1) Johnny Hatchett has left several comments on my blog over the past few weeks and he's got his own blog (don't we all!). It's excellent, and I recommend it. He just started, and doesn't post daily (undoubtedly because he's got an actual life), but he's smart and succeeds in blending sports commentary with larger concerns. For full disclosure here, Hatchett has nice things to say about this blog. But, that's not why I am linking to him. I'm linking because his content is good and distinctive.
2) Bomani Jones has this interesting take on the Smith-Dungy match-up and its historic significance.
Word on the street is that wins by the Colts and Bears on Sunday provided evidence of the progress the NFL has made with regard to race and coaching. Some would say that, by doing their jobs, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith provided a milestone in the NFL's quest to desegregate its coaching ranks.
Y'okay. Not to ruin the joy of Black History Month coming a few days early, but such thinking is both ridiculous and dangerous.
This may be the first time a black coach -- let alone two of them -- has made the Super Bowl, but successful black coaches have been the norm for the last 17 seasons. Of the eight black coaches hired in the NFL's modern era, all but Cleveland's Romeo Crennel have made the playoffs at least once. Of the seven who have made the playoffs, only Marvin Lewis has not made the playoffs at least twice. But Lewis, in fairness, was busy shaking the Bengals from a decade-and-change-long slumber, which was no small feat.
Why have black coaches been so successful? Seems as though it's because a black man can't get a job coaching in the NFL unless he's uncommonly impressive. The eight black coaches in the NFL's modern era have a combined record of 442-368-1, a .546 winning percentage. They've made the playoffs in 29 of their 50 combined seasons.
These results mirror what University of Pennsylvania economics professor Janice Madden found in her 2004 study of the differences in job performance between black and white coaches. She determined that the success of black coaches was "consistent with NFL teams 'requiring' that African-American coaches be better than Whites to obtain and to keep their positions."
Just to riff on that for a second - it brings to mind the initial cohort of African Americans to play major league baseball. In the first few years of integration, when there were still few Blacks playing in majors, those players included Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella and Monte Irvin. And between 1951 and 1955, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson all came into the majors, durng a period when some teams had still not even integrated. That's an extraordinary group of players, no doubt a function, in part of the principle from the Madden study: that Black players had to be demonstrably better to get a equal shot.
There was not, of course, a formal line keeping Black coaches out of the NFL before Art Shell, just a history of hiring through networks of coaches that did not include Blacks and resistance from executives some of whom, however decent they might otherwise have been, may have shared the sentiments that Al Campanis expressed to Ted Koppel on Nightline in 1987. In that interview, when Koppel asked the then Dodgers executive why there were so few Blacks in positions of authority in major league baseball, Campanis said, among other things, that perhaps Blacks lacked "some of the necessities" to be in such positions.
In any event, for Jones, the success of Black coaches as a group leads to a surprising conclusion:
"Counterintuitive though it may seem, the success of black coaches appears to be more a symptom of racism than its cure. That isn't to say there hasn't been progress in minority hiring in the NFL. It's just that more significant milestones in the fight for equity in hiring have been overlooked. There was greater cause for celebration when Ray Rhodes, fresh off two horrendous seasons coaching the Eagles, was hired by the Packers in 1999. The same could be said when Dungy, after a string of disappointing postseasons in Tampa Bay, was hired by the Colts shortly after being fired by the Buccaneers.
After years of black coaches being passed over for retreads, Rhodes and Dungy -- and, later, Dennis Green and Herman Edwards -- had become retreads themselves. They'd become insiders, part of the head coaching network. Their names were considered right alongside other guys that, for whatever reasons, hadn't gotten it done before but were still respected in the business.
On this latter point, I had a similar though before I read this article. I was thinking about Art Shell who, though he had a good initial stint in coaching beginning in 1989, was really an insider hire when Al Davis tabbed him for the Raiders' job in 2006. That's significant because it means that Blacks could be insiders, too (not to mention, bad at what they do). Shell's relationship to Davis is unusual, so I don't want to make too much of this, but Rhodes and Herm Edwards (a decent coach whom I like) are good examples of second-generation re-tread guys. But, I think Jones is right to point out that the striking success of Black coaches as a group (and a 55% collective winning percentage is a striking success) is itself a sign that the playing field may not be level. Dennis Green both deserved to be hired and fired, and that'a a good sign of the normalizing of Black coaches, but the superb credentials of Marvin Lewis, relative to how long it took him to get a head job (and who was hired over him before he got his head coaching job) is a reminder that there's still some resistance out there to the idea, or some way in which Blacks are not yet sufficiently network to get the same opportunities.
I don't think it's true, as Jones implies elsewhere in the piece, that Lovie and Dungy are themselves being asked to be more grateful for their success than other coaches. Both men have received lots of recognition that they've had more obstacles to overcome than the average head coaching bear and that they're getting credit for succeeding in spite of facing additional obstacles that white coaches, as a group, don't face.
But, if the Jones principle is right - real success comes when bad Black coaches keep getting jobs, then I guess we can look forward to the day when we have a Black Gene Shue. In five different stints spanning 21 NBA seasons (he actually coached 22, but was fired after six games in one of them), Shue had eight winning seasons, managed a .477 career winning percentage, made one NBA final (when his Sixers lost in an historic upset to Bill Walton's Portland Trailblazers in 1977), and won 39% of his playoff games.
Call it the Gene Shue principle of coaching progress.