Civil rights lawyers Johnnie L. Cochran and Cyrus Mehri said the NFL has progressed toward more inclusive hiring procedures for head coaches, but they challenged the league to strictly enforce the new guidelines instituted last month and to improve minority hiring in the front office.
“We’ve asked the league to put some teeth behind this to level the playing field,” Cochran said Wednesday at a news conference in which the attorneys were joined by former NFL stars Kellen Winslow and Warren Moon. “That’s all we’re asking for. Not any quota, not any of that. We’re saying, ‘Look ,we want a fair opportunity, fair competition, where everybody gets a shot.’ We’re saying the NFL has done a reasonable job to this point, but they can do better.”
In September Cochran and Mehri released a report titled “Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities.” The report showed that, on average, African American coaches won more games and went to the playoffs more frequently than their white counterparts but were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired. In response, the league created a Workplace Diversity Committee, chaired by Pittsburgh Steeler owner Dan Rooney.
In December, the committee announced a requirement that each owner interview at least one minority candidate for each head coach opening, but it declined to follow Cochran and Mehri’s suggestion that those teams that failed to do so should forfeit draft choices.
Cochran and Mehri cited the Cincinnati Bengals’ hiring of Marvin Lewis, an African American who was the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, as an example of the process working. The lawyers weren’t satisfied with the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars, who hired Bill Parcells and Jack Del Rio, respectively. In both cases, Dennis Green, who is African American, interviewed over the phone, while Parcells and Del Rio met with ownership in person.
The NFL announced this month that it would curtail the exchange of draft choices as compensation for coaches under contract who leave for other teams. That would seem to ice any hope the lawyers had for using picks as an inducement/punishment. They didn’t offer a suggestion to enforce the “Rooney Plan,” but they did say they reserved the right to pursue legal action, if necessary.
“There’s a lot of qualified people of all colors and races,” Moon said. “Those people should all get the opportunity. Whether they’re hired or not, that’s the decision of an owner, his prerogative. But you have to give a person an opportunity to sit in front of that owner, that general manager, to show their wares.”