- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

The problem with Johnnie Cochran's recent threat to sue the NFL over the league's hiring practices with regard to black coaches isn't that it goes too far.

Rather, it's that it doesn't go far enough.

In a report released last week titled "Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities," Cochran and the Washington law firm of Mehri & Skalet contend that the NFL's black coaches face a glass ceiling, one rooted in systemic, league-wide racial bias.

Noting that just two of the league's 32 head coaches are black, the report claims that black and white NFL coaches compete on an uneven playing field.

Black coaches, the report states, are the last to be hired. The first to be fired. And forced to greatly outperform their white counterparts in order to advance half as far.

The report also claims the numbers are there to prove it.

"Black coaches are being held to a higher standard,'" Cochran said at a news conference last week. "Now is the time for the NFL to step up and make a change."

We couldn't agree more. In fact, we'd like to see the NFL step up with both feet. Because black coaches aren't the only ones with a beef.

At least not by the criteria of the Cochran report.

Indeed, there is another coach out there who seemingly has been held to a higher standard. An individual who has more than a little in common with the five black NFL head coaches profiled in the report.

A fellow who, quite frankly, really ought to have Cochran's number on speed dial.

You've probably heard of him. His name is Marty Schottenheimer.

Granted, he happens to be white.

Still, if the arguments and conclusions in the Cochran report are to be taken seriously, then Schottenheimer has nearly as much right to bring a case against the league as, say, Dennis Green.

And yes, we also have the numbers to prove it.

For one, Schottenheimer's career statistics meet or exceed nearly all of the benchmarks that the report holds up as proof that black coaches are required to be better than white coaches.

Schottenheimer's 15½ seasons as a head coach also contain striking parallels to the tenures of Green, Art Shell, Tony Dungy and (to a lesser extent) Ray Rhodes all of whom, the report claims, have been fired more quickly than similarly situated white peers.

Of course, Schottenheimer doesn't share the same skin pigmentation as Green and Co.

But why quibble?

According to the Cochran report, league owners and general managers demand that black coaches be superior to their white counterparts in order to land head coaching jobs.

The proof, says the report, is in the numbers: Over the last 15 seasons, the five black NFL head coaches hired since 1989 have, on average, outperformed their 86 white colleagues.

The report notes that black coaches averaged 1.1 more wins per season than white coaches 9.1 versus eight while leading their clubs to the playoffs 67 percent of the time versus 39 percent for their caucasian counterparts.

Why the discrepancy?

"It's like an acceptance of mediocrity with white coaches, and an insistence on superiority on black coaches in order to give them a chance," said District-based attorney Cyrus Mehri, whose name is under Cochran's on the report.

If that's really the case and if that's really what the numbers show than we have little choice but to conclude that the NFL has unfairly set the bar even higher for Schottenheimer.

Judging by Cochran's criteria, league decision-makers have forced poor Schottenheimer to be almost Lombardian in order to find employment. Since 1986, Schottenheimer has averaged 10 wins a season and has taken his teams to the playoffs 85 percent of the time, trumping white and black coaches alike.

So, we ask: Did Rich Kotite have to be this good to get a job? Did Norv Turner? Did Rhodes?

Nope. Uh-uh. And no.

For more evidence of league-wide anti-Marty bias again, by Cochran's standards look no farther than the report's contention that NFL owners show less patience with black coaches than white ones.

Here, Cochran and Co. point to four examples:

•In 1994, Oakland dumped Shell even though he was coming off back-to-back winning seasons and had led the club to a division title and the AFC Championship game during his tenure.

•Three seasons ago, Green Bay jettisoned Rhodes after a single 8-8 campaign, despite the fact that the Packers were in a rebuilding year.

•Dungy was fired in Tampa Bay last season despite a winning record and four trips to the postseason over a five-year span.

•Green stepped down in Minnesota last season following his first and only losing campaign with the Vikings. During his 10-year tenure, Green won 63 percent of his games and four division titles while making eight playoff appearances and advancing to the NFC Championship game twice.

In each of the above cases, the Cochran report argues, the black coach in question was the victim of a "discriminatory trend" and given a quicker hook than a white coach in similar circumstances would have been.

Hey, tell that to Marty.

Like Shell and Dungy, Schottenheimer was fired in Cleveland despite three straight winning seasons, two division titles, a trip to the AFC Championship game and an AFC Coach of the Year award.

Like Green, Schottenheimer resigned in Kansas City following his first and only losing season with the Chiefs. During his 10-year tenure, he won 63 percent of his games and three division titles while making eight playoff appearances and earning a trip to the AFC Championship game.

And like Rhodes, Schottenheimer was let go after a single 8-8 campaign in Washington, despite the fact that the Redskins were in a rebuilding year.

As such, Cochran's logic forces us to again conclude that Schottenheimer has been stung by a discriminatory trend of his own, the source of which remains a mystery. Perhaps NFL decision-makers find him too old, too gruff, too wedded to a boring, ball-control attack.

Who knows, maybe they think he's too white.

Whatever it is, we know a double-standard when we see it. And frankly as Marty might say we can't wait for some good old fashioned justice. Or at least a successful lawsuit.

After all, it's not as if all NFL coaches white, black, mustachioed and otherwise are held to a higher standard, any more than it's the case that the league's owners are a notoriously fickle and impatient bunch.

Right?


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