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The NFL's Black Eye
Peter King
February 07, 2000
Ted Cottrell is the latest black assistant shut out of a top job
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February 07, 2000

The Nfl's Black Eye

Ted Cottrell is the latest black assistant shut out of a top job

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Ted Cottrell has a dream. Since joining the NFL coaching fraternity as a line-backers coach with Kansas City in 1981, he has envisioned himself as boss of a team. Certainly he has the credentials. Cottrell, 52, has coached the linebackers and/or defensive line of the Chiefs, the USFL's New Jersey Generals, the Cardinals and the Bills. In '98 Buffalo promoted him to defensive coordinator; this season the Bills finished first in the NFL in team defense, allowing just 14.3 points and 252.8 yards per game. "I'm ready," Cottrell says. "I've learned from some of the best coaches in the game."

Ted Cottrell is black. His phone didn't ring in January, when the six teams with coaching vacancies conducted at least 15 interviews, only two of which were believed to have been with black candidates, new Kansas City linebackers coach Willie Shaw and Atlanta offensive line coach Art Shell. Unless the Saints hire a black coach (the front-runners are Dom Capers and Jim Haslett, both white), the NFL will continue its lily-white string of hires: Of the Past 30 new head coaches, only one—Ray Rhodes in Green Bay last year—was black.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said last week that African-Americans are "in the pipeline" for head coaching jobs. Really? What kind of pipeline excludes the coordinator of the league's best defense? Dave Wannstedt and Bill Belichick, both of whom had losing records in their previous head coaching stints, have taken over the Dolphins and the Patriots, respectively. Shell, who had a 54-38 record in six seasons as the Raiders' coach, has gone more than five years without a second shot. Rams offensive coordinator Mike Martz builds a potent unit and pops up on everyone's short list before re-upping with St. Louis in a deal that gives him the head job when Dick Vermeil retires. Cottrell builds a potent unit and makes no one's short list.

"I don't think it's overt racism," says Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy, one of two black NFL head coaches, along with the Vikings' Dennis Green, "but for some reason, Ted Cottrell isn't a household name and Mike Martz is. Very few of our owners would know who Ted Cottrell is."

Tagliabue says he can't force the 31 NFL owners—all white—to hire anybody. But he offers no fresh ideas, nor does he do anything symbolic such as publicly chastising the owners. Meanwhile, Cottrell waits. "I guess we're just going to have to duplicate what we did with this year's defense next year," he says. "You can't get too discouraged. My father taught me never to give up my dreams."