On the surface, the NFL’s hiring practices point to a stunning failure to hire a sufficient number of African-American coaches. The more practical failure comes from the inability to hire enough good coaches, regardless of race or any other factor that shouldn’t matter.
Yes, it’s a zero-sum game. There will always be teams that fail, and the owners of the teams that fail will feel compelled to make changes in an effort to quickly reverse failure. But maybe that’s one of the things more teams should resist; regardless of a coach’s race or other factors that shouldn’t matter when it’s time to hire him, sticking with him long enough to give him a chance to flourish — or to flourish again — creates the kind of continuity that not only could pay off in a major way but also could avoid what can become a never ending lather/rinse/repeat cycle of firing a coach in the hopes of finding a quick fix.
In praising the Steelers for their decision to hire Mike Tomlin in 2007 at a time when he wasn’t the trendy pick (PFT was one of the only media outlets singing the praises loudly of the veteran defensive coach who spent only one year as a coordinator, in Minnesota, before becoming a head coach), soon-to-be Hall of Famer Tony Dungy points out that the Steelers also stick with their coaches through the down times.
It’s easy to do that, of course, when the down times are few and far between. Still, not long ago some fans in Pittsburgh were clamoring for Tomlin to go. The Rooneys ignored the noise — which is easier to do when the stadium is always full. But they always ignore the noise, setting aside the whims of the fans for the concepts that have made the Steelers one of the best franchises in football.
Only one team wins the Super Bowl ever year. For the rest, the goal is to be relevant to that conversation for as long as possible. Far more often than not, the Steelers are. Which is why they’ve had only three coaches since 1969. But maybe the Steelers contend so frequently because they make good coaching hires.
Here’s what Dungy told Peter King of TheMMQB.com about the Steelers: “I’d tell owners and people in position to make hires to slow down, and study what the Steelers do. They’ve had three coaches in almost 50 years. They don’t fire coaches. They back their coaches when times are hard, and you’re always going to have some of those times when you coach. This last time, when they hired Mike Tomlin, he wasn’t the ‘hot’ guy. [Owner] Dan Rooney took his time, and he knew exactly what they were looking for in a coach. That’s what Dan does. He hires the best person for his team, and he does it on his schedule. I think the problem lots of times with the hiring process is teams have one or two guys in mind and they rush through the process to get one of those guys without looking at more candidates. I think that can lead to mistakes.”
It definitely leads to mistakes, but good luck telling a billionaire who has his heart set on hiring a “hot” candidate that he shouldn’t do what he wants to do. Evaluating football players is a crapshoot even with the many metrics generated by scouting. For coaching, it’s much harder to quantify things. Owners become influenced by buzz — and the media has a major role in the creation of the buzz.
Of course, the lack of minority employees in key positions like offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach makes it even hard for minority candidates to generate buzz in the media or elsewhere. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed before the pool of head coaching candidates will be as diverse as it needs to be.