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Jackson: NFL coach-hiring practices 'a culture driven by white supremacists'

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Posted: Saturday January 29, 2000 01:02 PM


ATLANTA -- In a stinging rebuke of the National Football League's head-coach hiring practices, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Friday night that the slow pace of black coaching hires in the league is a result of "a culture driven by white supremacists."

Speaking to me in the lobby of a downtown Atlanta hotel, Jackson said: "There is one standard for choosing coaches in the National Football League and another standard for choosing players."

The NFL responded with an angry denouncement of Jackson's statement Saturday afternoon. "In the NFL," said league senior vice president for communications Joe Browne, "teams have only one standard for hiring players, coaches and other football personnel. That standard is whether the individuals, white or black, will help take the teams to the Super Bowl."

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue could not be reached for comment, but Browne defended the NFL's coaching hiring practices. "Nearly one third of our coaches are black, including dozens of former players. A growing number of coordinators are black. Despite Rev. Jackson's perceptions, those are the facts of life in the NFL today."

Browne refused to discuss Jackson's "white supremacist" accusation about the NFL culture that has spawned the slow pace of hiring black head coaches.

Jackson's remarks, made two days before the league's signature event, Super Bowl XXXIV, may cast a pall over the game. But there has been growing impatience among leaders such as Jackson -- the president of the Rainbow Coalition, and one of the nation's leading human rights activists -- about coaching opportunities for minorities. Of the last 30 head-coaching hires in the NFL, only one black man -- Ray Rhodes -- has been hired by any of the NFL's 31 franchises.

Tagliabue, who earlier Friday defended the league's minority coaching hiring, has said that he and the NFL office staff can do only so much to try to push minority candidates. In the past, Tagliabue has said that hiring coaches is a personal matter that owners control.

There have been six coaching vacancies in the NFL this winter. Miami, filling from within, interviewed no minority candidates and hired assistant Dave Wannstedt to replace Jimmy Johnson. Similarly, the New York Jets conducted no external job search before hiring long-time Bill Parcells aide Al Groh this week. The New England Patriots interviewed veteran black assistant Willie Shaw, but settled instead on former Cleveland head coach Bill Belichick. It is believed that the Dallas Cowboys interviewed no minority candidates before promoting former defensive coordinator Dave Campo. Green Bay, which fired Rhodes and his entire coaching staff (including minority coordinators Sherm Lewis and Emmitt Thomas) hired Seattle offensive coordinator Mike Sherman as head coach. New Orleans is the only team currently with a vacancy. The Saints interviewed a minority candidate, former Raiders head coach Art Shell, on Thursday and aren't expected to name a head coach until next week.

The two men with previous head-coaching experience, Wannstedt and Belichick, both had losing records when they were fired by Chicago and Cleveland, respectively.

"Tagliabue must say to the league: 'This does not smell right,'" Jackson said. He suggested the league "publish some standards" that would make it clear what minority candidates would have to do to achieve their goal of becoming NFL head coaches. "When the playing field is level," Jackson said, speaking of minority coaches, "we usually earn our spot."

Owners were not immediately available for comment Friday night, but it would be very difficult to implement a system whereby assistant coaches were automatically hired if their units achieved some successful statistical standard. But it has been baffling to some NFL observers that a coach like Shell, who compiled a 56-41 record while coaching the Raiders from 1989 to 1994, has never gotten another head-coaching opportunity while several white coaches have gotten second chances to be head coaches after losing at their first stop. Approximately 70 % of the leagues' player are black.

Currently, the league employs two black head coaches. Minnesota's Dennis Green, who has made the playoffs in 7 of his 8 seasons with the Vikings, is one. Tony Dungy, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell just short of beating St. Louis in the NFC Championship game last Sunday, is the other.

Jackson said he had spoken to Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf recently about the firing of Rhodes after one season. "I'm convinced Ron is a good and decent man," Jackson said as a crowd of curiosity-seekers began to form around him. "But the wipeout on that coaching staff set us back 10 years."

One of the minority candidates who has been shirked this winter is Buffalo defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, an NFL assistant coach for 15 years on three teams. Cottrell's Buffalo defense ranked first in the NFL in 1999 in total defense. But he told CNNSI Friday that he had not been contacted by any of the teams seeking a head coach this month.

"I have to just keep working hard and hope my time will come," Cottrell said from his Bills' office Friday afternoon.

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