Blackout: African American Coaches Remain on the Sidelines

Article excerpt

When former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis was hired in the same capacity with the Washington Redskins in January, much was made about the 43-year-old's three-year deal and $850,000 annual salary - it's comparable to what some National Football League (NFL head coaches make and is thought to be at least twice the average for assistant coaches. D Lewis deserve that kind of dough? Sure. His defense broke the singleseason record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season with 165 (the previous record was 187 held by Chicago) in 2000 en route to the Baltimore Ravens' fmt Super Bowl championship.

What the cynics should have asked was how there could continue to be a dearth of African American head coaches in the NFL and college ranks.

"You know what that Tampa Bay situation comes down to, right?" one sportswriter said recently alluding to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' firing of Tony Dungy, who is Black, in early January and their decision not to hire Lewis after reportedly agreeing to do so. "Tampa could live with firing one African American coach, but couldn't live with replacing him with another. Plain and simple," he said. "It's blatant racism."

If you're keeping count (since Dennis Green was fired in January from the Minnesota Vikings) the 32-team NFL only has two African American head coaches - Herman Edwards, with the New York Jets, and Dungy, who is now with the Indianapolis Colts - while 65 percent of its players are Black.

The NFL's first African American head coach (Hall of Famer Art Shell, formerly of the Oakland Raiders) was hired 13 long years ago. The progress since has been miniscule. The league should be embarrassed - even outraged - by the figures.

For years, the NFL has danced around the subject. The league has been criticized for not opening its doors to African Americans, while leaving those same doors swinging for white coaches who get fired and rehired for job after job, season after season.

As Sean Scanlon, a syndicated sports columnist puts it: "The reason there is a lack of Black coaches in the NFL is because failures and retreads like Dave Wannstedt.. keep getting hired."

At the college level, things are worse.

Thirteen head coaching vacancies were available at the Division I level last fall, a number that didn't go unnoticed by the Black Coaches Association (BCA). At the end of the day, only one African American got the call - one of the few who already had a head coaching job: Tyrone Willingham, formerly of Stanford, will now coach Notre Dame. Willingham's hiring is historic. The twotime PAC-10 Coach of the Year is the first Black coach Notre Dame has ever had in any sport.

"One of the arguments we continued to hear was that we would certainly have entertained interviewing someone if we had known about them," says Floyd Keith, executive director of the Indianapolis-- based BCA. …