- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen was being honest. The top brass of the San Francisco 49ers might not have been honest enough. With the NFL's new minority hiring policy, it seems that sometimes you just can't win.
"It is a delicate situation," said New York Jets general manager Terry Bradway.
No need to tell Millen, who made it clear he wanted Steve Mariucci, freshly fired by the 49ers and thus available, to replace Marty Mornhinweg as his coach. Millen made it so clear, he fired Mornhinweg shortly after saying he would keep him.
Such treatment of Mornhinweg isn't what got Millen into trouble. It was this: Millen told the world, including anyone interested in the Lions job, that Mariucci was his first choice. As a result, at least five minority candidates refused to interview. Now Millen has been sent to the woodshed (i.e. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue), and his team faces league sanctions in March.
By inviting minority coaches to apply, Millen, in fact, was trying to uphold a new NFL policy created after lawyers Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran criticized the league last fall for its lack of minority head coaches and threatened lawsuits if things didn't change.
The NFL responded by forming a Work Place Diversity Committee headed by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney and creating guidelines that require teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a head coaching position.
Millen failed at this and drew heavy fire. Rooney said the process "fell short" of the guidelines. Gene Upshaw, president of the NFL Players Association, said Detroit gave "mere lip service" to the new policy. Mehri said the Lions "discouraged African-American coaches from putting their hat in the ring." Even the Detroit City Council got in the act, unanimously passing a resolution blasting the organization.
While Millen was ducking for cover, the 49ers management troika of majority owner John York, general manager Terry Donahue and Yoda-in-residence Bill Walsh was handling things differently. With no first choice to replace Mariucci apparently in mind, the team took its time. The 49ers interviewed several candidates, including minority NFL assistants Ted Cottrell and Greg Blache, and worked hard to let everybody know it.
After the surprise hiring of Dennis Erickson, Cottrell, the New York Jets' defensive coordinator who interviewed twice, said he was treated fairly, as opposed to experiences he had with some other clubs. He praised the 49ers' "professionalism." Columnists, commentators and others monitoring the situation also lauded the organization. San Francisco received the Mehri-Cochran seal of approval. A spokesman for Upshaw said the situation was much different from Detroit's.
But now other views are bubbling to the surface. Although the 49ers did exactly what the Lions did not, some are raising the possibility the team was less than honest, that the interest shown in other candidates was insincere. A growing chorus is speculating the club might have wanted Erickson or another college coach all along but made a big deal out of interviewing Cottrell and Blache to placate the league and the watchdogs. Cottrell's agent called it a "dog and pony show."
Curiously, a much smaller deal was made of interviewing Erickson. In fact, it never slipped out. Nor did it leak until later that the 49ers interviewed University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, who flat out lied about it.
"The only way they didn't give the job to Ted is if they had their minds made up the whole way," Jets cornerback Ray Mickens told the New York Post. "I think there was a whole bunch of deception going on. I think they already knew who they wanted."
Wrote a columnist in the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury-News: "The lingering feeling is that it was all for show and to get a pat on the back from Paul Tagliabue."

