© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003
INDIANAPOLIS -- When James Harris retired as an NFL quarterback two decades ago, no team would hire him as an assistant coach.
Now he is one of the league's few top black executives, the new vice president of player personnel for the Jaguars. But Harris thinks the league has work to do in minority hiring.
"We're talking about African-Americans, but we're also talking about the best candidate to get the job," said Harris, a former scout for the Bucs. "In some cases, where an African-American is the best candidate, he's still not getting the job."
Harris met Wednesday with commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Among Tagliabue's other guests were the league's three black coaches: Tony Dungy of the Colts, Herman Edwards of the Jets and Marvin Lewis of the Bengals.
Among the topics was the league's new plan to promote minority hiring.
It requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for coaching vacancies. But the Lions were unable to get a minority to talk to them after it became clear they were ready to hire ex-San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci.
Lewis and Harris both said they didn't blame candidates for not interviewing with Detroit. And Lewis didn't blame Lions president Matt Millen for his quick decision on Mariucci.
"You have a man who is fighting for his job and he's got the right to hire his man," Lewis said. "But I don't think someone should take the interview if they knew who Matt was going to hire."
Several black assistants, including defensive coordinators Ted Cottrell of the Jets and Greg Blache of the Bears, have been interviewed during the past two offseasons, but neither was hired.
Blache and Cottrell were listed as finalists for the 49ers job. But San Francisco hired Dennis Erickson, who was not on their announced list of finalists.
The best solution, Harris said, may be the most complicated: Hiring more minorities in decision-making jobs will lead to the hiring of more minorities as coaches.
"I think it goes hand in hand, having balance in the league to make decisions," he said.
BILLS: Receiver Peerless Price was named the team's franchise player, and he is guaranteed a one-year deal worth $5.01-million.
CARDINALS: The team has made a contract offer to quarterback Jake Plummer, but it is not clear whether he will accept the offer or become a free agent.
PANTHERS: Punter Todd Sauerbrun was designated the team's franchise player and the two-time Pro Bowl selection must be paid at least $1.47-million this season.
STEELERS: Guard Keydrick Vincent signed a one-year contract.