Lewis Snub May Be Deep-Rooted

Thursday, February 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

When Marvin Lewis failed to land a head coaching job after his defense led Baltimore to a Super Bowl victory, one quick reaction was that NFL coaches were again being chosen by race.

``The process was flawed and possibly slightly biased,'' said Ray Anderson, Lewis' agent.

Almost two weeks later, there is more talk that the system may be hurting the hottest prospects — assistants on teams in the Super Bowl, who must wait until the end of January to interview, while teams are anxious to hire both head coaches and assistants before that.

``Here is a guy who constructed what may be the best defense ever, but only one out of seven or eight teams talked to him,'' Tony Dungy, one of three black coaches in the NFL, said after Tennessee defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was hired over Lewis in Buffalo.

``Everything happens for a reason, and Marvin will end up in a better place,'' Dungy said. ``But that doesn't let the league off the hook. There is something wrong with the process. It's flawed.''

The current rule doesn't allow a team to talk to a prospective coach until his team is out of the playoffs. It was imposed in 1994 after Dave Wannstedt and Norv Turner, both on the Dallas staff, interviewed for head coaching jobs in Chicago and Washington while the Cowboys were en route to Super Bowls.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue tried last year to ease the pressure on teams needing coaches by pushing back the scouting combine to late February and the start of free agency until the beginning of March. But teams still try to hire coaches as quickly as possible.

Of the eight teams with vacancies this year, only Buffalo and Cleveland went into Super Bowl week without coaches. The assumption was that Lewis and John Fox of the Giants, the two Super Bowl defensive coordinators, were 1-2 for those jobs.

But Cleveland suddenly hired the University of Miami's Butch Davis. Lewis and Fox had quick interviews with the Bills after the game, and Buffalo then hired Williams.

``We followed the guidelines and the rules of the National Football League,'' said Tom Donahoe, Buffalo's general manager. ``Every person that was interviewed had the same shot. We gave everyone equal time and equal opportunity. And sometimes in life you have to learn to be a gracious loser as well as a gracious winner.''

There was one black head coach hired this year — Herman Edwards by the New York Jets, the first in 42 vacancies since Dungy was hired by Tampa Bay in 1996 other than Ray Rhodes' move from Philadelphia to Green Bay in 1999. If Bill Parcells had stayed with the Jets, he might have hired Maurice Carthon to replace the departed Al Groh. Instead, Carthon signed as running backs coach with the Lions.

Two other vacancies went to interim coaches who had the ``interim'' taken from them — Dick LeBeau in Cincinnati and Dave McGinnis in Arizona. Two more went to big-name former coaches — Marty Schottenheimer in Washington and Dick Vermeil in Kansas City. And the Houston Texans, who begin play in 2002, hired Dom Capers, who was the first coach of the Carolina Panthers in 1995.

The sixth was Marty Mornhinweg, the San Francisco offensive coordinator, who was hired by Detroit during Super Bowl week.

During that week, Dungy and Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, publicly praised the progress that was being made. Another black coach, Ted Cottrell, the former Buffalo defensive coordinator, took the same job with the Jets but still was also being considered by the Bills.

But Davis suddenly got the Cleveland job and Donahoe chose Williams, who arrived at his interview totally prepared with graphs and charts. Lewis and Fox, meanwhile, came straight from the pressure cooker of the Super Bowl.

After two weeks, passions have cooled.

``The fact that Ted Cottrell, Marvin Lewis, Maurice Carthon and Herman Edwards were candidates indicates that there are plenty of qualified black coaches in the pipeline and they'll continue to come to the fore and will continue to be hired,'' said Bill Polian, president of the Indianapolis Colts.

As Carolina's first general manager, Polian lost a second-round draft choice because he interviewed Capers while he was still coaching with Pittsburgh in the playoffs.

Given how hard it is to repeat these days, Lewis and Fox may have an opportunity next season to interview earlier. The guidelines are almost sure to come up at the league meetings in March, although league officials believe it's unlikely that teams again will be allowed to interview assistants on teams still alive in the playoffs.

``There is a procedure in place where a team that has interest in a Super Bowl assistant can express that interest,'' Polian says. ``I think we can work with that.''