Rozelle Casts Vote for a Black Head Coach : Commissioner Says NFL Does Well Under Equal Opportunity Scrutiny

Times Staff Writer

Pete Rozelle says it's not as much fun being commissioner of the National Football League as it used to be, but he was explicit here Friday about how some owner could make his day: Hire a black head coach.

"It's been called by some a racist league," Rozelle said at his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference. "I don't like that. But with all the attention to hire black coaches and to have other businesses hire minorities, it probably is a good thing if it brings results."

There are only two openings in the league: the Raiders and Green Bay Packers.

The Packers have interviewed three black NFL assistants--Dennis Green of the San Francisco 49ers, Johnny Roland of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Pittsburgh Steelers--among others.

Raider owner Al Davis was noncommittal when asked about hiring a black coach at Tom Flores' retirement announcement last week.

But Rozelle said: "That's one area where Al is on board with the other 27 clubs. I'm sure Al will hire a man who he thinks will win for the Raiders. I'd like to see it be a black."

Rozelle said that although there are no black head coaches, the league holds up well under equal opportunity scrutiny. Of the league's 1,500 non-playing employees, 200--or 15%--are black.

More important, the number of black assistant coaches has increased from 14 in 1980 to 41 in '87. Davis has said that he would not hire anyone without pro coaching experience.

"I think that because of the fact we have so many black assistant coaches gaining experience in the NFL, the first black head coach will come from the pool of the league," Rozelle said.

Rozelle attributed the league's lagging behind some pro sports in hiring black head coaches to what he called an old-boy network.

"You'll see people hiring people they've known in the past," he said. Green, Roland and Dungy seem to be "among the most highly regarded in the NFL," Rozelle said. "We take it up at all our league meetings, but all we can do is encourage it."

Responding to questions after opening remarks, Rozelle addressed:

--Expansion: "I would expect we would be expanding by two teams, with those teams on the field approximately two years after reaching a collective bargaining agreement. In (the owners') minds, I just know if I pushed for expansion (now), they wouldn't vote for it. There's just too much uncertainty."

--The plight of the New England Patriots, who thwarted a takeover by potential buyers this week but had to withdraw $4.5 million from a league escrow account to meet their January payroll: "We permitted that because we were preserving the quality of the franchise, rather than giving those players a cause to declare free agency. We're monitoring the situation (and) working with the Patriots and the Fran Murray (buyers') group and hope we can contribute to a settlement."

--Bill Bidwill's St. Louis-to-Phoenix Cardinals, whose proposed move will need approval of three-quarters of the owners when they meet at Phoenix on March 14: "They did comply with the Jan. 15 date for providing all the information we need, according to our guidelines. I have not polled the owners."

--Finances: "Because some of the (fiscal) years aren't up until April, we haven't seen all the figures we need. It's safe to say that half lost money. But on the economic vitality of the league, I think it is very strong, except we have these little problems that cut into it."

--The strike: "Going through it was painful for all of us, but thanks to the players and coaches (the feeling) didn't last very long. While I would like to see a collective bargaining agreement signed, I don't have the negative feelings about the strike I thought I would have."

Rozelle also talked about exciting playoff games, an attendance average of 59,720 for the 12 non-strike games and strong TV ratings, especially for the new Sunday night series on ESPN.

It's those kinds of things, he said, that keep Rozelle going in his 28th year on the job.

"No question, you're so discouraged that your time is so occupied on defending yourself rather than constructively where you're building the league, it's not as much fun," he said.

"But my feeling right now is I have no plans for saying to hell with it."

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