OPINION: We are blind to one of the NFL's biggest problem

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- We're Blind to one of The NFL's Biggest Problem

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has to be straight giddy right about now. His product is in full bloom and the thirst for week one 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 just to name a few. 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 Commissioner Roger 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," says 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," says Mehri. "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 references the days when some owners and coaches believed (consciously or subconsciously) that African-American's weren't mentally equipped to play certain positions like interior lineman, middle linebacker or quarterback.

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

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

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.

"All of last year (2012), there wasn't a single African-American coach calling plays until Jim Caldwell took over (with the Ravens) in December," said Mehri.

That fact helps explain why so few African-American coaches are getting a chance to lead NFL teams.

"The numbers don't lie but I don't know that it's intentional," says Pep Hamilton, currently the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts.

Hamilton is a rare breed indeed. A black man calling plays for an NFL franchise. His journey is just as fascinating. Hamilton was a scholar-athlete quarterback at Howard University from 1993-96. He graduated and eventually became the team's offensive coordinator before moving to the NFL. His stints there included quarterbacks coach for the Jets, 49ers and Bears before moving back down to the college ranks to become offensive coordinator at Stanford. In Palo Alto he worked with Andrew Luck. Hence, no surprise when he was reunited with Luck this season.

"I benefitted from the exposure that I had and then I was able to package and present myself in a way that ultimately made the quarterback position the priority in the things that I wanted to do," says Hamilton.

Hamilton continued by saying:

I had a ton of success at making quarterbacks successful starting out when I was at Howard," he continued. "From there I went into the NFL and worked with Paul Hackett, Jimmy Ray, Norv Turner, Jim Harbaugh, a lot of guys who had experience making quarterbacks successful.

Hamilton's story is one to celebrate, but it's also troubling in that there aren't many cases like his out there. How do we change that?

"As we evolve at the quarterback position and you have more African-American quarterbacks playing at the highest level, in time you're going to see more African-American quarterback coaching candidates and in turn you have more offensive coordinator candidates," says Hamilton.

Here's hoping so. Still the current coaching state is troubling and while Hamilton's perspective is both accurate and enlightening, one can't help but wonder about the non-empirical factors. Whose eyes are we often looking through when it's decision-making time and what are those eyes seeing?

Eight teams replaced head coaches this offseason, not one African-American was chosen among the lot. It surprised me that in a league often full of retread coaches, that former Bears coach Lovie Smith didn't claim one of those openings. Chip Kelly, Doug Marrone, and some guy named Gus Bradley were better options than a guy who led his team to a Super Bowl? Wow.

"Look at how Lovie Smith was treated as a former head coach versus how Andy Reid was," says Mehri. "They both have established track records, Kansas City wouldn't even let him {Reid} leave {after the interview}, and then Lovie has three interviews and didn't get selected, that was disappointing."

Mehri also says he was disappointed that Jim Caldwell, currently the other black offensive coordinator and former Colts Head Coach, wasn't selected.

To their credit, African-American coaches have taken the high road on the issue. The aforementioned Hamilton focused on readiness not race during our 20 minute interview:

When you have an opportunity to present yourself, you better be ready, don't wait and say hey, affirmative action is going to be the reason I get a shot, no, the reason that you can stay and have longevity is because what you're offering is going to help players realize their full potential as well as help your team to win.

Raheem Morris, currently defensive backs coach for the Washington Redskins agrees. Morris, the youngest coach in the NFL (32) at the time of his hiring recorded a 17-31 record in three seasons, including a 10-6 campaign in 2010.

"Your job is to get those jobs, go out there and win and you can keep those jobs," said Morris. "We as African-American coaches have to know how the business works so when you get put in those positions to go run a multi-million dollar organization you're prepared and you're ready. Having to do it at 32 was I ready? No chance, nobody would be, but when you get them it would be nice to go out and take advantage of them."

When coaches can't take advantage they get fired. For an African-American coach, the road back to a head coaching position is often littered with more roadblocks than their white counterparts. Morris has yet to get the call from a team to become defensive coordinator again, a position he held at Tampa Bay and Kansas State University. I asked him how frustrating it is to see white counterparts like Scott Linehan (Lions), Bill Callahan (Cowboys), Pat Shurmur (Eagles), or Jack Del Rio (Broncos) get fired from head coaching positions but still land back in coordinator roles.

Morris' response:

I have a different mental toughness, if I start looking at other people and getting jealous of other people that's going to affect me and who I am. I refuse to let that happen, right now I'm the defensive backs coach for the Washington Redskins and I have to be the best defensive backs coach I can in order for me to get my next opportunity as a defensive coordinator for anybody.

Mad respect to Morris for that answer. Meanwhile, he and other minority coaches soldier on doing their jobs hoping for that next opportunity to move up the ladder. It has got to be tough, however, making that climb and having to look over and see a guy like Gregg Williams, who was smack dab in the middle of the bounty-gate scandal, fall from grace and still land (senior assistant defensive coach) in a position higher than you.

The racial divide when it comes to NFL coaching at the highest level is grossly out of whack, and the league needs to address it immediately.


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