Coaching Door Is Wide Open

Times Staff Writer

Where others see vacancies, John Wooten sees opportunities.

A door once sealed shut, he says, has now creaked open.

"I wouldn't be surprised if in a few weeks there are two or three new black coaches in the league," said Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an advocacy group that has pushed for the hiring of African American coaches by NFL teams. "The culture of the league has gotten to the point where you're judged on what you do and say, rather than the color of your skin."

Counting the impending retirement of Kansas City's Dick Vermeil and the midseason firing of Detroit's Steve Mariucci, at least one-quarter of the league will have new coaches next season. The other six dismissals are Oakland's Norv Turner, St. Louis' Mike Martz, Minnesota's Mike Tice, Houston's Dom Capers, New Orleans' Jim Haslett and Green Bay's Mike Sherman. Buffalo's Mike Mularkey reportedly is on shaky ground too. On Wednesday, the Bills fired President Tom Donahoe in a move that could mark the return of 81-year-old Marv Levy, the Hall of Fame coach, as a consultant.

There are six head coaches who are black. The success of Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, Chicago's Lovie Smith and Indianapolis' Tony Dungy, each a potential coach of the year, should help pave the way for black coaching candidates such as Buffalo's Jerry Gray, Minnesota's Ted Cottrell and the New York Giants' Tim Lewis, all currently defensive coordinators.

"We've got a chance," Wooten said. "That's all you can ask for."

Meanwhile, Herman Edwards of the New York Jets could wind up coaching in Kansas City, where he would be reunited with team President Carl Peterson, who was an executive in Philadelphia when Edwards played for the Eagles.

Edwards denied reports earlier this week that he had one foot out the door, saying, "I'm happy to be the coach here and I'm going to be the coach here, like I said before, and that's as far as I want to comment on it."

The who's-going-where speculation picked up steam Wednesday as teams began to interview potential replacements. Detroit, for instance, has lined up interviews with Dick Jauron, interim Lion coach, as well as Cleveland offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon and San Francisco linebackers coach Mike Singletary. The Rams are said to be eyeing Ron Rivera, Chicago's defensive coordinator, and the Giants' Lewis.

In Houston, the Texans not only have the No. 1 pick in this spring's draft, but a coach to hire. On their list of potential replacements for Capers are Gary Kubiak and Cam Cameron, offensive coordinators in Denver and San Diego, respectively.

The Texans on Wednesday interviewed Scott Linehan, Miami's offensive coordinator, who said he learned a lot about what it takes to be a head coach by watching Dolphin Coach Nick Saban transform the "culture and attitude of the team."

"Those are some of the things that are going to have to be addressed here," Linehan told reporters in Houston. "And hopefully those would be some of the lessons I've been able to learn and maybe draw upon for this franchise."

One of the hottest coaching candidates was Gregg Williams, Washington's defensive coordinator ... until the Redskins ended that speculation by signing him to a three-year contract extension reportedly worth close to $8 million, unheard-of money for an assistant coach.

"We needed to get this thing out of the way right now so there's no distractions," Williams told reporters this week during a break from preparations for Saturday's wild-card game against the Buccaneers. "We've got to be focused on Tampa Bay."

The college coach generating the most interest is Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who was a strong candidate in the last NFL coaching go-round.

Because of the money and expectations involved, the pressure is on coaches to win almost immediately and to continue winning. Six of the last 10 NFL coaches of the year were subsequently fired. It is among the most volatile jobs in sports.

"Steve Mariucci said it best: It's like holding a political office," said Rick Neuheisel, Baltimore's quarterbacks coach, whose name is likely to surface as a dark-horse coaching candidate. "You get a term, and if you get lucky, you'll get re-elected.

"But, anymore, there are term limits."

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NFL assistant coaches in line for the vacant head coaching jobs:

*--* Name Team Position JERRY GRAY Buffalo Bills Defensive coordinator TED COTTRELL Minnesota Vikings Defensive coordinator TIM LEWIS New York Giants Defensive coordinator MAURICE CARTHON Cleveland Browns Offensive coordinator MIKE SINGLETARY San Francisco 49ers Linebacker coach RON RIVERA Chicago Bears Defensive coordinator GARY KUBIAK Denver Broncos Offensive coordinator CAM CAMERON San Diego Chargers Offensive coordinator SCOTT LINEHAN Miami Dolphins Offensive coordinator

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Source: Los Angeles Times

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