The NFL, like it or not, is going to have to do some serious introspective evaluation of its hiring practices in the wake of the racial discrimination lawsuit former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores brought against the league and its teams this week.
The NFL, you see, has a major problem and it is manifesting in ways that are making the league look terrible to the public, to its sponsors and partners, and, worst of all, to a large swath of employees, the vast majority of whom are black.
The problem is not that 28 teams today have head coaches and only 1 of them — Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers — is black.
That almost unbelievable statistic is a fallout of the problem. A symptom. But that’s not the root cause.
The root cause is the NFL has an ownership problem.
The league once boasted great ownership such as Lamar Hunt, Al Davis, Ralph Wilson, Art Rooney, Tim Mara, George Halas and others who not only ran but founded some of the league’s legacy franchises.
These were, with rare exceptions, football men of great acumen who also happened to be great businessmen as well.
The traditions and wisdom these people exhibited and often passed down to younger generations in their family made the NFL something of a family-owned business that, through great stewardship, grew into a steamroller that smashed baseball’s status as the a national pastime and the church’s dominance over Sundays.
But something interesting began to happen around the 1990s and into the new century as respected owners died or sold: NFL ownership suddenly wasn’t so much a group of football people who got into business.
It was now a bunch of business people who got into football.
David Tepper, a hedge fund manager, bought the Carolina Panthers.
Jimmy Haslem, who made his fortune in truck stops, bought the Cleveland Browns.
Arthur Blank, who made his fortune with Home Depot, bought the Atlanta Falcons.
Shahid Khan, who started Bumper Works and supplied car bumpers to the Big 3 auto manufacturers, bought the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Stephen Ross and Zygi Wilf, New York and New Jersey area real estate developers, bought the Dolphins and Vikings, respectively.
My point is a large swath of owners in professional football were no longer professional football owners. They were amateurs.
They didn’t know what the heck they were doing, a lot of them.
They were no different than the fans who sat in their stadiums, except that they happened to have billions of dollars that allowed them to buy teams.
And this is the group of people that everyone is hoping can solve an ill that has plagued societies since God confounded the languages at the Tower of Babel?
These are the people everyone, including the Flores lawsuit, is asking to fix racism, real and perceived, in the NFL?
Are you serious right now?
Some of these people don’t know where the down judge stands, but we’re expecting them to adopt an equitable stance on discrimination?
Look, I learned long ago that all NFL owners have wonderful gifts that allowed them to get rich. But none of those gifts — not building gas stations or buildings or investment funds –come with an NFL ownership handbook.
These people spend their money to purchase teams but don’t necessarily know what to do next. Or ever.
They’re football morons, some of them. Not all of them. But some.
It’s the reason their public relations and communications departments hide them from reporters for years at a time.
It’s the reason they listen to people who perpetually give bad advice.
Or they hire bad personnel people. Or they hire poor coaches.
Or overlook good coaching candidates.
That doesn’t make all of them racists. That makes some of them professional football illiterates.
What’s worse is they think they know. But they do not know.
One of the things the Flores lawsuit seeks as relief from the NFL is to “increase the objectivity of hiring and termination decisions for general manager, head coach, and offensive and defensive coordinator positions.”
So let’s look at this objectively.
Right now, today, there are several men, both black and white, who are objectively better qualified to be head coaches than the five coaches, all white, who have been hired or soon will be hired to vacancies.
Those men and their objective qualifications:
Jim Caldwell: Two-time coach in both Indianapolis and Detroit. He took the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009. He has a 62-50 record in the NFL. He had three winning seasons out of his four in Detroit, for goodness sake.
He’s not been hired.
Jim Harbaugh: He has a .695 winning percentage as coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He has a 5-3 record in the postseason and took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013.
He interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings for 9 hours on Wednesday and was not offered their job. Having no other alternatives, he’s going back to Michigan.
Dan Quinn: He coached 85 games with the Atlanta Falcons, so he got a fair shot to succeed as a first-time coach. And he did have some success, taking the Falcons to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season and finishing second in the NFC South three times.
He was a finalist for two jobs this hiring cycle but was not offered either job.
Doug Pederson: He won the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. That makes him a Super Bowl winning head coach, last anyone checked. He won the NFC East twice. He had a winning record in Philadelphia in both the regular season and postseason.
He’s apparently been a finalist, receiving only one second interview that has been reported, with just one team — the Jaguars.
With proven people like this available, NFL owners have interviewed candidates clearly not ready for head coaching jobs. Young assistants or even people who have never coached in the NFL or anywhere such as Josh McCown, Mike McDaniel, Hines Ward, and Kellen Moore are getting interviews and serious consideration.
Josh McCown, with zero years experience and no resume as a head coach, has actually had more consideration for the Houston Texans job than any of the proven head coach candidates mentioned above.
So objectively, coaches with greater experience and proven track records — black and white — don’t get hired, while some really curious candidates who may or may not be ready to lead teams, both black and white, get interviews or get hired.
Is this a systemic racial issue?
Or a systemic some-of-these-owners-are-morons issue?
I know, I know, Twitter and Myface and Spacebook are going to be angry and insist it’s a racial discrimination issue. Fine, since the Flores lawsuit has me learning legalese lately, let me stipulate it’s a racial divide and discrimination issue.
And allow me to solve it:
The NFL should position expansion franchises in San Diego and St. Louis, two American cities that deserve NFL teams but have lost one in the last few years. That opens up more jobs and possibilities for everyone.
Then commissioner Roger Goodell openly recruits American billionaires Robert Smith and David Steward to join the ranks of NFL owners.
Both Smith and Steward are black. Smith is reportedly worth $5 billion while Steward $4 billion. Smith, a native of Denver, would be a great fit to buy the Broncos. Steward, a graduate of Central Missouri State, can run the new St. Louis Armstrongs (admit it, you smiled).
Suddenly the NFL”s ownership club will be making its first trek across the racial divide.
And what extraordinary NFL knowledge and prowess do Smith and Steward have that makes them a fit among the larger community of NFL owners? None that I know of.
So they’ll immediately fit right in.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero