NEW ORLEANS Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell understood why his hiring at Wake Forest in 1993 was a topic of conversation.
After all, Caldwell was the first black coach in ACC history when he arrived in Winston-Salem following seven seasons under Joe Paterno at Penn State.
Twenty years later, Caldwell is still answering questions about the lack of diversity among football coaches – in this case, in the NFL.
“These kinds of talks are not new to me. But obviously at this point, we think at this point that maybe we’d be beyond that,” Caldwell said earlier this week. “But the fact of the matter is we’re not and it’s probably going to be a fairly hot-button issue for some time, yet.”
There were eight openings for head coaches and seven general manager vacancies following the regular season. None went to minorities, prompting a re-examination of the Rooney Rule, the 10-year-old rule that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coach and general manager openings.
Before the rule – named for Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney – went into effect in 2003, the league had only seven minority coaches in 80-plus years. Thirteen have been hired since the rule was instituted.
But after no minorities were hired this offseason, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, made of up minority coaches and front-office officials, called for an expansion of the rule to include coordinators, assistant head coaches and team presidents.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a member of the league’s diversity committee, said it’s time to tweak the policy.
“The Rooney Rule has worked,” said Newsome, who was the NFL’s first black general manager when he was promoted in 2002. “It’s like anything else, you’ve got to continue to try to make it better.”
In a league in which more than 70 percent of the players are black, only three head coaches are black: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier. The fourth minority coach, the Panthers’ Ron Rivera, is of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent.
“There’s been a lot of ebb and flow,” Caldwell said. “There’s some periods of time where it looked like it was ascending in the right direction. And then all of a sudden it seems a bit of a decline. Why that happens? I’m not certain. But that’s why some of these rules are put in place to make certain that it doesn’t, that everybody gets a fair shot at least at an interview.”
Two minority coaches were fired after the season – the Bears’ Lovie Smith and Romeo Crennel in Kansas City.
Smith was 81-63 in nine seasons in Chicago, and took the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006. The Bears went 10-6 last season, but missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years.
Smith interviewed for head-coaching jobs this winter with Philadelphia, Buffalo and San Diego, but was passed over for each.
Caldwell, fired in Indianapolis last year two seasons after taking the Colts to the Super Bowl, was hired in Baltimore as the quarterbacks coach. Ravens coach John Harbaugh promoted Caldwell to offensive coordinator after Cam Cameron was fired in December.
The Ravens improved from 344 yards a game to 417 after the switch, and have averaged 427 yards and 30 points in three postseason games. Despite those numbers, Caldwell had no interviews.
A couple of general managers reportedly told Newsome they would have talked to Caldwell had the Ravens not gone as far as they have in the playoffs.
But Caldwell found it more troubling that Smith was not re-hired after being fired in Chicago.
When Tony Dungy and Herm Edwards were let go by Tampa Bay and the New York Jets, respectively, both were hired as head coaches within weeks.
“There was a point in time that it indeed did happen, as it does for non-minority candidates. This year it did not,” Caldwell said. “Obviously, there’s some concern there and that’s why I think the rule is going to be revisited.”
The Panthers interviewed two black candidates for their general manager position – Tennessee Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson and New York Giants college scouting director Marc Ross – before hiring Dave Gettleman.
Former Oakland coach Hue Jackson, who is also black, met with the Panthers about their offensive coordinator post before Rivera promoted Mike Shula.
Former Ravens coach Brian Billick said the key to improving minority hiring for head-coaching positions is to increase the number of black coordinators, particularly on the staffs of black coaches.
Among the 10 coordinators who worked for the five black coaches this past season, only one was black – Minnesota defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
“I think you have to look at African American coaches in this league that all have white coordinators. Because that’s the conduit,” said Billick, an NFL Network analyst. “What do we need to do to change that? Because it’s got to work from the bottom up, not from the top down. From the top down, I think we’ve done everything we can.”
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