to give the leadership position of their franchise to candidates who don’t resemble a character from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Who knew you still had to be Pa Kettle in 2010 to find the seams in the two deep zone?

If you are of a certain age and were a fan of the Baltimore Colts the images of the Mayflower escape still cut through your soul like a hot knife going through butter. The only redeeming quality of the Colts winning Super Bowl three years ago to those fans was that Tony Dungy broke the Lombardi Trophy barrier. That said, Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell is playing for more than just a world championship in Super Bowl XLIV this year. This is a referrendum on the merits of the Rooney Rule that some in the NFL establishment feel is a policy whose time has passed.

That Caldwell is the fourth African American coach in as many years to lead a team to the Super Bowl is the most innocuous statistic in the build up to the annual game of the century. He is a testament to the foresight of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney who graphed the rule which mandates all teams interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a head coach or general manager. It has eroded the argument that owners “didn’t know where to find viable candidates” by giving them a legitimate pool to choose from.

Three years ago Mike Tomlin validated the process by overwhelming the Steelers organization when given a fair unbiased interview and landed the job. Last year he led the Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl championship proving they made the right decision. That Tomlin wasn’t even considered a long shot going in to the interview process should have enlightened 31 other owners about the merits of objectivity when making the most critical hire for any organization.

Nonetheless, there are still owners who aren’t committed to diversity and have found loopholes in the system to circumvent the Rooney Rule and begin the assault on its viability. When the Washington Redskins interviewed Jerry Gray for their upcoming vacancy while still on Jim Zorn’s - staff as Mike Shanahan waited in the wings - it technically satisfied the rule but wasn’t good for the process. The same thing held true for Perry Fewell in Buffalo who ultimately was passed over by another retread coach in Chan Gailey.

Some critics challenge the merits of the Rooney Rule by looking at it as a form of affirmative action although it doesn’t mandate quotas for hires. Others says that those who interview but aren’t hired are better off having gone through the process because it gives owners a more diverse pool of candidates for the next round of hires. But in reality it’s a bigger list of coaches for owners to use as examples to say “we comply”.

If Caldwell’s Colts win Super Bowl XLIV it would mark the official golden age of African American head coaches. This would make three in four years who have led their team’s to a world championship. In a bottom line business where to bling is the thing if should open doors wider for minority coaches than ever.

Who dat gonna save the Rooney Rule, Caldwell’s Colts, that’s who!

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