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The NFL’s Old White Men’s Club continued with the New Orleans Saints promoting defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to head coach on Monday.
Or did it?
The Saints, who have announced a 2:30 p.m. press conference for Tuesday that will introduce Allen, followed the NFL’s Rooney Rule by interviewing the necessary two minority candidates — Aaron Glenn, who is the defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions and a former Saints assistant coach, and former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores — last week. Both are black.
The Saints also interviewed white coaches Doug Pederson, formerly head coach of Philadelphia who later got the Jacksonville job, and Saints’ special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi.
The Saints then interviewed a third black candidate, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, over the weekend.
The Saints interviewed Flores on the same day his lawyers filed a lawsuit against the NFL and NFL teams Miami, Denver and the New York Giants for racist hiring practices, including sham interviews. These were interviews possibly and likely conducted by the teams to satisfy the Rooney Rule, albeit insincerely.
The Rooney Rule is named after former Pittsburgh Steeler owner Dan Rooney and was enacted in 2003 by the NFL basically to cure its racist ways, whether realized or not (both of which are really bad.) Or to look like it, at least.
Some are saying now that the Saints’ interviews of Glenn, Flores and Bieniemy were also sham processes by Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, a 65-year-old white man, team president Dennis Lauscha, a 52-year-old white man, and Saints owner Gayle Benson, a 75-year-old white woman whose late husband Tom Benson was a 90-year-old white man when he died in 2018 after owning the team since 1985.
But here’s the thing. Most job interviews in most fields are a sham when that job has a favorite at the beginning. And most, or at least many, openings in any field have a favorite at the beginning. Therefore, it would follow that most, or at least many, interviews are a sham.
I know. I just went on a sham interview last August at a large newspaper in Louisiana. I knew going in that they were looking for someone younger and cheaper than myself, but I got the interview anyway because I knew somebody who knew somebody. So they gave me a shot. And they wanted to interview a handful of people instead of just one or two. They accurately call that “due diligence,” which is what Loomis considered his interviews other than Allen.
There is nothing wrong with having a favorite, so long as the people doing the hiring have some semblance of an open mind.
Often, “sham” candidates are so impressive, they get hired. I got a second interview, which was more of a sham, as I was asked more questions about the hierarchy and workings of my job at the time than I was about the job for which I was interviewing. But that’s fine. They gave me a shot. I didn’t get it, but I learned from the interview for the next interview. I ended up getting this job, which is better anyway.
When Alabama coach Nick Saban was LSU’s coach, he told me that he engaged in sham interviews when filling his staff, which tends to be an annual affair. He didn’t use that word. He said he interviewed people knowing that he was likely going to hire someone else. But he interviewed them anyway to store them on file and to learn about them.
“I’m probably not going to hire you now,” he would tell some candidates. “But I may hire you down the road.”
Since Saban left LSU after the 2004 season, he has coached for 17 more seasons and probably hired more than 100 coaches and analysts.
And those candidates who didn’t get that job with him likely learned something from the interviews that helped them get other jobs. Even a truly sham interview can be beneficial, because a candidate will learn the tells of an obvious liar.
And who knows, maybe Dennis Allen won’t work out with the Saints, and a few years from now, Loomis may find himself interviewing Glenn or Bieniemy or Flores again.
Allen didn’t get the Saints job because he’s white, and Flores, Glenn and Bieniemy didn’t not get the job because they’re black. They didn’t get the job for the same reason Pederson and Rizzi, who are white, did not get the job.
Allen got the job because Loomis and others feel he is the most qualified, and he is. Unlike all the other NFL head coach openings this cycle, the Saints opening was created because coach Sean Payton stepped away into semi-retirement. He was not fired. He was not losing. He went 9-8 and nearly reached the playoffs last season, despite a rash of injuries, largely because of Allen’s defense.
Allen, by the way, shut out Tom Brady and Tampa Bay 9-0, when Allen was acting head coach when Payton had COVID-19.
The Saints are clearly the most successful franchise of all those that were looking for a coach after last season, as they won the NFC South title in 2017, ’18, ’19 and 20 after reaching the playoffs in 2006, ’09, ’10, ’11 and ’13 with a Super Bowl title in the 2009 season and NFC title appearances in the 2006 and 2018 seasons.
So, Loomis wanted someone who has been a part of that winning culture with Payton. That makes a lot of sense, Rooney Rule or no Rooney Rule. Allen was with the Saints from the beginning with Payton in 2006 through 2010 before becoming defensive coordinator at Denver in 2011 and head coach of Oakland from 2012-14.
He was a disaster as Oakland’s head coach with an 8-28 record. That’s not why the Saints hired him, but surely he carries with him what not to do.
Allen also got the job because the Saints’ defense has been excellent since he took over as defensive coordinator in 2016.
There was another Saints assistant who was with Payton every year since 2006, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, but he did not interview. And he is white, but he was not qualified because when you’re the offensive coordinator under Payton, you’re not really the offensive coordinator. This is what hurt Bieniemy’s chances. He’s the offensive coordinator under Andy Reid, who is really the offensive coordinator. It isn’t because Bieniemy is black.
Allen was not under Payton’s shadow. He was coaching the defense. He may not work out, but this hire makes a lot of sense. He is the best candidate now to carry on what Payton started and expertly carried on.
And Allen has already made a great decision. He will likely not keep Carmichael as coordinator, though he is expected to remain on staff. Allen will go find a rising offensive coordinator to lead the Saints’ offense in Payton’s absence. He will also promote defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen to defensive coordinator, which is another great choice.
But yes, the old guard hiring practices remain in the NFL. Dennis Allen, 49, is a retread head coach. He was fired by the Raiders and got another chance.
But it’s not completely the old white guard hiring practice.
Houston just promoted Lovie Smith, 63, from defensive coordinator to head coach. He’s another retread. He was fired from head coaching jobs at Chicago, which he took to the Super Bowl, and at Tampa Bay, and now he has his third chance.
Lovie Smith is black.