DAVE OWENS: We're Blind to One of the NFL's Biggest Problems

Dave Owens, Special to The Informer | 8/17/2013, 4:47 p.m.
One of the most serious issues surrounding the NFL has gotten nary a peep. The great racial divide is alive ...
Raheem Morris, defensive backs coach for the Washington Redskins (Courtesy photo)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has to be straight giddy right about now. His product is in full bloom and the thirst for Week 1 has parched fans yearning all across the country.

The predictable storylines have already begun: RG3's knee, how many starts does Mark Sanchez have left, Vick or Foles, life without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and, of course, Tim Tebow. Sports reporters are busy filling the barrel of the 24-hour news cycle.

Welcome to the media giant that is the National Football League, and Goodell knows his product dwarfs all others. Like the McDonald's commercial, he's lovin' it.

Goodell is giddy because one of the most serious issues surrounding his product has gotten nary a peep. The great racial divide is alive and well in the coaching ranks and, from my perspective, the Rooney Rule appears to be flawed.

Of the 32 coaches in the NFL, two are African-American. That equals about six percent — a shockingly paltry percentage when you consider the league is roughly 70 percent black.

"It's a picture with a lot of good and a lot of challenges," said Cyrus Mehri, who serves as counsel for the Fritz Pollard Alliance (FPA).

The FPA Foundation promotes candidate talent development for coaching, front office executives and scouting staffs throughout the National Football League and is named for Pollard, who became the first black head coach in NFL history in the 1920s.

Mehri, along with the late Johnnie Cochran, challenged the NFL in 2002 releasing a report titled: Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities.

"The good news from the NFL point of view is from the top Roger Goodell, Jeff Pasch (NFL General Counsel), as well as with owners, or at least some owners, there's a real commitment to try to do better," Mehri said. "On the challenges side, we still have lingering stereotype issues that in my view are similar to what happened in years past with position segregation."

Mehri referenced the days when some owners and coaches believed (consciously or subconsciously) that African-Americans weren't mentally equipped to play certain positions such as quarterback, interior lineman or middle linebacker.

Today, that same historical position segregation is repeating itself in the coaching ranks, Mehri contends.

"There's this notion that black coaches can be on the defensive side but cannot call the plays on the offensive side," he said.

That last statement is a critical point. The NFL product is offense-driven. Rules to help wide receivers flourish, such as no contact after five yards, were put in purposefully. Offense, particularly passing, has become the method of choice for teams. Coaches who maximize it are often thought of as the best candidate for the job.

Back to Mehri's point: Of the 32 current defensive coordinators in the league, eight are black. Of the 32 offensive coordinators in the NFL, however, only three are black and one of them (Arizona's Harold Goodwin) will not call plays this season. Thus, one of the major pipelines to getting an NFL head coaching job these days is severely devoid of diversity.