Disappointment clouds John Wooten's voice. The 76-year-old chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance believes the NFL has a problem, one that has nothing to do with the 34-minute power outage during the Super Bowl or debate swirling around President Obama's comments questioning football's long-term safety.
Since the regular season ended in December, eight head coaches and seven general managers were hired.
None were minorities.
"We think this thing is out of whack," said Wooten, who played nine seasons on the offensive lines of the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins from 1959-68.
More than anything, Wooten is baffled. And, really, you can't blame him.
Four minority head coaches remain in the NFL (in addition to five general managers) after Lovie Smith and Romeo Crennel were dismissed. A team hasn't hired a minority head coach from outside the organization since the Pittsburgh Steelers brought on Mike Tomlin in 2007.
The league had just two minority offensive coordinators last season, including Jim Caldwell of the Baltimore Ravens, promoted from quarterbacks coach when Cam Cameron was fired following the Week 14 loss to the Washington Redskins.
This isn't just an NFL issue. Entering the 2012 season, just 18 of the 120 the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision universities had minority head coaches.
The Rooney Rule, instituted in 2003, requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority for each head coach and senior football operations opening. Each of the 15 searches fully complied with the rule, the NFL confirmed, leaving it as well-intentioned window dressing.
Credulity is strained to believe there wasn't one qualified, hirable minority among those 15 openings.
The NFL, already dogged by a season of litigation and off-field controversy, agreed in a statement that said the whitewash was "unexpected" and "reflect[ed] a disappointing lack of diversity." Between dousing fires about football's safety issue in New Orleans last week, commissioner Roger Goodell called the situation "unacceptable."
Smith's firing after leading the Chicago Bears to a 10-6 season and a 81-63 record (that would rank 11th among active NFL head coaches) since 2004 sparked Wooten's concern. That concern only grew. Three teams interviewed Smith for their vacant head coach positions. Each passed on Smith in favor of two college coaches and an offensive coordinator.
"It's hard for me to believe he was fired in Chicago," Wooten said. "It's even harder for me to believe that even one of [the teams that interviewed him], based on what their teams are, wouldn't hire him."
At least Smith landed an interview.
Caldwell didn't. Neither did Winston Moss, the Green Bay Packers' well-regarded assistant head coach who also mentored inside linebackers.
Caldwell's run to the Super Bowl isn't an excuse, either, since both Seattle Seahawks coordinators, including new Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, interviewed while their team remained alive in the postseason.
Think about this. Caldwell, three years removed from leading the Indianapolis Colts to a 14-2 season, who transformed the Ravens' erratic offense and quarterback Joe Flacco to propel the late-season surge, wasn't deemed worthy of one interview.
"When you do what those guys did at the level they did it and they don't get an interview, then something's wrong," Wooten said.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance promotes minority hiring in the NFL and wants to transform the Rooney Rule from a box to check off to satisfy a requirement to something that creates a lasting pipeline of qualified minority candidates for positions on sidelines and in front offices. The first decade of the rule produced 13 minority head coaches (four were interim) compared to six minorities in the previous decades.
Last month, the group proposed expanding the rule to include coordinators, assistant head coaches and several front office positions, including team presidents and vice presidents of player personnel. The plan, which includes offseason symposia to better develop future coaches and front office staffers, has been favorably received by the NFL.
"What we've done is challenge the league," Wooten said. "Let's move forward in certain areas."
That's a worthy start for the NFL to address a problem that should be more clear-cut than head injuries or Bountygate.
No one is looking for a handout or for less-qualified applicants to be hired.
They simply want a chance.
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