Tampa Bay is a land of opportunity for NFL minority coaching candidates

The Bucs hire and fire a lot of head coaches. In the process, they've led the way in giving minority coaching candidates jobs and chances to prove they're worthy.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers late owner Malcolm Glazer started something his children have continued: Creating opportunity for minority coaching candidates. [Times files]
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers late owner Malcolm Glazer started something his children have continued: Creating opportunity for minority coaching candidates. [Times files]
Published January 3
Updated January 3

TAMPA — The Bucs are off and running with their coaching search, and they started in the very best place — with an open mind.

Bucs everlasting general manager Jason Licht has met with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City.

I have no idea if Licht and the Bucs are going through the motions by talking to Bieniemy, who is black, and other minority candidates before settling on Bruce Arians. But history — Glazer history — suggests otherwise.

Among the eight coaches fired this season, five — Hue Jackson, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles, Steve Wilks and Vance Joseph — were minority hires. There are currently two black coaches in the NFL, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, who has won a Super Bowl, and San Diego's Anthony Lynn. Two is not an encouraging number.

But I can only go by the Glazer track record, and it's a good one. Color-blindness has always been a Glazer strength.

Ask Tony Dungy, whom the Glazers hired in 1996. Dungy thinks the Glazers have embodied the spirit of the Rooney Rule, created in 2003 by Steelers chairman Dan Rooney to require teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior management jobs. The Glazers have walked the walk.

"They really have," said Dungy, the first black head coach of the modern era to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. "What Dan Rooney envisioned in all this is leaving no stone unturned. The end goal is not necessarily to hire a minority candidate, it's to have the best person for the job. If you take your time, go through the process, then pick who you think is the best person."

Dungy remembers flying to Tampa for the interview that led to his hiring in 1996. Jimmie Johnson and Steve Spurrier were early favorites for the Bucs job. After arriving in Tampa Bay, Dungy read a newspaper column that said he would never get the Bucs job, that he was the "minority" interview.

"I couldn't believe it," Dungy said. "It tuns out that wasn't the case. Malcolm Glazer didn't believe it either. The Glazers hired me. I respect that. I respect them. I still do. They have an idea of what they want. We might not always be able to figure out what that is, but I don't think color has anything to do with it. That's a very good quality."

Dungy isn't outraged by the current minority coaching carnage.

"It wasn't troubling to me at all," Dungy said. "I don't mind five people getting fired. I had a problem with Steve Wilks getting fired in Arizona after just one year, but that's the Arizona Cardinals. But it also means that five guys got hired in the first place.

"When I got fired by the Bucs, I had no problem with that. They hired me when no one else would. I was there six years. My firing wasn't racism."

But minority candidates still fight to get noticed, especially in today's boom-zoom NFL, since many of them are assistants on the defensive side of the ball.

"We've got this infatuation right now that offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches are the only ones who can be head coaches now," Dungy said. "If that's the case, it's a tough road. I think there's (recently fired Cardinals offensive coordinator) Byron Leftwich and there's Eric (Bieniemy). Other than them, I don't know if there are any other minority offensive coordinators or quarterback coaches in the league."

The bigger problem might be management. Miami promoted Chris Grier this week to run its front office, but Ozzie Newsome of the Ravens, the NFL's first black general manager, who won two Super Bowls with Baltimore, is retiring. Addition, subtraction.

"There was a time when we thought the best person to play quarterback wasn't an African-American," Dungy said. "And then that got scuttled. Doug Williams wins a Super Bowl. There was a time we didn't think African-Americans could be head coaches. We got past that.

"Now we just don't seem to think African-Americans could run the whole thing as a president or general manager. Ozzie Newsome has shown that isn't necessarily true, but that's the next hurdle. And we'll get over that, too."

All it will take is open minds.

There are some of those in Tampa.

Tony Dungy isn't surprised:

"I absolutely believe you can trace that back to Malcolm and Linda Glazer. That's the way they raised their family."

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or 813-731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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