The first test of the new policy came just after the regular season, when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones fired Dave Campo and lured future Hall of Famer Bill Parcells out of retirement. No one questioned Parcells' credentials and accomplishments, but some wondered about the process. The only minority candidate Jones interviewed was former Minnesota coach Dennis Green (one of those who refused to talk to Millen), over the telephone. Yet that seemed to do the trick. Mehri and a few others objected, but the NFL went along.
Next was Jacksonville, after firing Tom Coughlin. Owner Wayne Weaver interviewed Green in person again, the only minority candidate before hiring Carolina defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Some considered this shady, mainly because Del Rio had no head coaching experience. But Tagliabue defended the manner in which both clubs conducted business.
"I don't understand what principle is supposed to underlay the criticism of the hiring of Jack Del Rio and Bill Parcells," Tagliabue said during Super Bowl week in San Diego. "The principal of fair employment really centers on the idea that employers should not hire unqualified or less qualified people and pass over members of minority of groups of one type or another who are more qualified or fully qualified. I don't see how that principle has been breached in any way, shape or form."
The Cincinnati Bengals drew rave reviews by making Marvin Lewis the third black head coach in the NFL. But then came the Lions' fiasco and the 49ers' somewhat interesting coaching search.
So what's a general manager to do?
"At the end of the day, it's all about 'did he hire a good coach?'" Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "The process is about finding the best coach. But within the process, it's about interviewing qualified minorities. You can't dismiss the process."
Newsome, the league's first black GM, said he owes it to himself to interview several candidates. He said he also owes it to the candidates.
"If anyone thinks it will be 50-50 [minority head coaches] in this league, it's not gonna happen," Newsome said. "But with this process we're talking about, we can get good, quality minority coaches in front of other owners. That's what this whole thing is about, having John York find out about Ted Cottrell and Greg Blache."
Neither Cottrell nor Pittsburgh assistant Tim Lewis nor the other minorities contacted by the Lions was interested in having Millen find out about them. Since the policy took effect, a new phrase, "mock interview," has been spicing the conversation. It relates to when a GM is perceived to have his mind already made up yet still wants to talk to other candidates.
No one wants to lend himself to what is considered to be a mock interview.
"I think it's a waste," Marvin Lewis said emphatically. "People then think you didn't get the job because you weren't qualified. … When you already know what the decision is and you're not it, why put your family and friends through it, why get phone calls from other coaches looking for jobs, why put all that stress on your back?
"I think there's an advantage to going through the interview process, but why go through a mock interview?" Lewis said. "Ted doesn't need to go through a mock interview, or Tim Lewis. They're going to be candidates later on no matter what. … If indeed Matt was going to hire Steve, then why b.s. anybody?"
Actually, Millen's problem was that he did not b.s. anybody.
Cottrell said of seven interviews he has had with teams, three were "bullcrap sessions." He told a reporter that San Diego used him as a "designated minority candidate," and this was before the policy existed. But some have suggested that an interview, any interview, is useful because of the experience and the visibility it creates. You learn how to prepare, how to lay out your plan and forcefully make your case. You hear all types of questions and next time, you might know what's coming.
Newsome said this is true, sometimes.
"Only if it's a legitimate interview," he said. "Having been on the other side, if you're interviewing with the true intent of having an opportunity for the job, then it's valuable."
And if that intent is missing?
"There's a different type of intensity to the interview," Newsome said. "It's like an exhibition game versus a regular-season game. It's not for real. How can you get any value out of it if you're not really interviewing a guy? If the purpose isn't there, you're just wasting everybody's time. Why go through it?"
Here's why: Maybe a coach is depriving himself of an opportunity, regardless of the perceived intent. Sometimes, said Bradway, you never know what your first choice will do. He cited Parcells signing a four-year contract with Tampa Bay last year, and then walking away from it. Because of that, Bradway said he is not sure Millen did anything wrong by inviting other candidates to apply.
"The assumption was that Mariucci would be the coach, but he hadn't signed a contract," said Bradway, who hired a minority, Herman Edwards, as his head coach in 2001. "Although Steve seemed to be the perfect fit, maybe he doesn't take the job."
Regarding the Lions, "maybe a few should have gone in anyway," Bradway said. "What happens if Mariucci turns it down? What happens if he says he's not comfortable [with the job]? It would have been good for some of the guys who might not have been on the radar screen."

Marvin Lewis always was on the radar screen, and each time he was shot down. At least that was the perception. The defensive coordinator of the Redskins last year, and before that the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, Lewis was seen by many as Exhibit A of a system that keeps minority coaches from advancing. Despite his track record and qualifications, word was that Lewis was repeatedly rejected for head coaching jobs.
"Untrue word," he said. "Just like it was untrue that I didn't interview very well."
Lewis interviewed with Buffalo, Carolina and Tampa Bay, but he acknowledges only wanting the Tampa Bay job, which he appeared to get. Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay picked Lewis but was overruled by the owners, who preferred Oakland head coach Jon Gruden. We know how that turned out.
Lewis said just because a candidate isn't hired, it doesn't mean he was turned down.
"Sometimes things don't line up the way you want them to," he said. "If there's a head coaching job open, but I don't have control over this, control over that, I may not want the job."
The ideal situation, Lewis said, would be to "just sneak in and [interview] without anybody knowing it."
Other candidates likely would prefer that, too, but the new policy discourages anonymity, at least concerning minorities. The policy requires visibility and an accounting of not only who is interviewed, but who is legitimately interviewed, however that might be interpreted.
It's a touchy subject. New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said he would be happy to talk about anything Giants-related, but "you won't get me to talk about this issue." Upshaw's spokesman said the NFLPA chief has spoken out enough about this and does not care to comment further.
Bradway, who serves on the Rooney committee's "working group," said considerable progress has been made in minority hiring. He points to Marvin Lewis, to James Harris (Jacksonville's new vice president of player personnel), to Rod Graves (promoted to Arizona's vice-president of football operations).
Bradway said it also was significant that former NFL assistant Karl Dorrell was named head coach at UCLA.
"That was a good thing," said Bradway. "You've got assistant coaches going to the college level and possibly coming back. … There have been some strides. Is it going to be fast enough? No. But this is a long-term thing."


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