The League

Josh Zerkle
National Blogger

Josh Zerkle

Editor of the sports gossip and humor site With Leather

Why pick second best?


In 2003, Ted Cotrell, an African-American assistant coach in the NFL, was a finalist for the head coaching job in San Francisco. He didn't get it. In 2005, he was a finalist for the Vikings' head coaching spot. He didn't get that job either. Some people said racism played a role in those teams' decisions to hire elsewhere.

Earlier this week, the Washington Redskins replaced a white general manager with another white general manager. The league reported that the team was in compliance with the so-called "Rooney Rule," and that a "minority" candidate was interviewed for the job. But no one seems to know who the candidate was, and now the 'Skins are being accused of gaming the system.

The Rooney Rule was named for the Pittsburgh Steelers owner that sought to infuse more racial parity into the NFL's hiring of head coaches and general managers. Under the Rooney Rule, any team looking to fill a head coach or general manager position must interview at least one non-Caucasian candidate.

The rule was designed to ensure that qualified African-American coaches and executives had opportunities to interview for the NFL's best jobs. And that's all it does, or all it was ever designed to do. It isn't a job placement venture for the disenfranchised. It's a foot in the door. And that's all it should be.

The NFL tweaks its own rules to bring about desired outcomes, both on the field and off. Teams learn the rules and then does their best to exploit them. Any ambitious entity--a football team, a business, an unruly teenager--does this. Is that gaming the system or simply following the incentives leading toward their own desired outcomes? It's hard to accuse 32 separate teams of "institutional" racism, and yet that insinuation is repeatedly made.

If a team like the Redskins has its eye on a specific candidate, why would they pretend to hire anyone else? Why should they be forced to do so? Why force a team to look at the second-best guy, or somebody that they don't want? Would the public be happy with the league forcing the Redskins to hire a GM on the basis of color? If the league imposed such a measure on teams, how is that any less racist than what is being purported?

And who exactly are these "qualified candidates" being overlooked? Supposedly the league circulates a list to teams that include such candidates. Wouldn't making that list available to the public increase those candidates' visibility, to say nothing of increasing the accountability of the teams? We know Bruce Allen is white. We don't know if there was a better (or even comparable) candidate for the job that wasn't.

Diversity isn't celebrated in the NFL. Wins are, and each team should pursue that opportunity to win as it sees fit. As for Ted Cottrell, he finally did get his shot at head coaching this season--in the UFL, as head coach of the New York Sentinels. Instead of manning a 16-game campaign, Cottrell had a chance to show his stuff in a six-game season.

He lost them all.

By Josh Zerkle  |  December 18, 2009; 1:32 PM ET  | Category:  Washington Redskins Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It really sounds to me that the writer is suggesting that anyone other than the Caucasian male is automatically second-best. Is Ted Cottrell considered to be defacto-standard minority candidate? The writer seems to suggest this in a very I-told-you-so fashion. Please consider the number dismal Caucasian male failures such as Vinny Cerrato, Matt Milan, and a 100-mile list of others before singling out Ted Cottrell as an example. That mindset is exactly why the Rooney Rule is in place in the first place.

Posted by: vze3c9qt | December 18, 2009 2:17 PM

Why pick second best!! Is Mike Tomlin, Tony Dungey, Lovie Smith, Jim Cladwell, and Marvin Lewis second best? If the Washington professional football team is picking the the best they have little to show for it. Maybe they should try "second best". Hello Jim Zorn!!!

Posted by: Charlotte97 | December 18, 2009 3:18 PM

Any owner with a lick of sense will hire the best candidate he can find, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or anything else. If the best candidate is black, red, green or blue, a smart owner will hire him, or continue to lose.

Posted by: pjohn2 | December 18, 2009 7:34 PM

Good point. It is time to give this racist crap a rest. The owners of these franchises became millionaires because of their astute way of dealing with people; those who suggest that these people would not hire the best candidate for a job on their corporation because of his/her color is simply just a moron. You don't like how they run their businesses then don't support it, but you have no right on telling anyone who to hire or not to hire. Mind your own business.

Posted by: hock1 | December 18, 2009 8:19 PM

So all these loser franchises are picking the best? Of course not. There are numerous candidates, black and white, who are better than some on the current guys that have been tapped to enter the good ol boys club.

People are foolish if they think every person sitting in a position is always the best qualified. Grow up and enter reality. Billionaire owners with billionaire businesses or not.

Posted by: BSC1 | December 19, 2009 9:08 AM

Diversity is Dan Snyder. He is a jewish owner, he cannot be accused of discrimination. Therefore if a non-white hires a white guy, it's clearly nondiscriminatory.

If the skins broke the Rooney Rule, there will be consequences. Let the league figure it out.

Posted by: joy5 | December 19, 2009 9:04 PM

Second best? Am I reading this correctly? The guy sweeping the floor at my barbershop could have done a better job than Vinny Cerrato over the past few years. The Redskins have a long way to go before they get to "second best".

Posted by: hoos3014 | December 21, 2009 12:12 PM

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