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Jobs, not excuses, for minority coaches


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001

Go ahead, let's hear them. Let's hear all the reasons and explanations for why Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis didn't get a head-coaching job.

He isn't a good interview, right? He wasn't available for more interviews because his team went to the Super Bowl, right? He's not quite ready to be a head coach, right?

Some of that may be valid. But when you get right down to it, many people arrive at only one conclusion.


It's a hot word, to be sure, one not to be used casually. But you want to know why it keeps coming up every time someone like Lewis gets passed over for a head-coaching or front office job?

It's because there's always an excuse, a neat little explanation for why this guy didn't get the job or wasn't right for it. And, frankly, people like Lewis have had it up to here.

Do you blame them?

It's hard to believe that favoritism and racism exist in America but conveniently have not touched pro sports. Just as it's hard to believe the only reason there have been just five black NFL head coaches in a league that's about 65 percent black is because no other blacks have been right for the job.

I mean, does anyone really think the reason this country hasn't had a woman president is because none has been the best candidate?

Come on.

Sooner rather than later we have to get past this race thing, but excuses aren't going to get us there. They get old.

Facts are facts. Lewis was the most decorated coaching prospect of this off-season. He is the architect of arguably the greatest defense of all time.

When you list the reasons the Ravens are Super Bowl champions, you start somewhere near this guy. He easily has better credentials than Marty Mornhinweg (Detroit), Dave McGinnis (Arizona), Butch Davis (Cleveland) and Gregg Williams (Buffalo).

Yet, all nine teams that had head-coaching vacancies since the start of the season passed on Lewis. Just as they did all those years on Tony Dungy. And Art Shell. And Ray Rhodes. And so many others.

What's worse, only one team (Buffalo) bothered to interview Lewis.

And no one is supposed to think maybe, just maybe, race played a role?

"I have been prepared to be a football coach," Lewis said. "The work we have done here speaks for itself."

Granted, Lewis was hurt by coaches not being allowed to talk to other teams about vacancies until their team's season is over. By the time the Ravens had won the Super Bowl, every opening had been filled except the ones in Cleveland and Buffalo.

Though the process obviously needs to change so all coaches have the same interview opportunities, any team that was genuinely interested in Lewis could have waited or negotiated behind the scenes with his agent. Believe me, there are ways to get around the system.

"You would have thought more than one team out of nine would say that here's a guy that should at least be talked to," Dungy told last week. "You can only beg the question in your own mind: If he were white, would it have been one out of nine? I don't think so. I think it would have been more than one out of nine. I would suggest more than one team would have talked to him with the credentials he has and what he's done the last two years."

As for speculation that Lewis is a bad interview, he clearly is personable enough to get the Ravens' defensive players to perform at levels few people imagined.

Listen, no one is suggesting that team owners intentionally and purposefully shun minority coaching candidates. It's more subtle than that. It's about comfort levels and shared experiences. It's about a circle of acquaintances that includes too few minorities.

Thankfully, those issues are being addressed. Major League Baseball, for instance, insists teams inform the league of minorities interviewed for any openings. And the NFL greatly has helped familiarize its owners with the league's qualified minority coaching candidates.

And it has worked to some degree. More minority candidates are getting looks, which is all they have ever wanted. You know, a fair chance to compete. An environment in which the best candidate gets the job.

Anything except more excuses.

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