What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
What do the phrases “Gentlemen…Start Your Engines,” “On Your Mark…Get Set…Go,” and “Stephen A. Smith” have in common? Anytime you hear them, your about about to get into something race-related. Don’t make the mistake that’s just a play on words; Smith can go from Zero-to-Race Card in no time flat.
The latest example comes to us as we are in the time of year immediately in between “Black Monday” and “Super Sunday,” the time when most NFL coaches who are going to lose their jobs get the news, and more importantly, their replacements get named. Smith’s beef seems to be (yet again) that “Black Monday” doesn’t bring enough new black faces to the NFL’s head coaching ranks. I say “yet again” because this really is becoming a ritual, and I’m here to ask why? Smith, and people like him, will play the race card as the explanation. Frankly, I think painting a complex problem like this with the simplistic broad brush of racism is the definition of intellectually laziness.
Think about it. That broad brush has been slinging it’s load of racial “white-wash” on this matter for two decades now, we’ve got the “Rooney Rule” in place to effect change, and yet according to Smith, we still have the same problem.
By definition, that means we’ve A) identified a problem (not enough black head coaches) and B) instituted a solution (the aforementioned “Rooney Rule which mandates teams interview minority candidates).
Given that we’ve decided the original problem still exists; there are only 3 possibilities as to why this is the case.
Let’s take Smith’s assertion on it’s face…”there’s just no way in hell a young black man is going to get that kind of opportunity.” In other words, the root cause according to Smith is we don’t have “enough” black head coaches because the NFL is racist. To show why that is an intellectually lazy argument, all one need do is plug the “race” variable into the three aforementioned scenarios, and it becomes very clear very quickly that racism just doesn’t hold water as a root cause.
First, there is the problem of total causality; meaning that racism is seen as the sole factor creating this issue. I completely reject that; the recruiting, development, and advancement of NFL coaches cannot be boiled to a single cause. Professional sports are the greatest pure meritocracy left in the world. Performance is rewarded, and failure is punished; pure and simple.
If the Cleveland Browns found an NFL team found a shepherd in the remotest corner of the Gobi Desert who having never even heard of football possessed a savant-like feel of the game and developed an offense based on how his goats ran towards the setting sun, and that offense won a Super Bowl for the Browns, you know that by the start of the next season, every team in the league would be parroting what the Browns did and the steppes of Outer Mongolia would be choked with NFL scouts searching for the next purveyor of the “West Goat Offense.”
That might be stretching things a bit, but it’s very clear the NFL has a crisis in confidence when it comes to hiring coaches at all levels. This brings us to the second reason why racism doesn’t explain this situation. The NFL finds itself in the paradoxical position of valuing experience over all else, but offers no place to get experience for those who have none. This is why guys like Norv Turner and Lovie Smith got second chances they didn’t deserve, and guys like Marvin Lewis and Jeff Fisher got jobs they hung on to way too long. That means the pool from which NFL head coaches and coordinators are hired has become stale and inbred.
This raises my third point. If we take the stale nature of the NFL’s hiring pool as a given (and you have to admit, it’s pretty hard to deny that), that begs two questions. What does the NFL do to develop new coaching talent, and what really are the criteria to be a good coach? The first question leads to the second one because there is a simple, one-word answer to the first: Nothing.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar enterprise which does largely nothing to recruit, develop, and promote potential coaching talent. Defenders will point to the NFL-NCAA Coaching Academy, but that organization is mostly “window dressing” for two reasons.
One is fairly obvious. When you got to this academy’s website, one thing you won’t see is a list of it’s prominent alumni. There aren’t any, because the second reaqon is the idea of co-operation between the NFL and the NCAA for coaching development is laughable at best. Think about it. How many coaches have made the transition between the college football and the NFL and/or vice versa in the last twenty years? You can count them on your fingers, and before we even start arguing over the definition of “successful,” just remember that for every success story like Pete Carroll or Tom Coughlin, there’s very high number of failures…Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Charlie Weis, Chip Kelly, Mike Sherman, Bobby Petrino, ad infinitum…
A major reason why the crossover almost never works is a lack of similar requirements. There is no rule in the NFL which requires a coach to have a college degree. After all, the NFL is only a game to the players. At the coach level on up to ownership, it’s a business. I’ve said more than once that coaches in football are essentially middle managers, and most business are not very willing to hire managers with no education or experience. On the flip side, colleges do require a degree to be a coach. In other words, if you want to be a football coach, you need to be a college graduate.
This matters because the underpinning of the “not enough black coaches” mantra is based on the flawed logic that since 70% of the players in the NFL are black that 70% of the coaches should be black.
That supposes many things which simply don’t hold up. For starters, it assumes there’s no difference in the skill sets involved in being a player vs. being a coach. That’s obviously not the case because they aren’t the same job. Being the best FedEx delivery guy doesn’t necessarily mean you make the best manager. FedEx is a company which understands that, which is why they have a training program to turn drivers into leaders. As I’ve already illustrated, the NFL has at best an ineffective attempt at such development program.
Then there’s the matter of qualifications. How many of today’s NFL players possess college degrees? The number fluctuate a bit depending on the source, but it is safe to say for purposes of this discussion the figure is around 50%. That’s a better ratio that any other major sports league in North America, so why does the NFL have such a lack of qualified coaching candidates?
Unlike the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball, the NFL does not have a system of minor/developmental leagues. minor-league system, This is where those leagues develop their talent for both players and coaches. Given that the NFL relies almost exclusively on the college ranks for it’s players, and given the fact we’ve already demonstrated that college coaches tend not to be successful in the professional ranks, does that not at least raise the possibility the root cause of the problem lies in the recruiting and development model, not the color of the candidates?
If you aren’t willing to at least entertain that idea, then let me ask you a question. If the NFL were truly racist, then why are the ANY black coaches? Why are their ANY black players? See, that’s how real racism works; it is by definition and design exclusionary to an absolute. When blacks were excluded from baseball, there was none of the “tokenism” or “non-quota” quotas of the version of Jim Crow masquerading as 20th-Century liberalism known as Affirmative Action.
We’ve already alluded to the answer; the pure meritocracy of professional sports. A system based on rewarding merit is anathema to the simplicity of racism. The NFL has a means for player development, but none for coaches. Simply crying “racism” will never fix that.