Monday, January 21, 2013
Diversity efforts need refining
By John Clayton ESPN.com
After 10 years of aiding diversity hiring in coaching, the NFL's Rooney Rule needs a facelift.
The 2013 head-coaching search exposed the root of the problem. Although compliance is great in the interview process, the NFL is not developing enough minority coordinators.
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It's easy to see why none of the eight new head-coaching hires were minorities. The trend for owners is to hire offensive coaches, as seven of the eight new hires specialize in offense. But the NFL entered the 2012 season without a minority offensive coordinator in place.
Extending the Rooney Rule to make teams interview minority coordinators isn't going to be enough. The NFL needs to start investing much more in the development of minority coordinators on offense and defense.
The timing is perfect, though. Now that the NFL has a 10-year collective bargaining agreement with its players and the officials' lockout is history, owners can use the 2013 offseason to start building for the future. Investing in diversity hiring must be part of that, along with investing more into player development.
Quietly, before the officials' lockout, the NFL was in talks with businessmen interested in developmental leagues. Plenty of young prospects slip through the cracks. Since the end of NFL Europe, the NFL hasn't had a place to put failed prospects. NFL Europe also helped in developing young coaches.
Here's a possible plan.
The first step would be to create an invitational camp for released NFL players. Let's say 100 selected players who were cut by teams in the summer could be housed and trained in Florida starting in September. Experienced coaches would be hired to develop those players and prepare them to be signed as injuries happen during the season.
Those players would be trained for multiple schemes. Some would work with coaches experienced in 3-4 defenses. Some would work with 4-3 coaches. One section of the camp would be devoted to spread offenses. Other players would work with running systems.
What would be important in those sessions is taking minority coaches and developing their skills as teachers and, eventually, playcallers.
But that would be only the first step. The next one would be a plan for a developmental league in which coaching prospects get a chance to work under game conditions. That process might take a couple of years, but there is no reason not to start the process with a fall camp this year.
The first 10 years of the Rooney Rule have to be considered a success, but for the next 10 years to succeed, the NFL must go into a grassroots effort to develop more qualified minority candidates who can become head coaches.
From the inbox
People might have overlooked Russell Wilson before the season, but not anymore.
Q: It drives me crazy reading and hearing people say that Russell Wilson is a notch below Andrew Luck and RG III. Tell me why you think he isn't on par with them?
Joey D in Seattle
A: Who says Wilson is a notch below? Three great new quarterbacks came into the league in 2012, and Wilson was one of them. All three were worthy of Offensive Rookie of the Year votes. Wilson might have been the third to get recognized, but the way he finished the season put him on everyone's map.
Q: I am no NFL scout, but I have watched bad football and talent in Cleveland for over a decade, and by the eye test I can say that the current team is young, talented, hungry and competitive. So why did they release GM Tom Heckert?
Milan in Canton, Ohio
A: I said it in July, and I'll say it again in January: There was no reason for changing the front office in Cleveland. The Browns had 17 rookies this year. A lot of those rookies showed promise. I contend Heckert did a great job in the past two drafts. The Browns have had too much change over the past decade. The book is still out on whether Brandon Weeden is the franchise quarterback, but if the new regime starts tinkering too much with the offensive talent brought in over the past two years, the Browns could be moving either backward or sideways. The NFL is a talent acquisition business. We understand new ownership wants new employees, but if that means just shuffling young players for new young players, the Browns will be on a stationary bike.
Q: The Browns and Cowboys are both switching defensive alignments. The Cowboys are also going to have big problems signing Anthony Spencer. Why not work a sign-and-trade where the teams swap Spencer for Jabaal Sheard. Sheard is used to playing with his hand in the ground and could complement DeMarcus Ware. Spencer could step in and play an OLB spot in Ray Horton's scheme. Spencer has more talent, although I'd argue the gap isn't huge, but the benefit here for the Cowboys is huge cap savings. Can this work?
Kovacs in Dallas
A: What complicates such a sign-and-trade is the price of the franchise tag. Sheard makes only $762,000 in 2013, but it would cost more than $9.6 million to franchise Spencer. The Cowboys are too far over the cap to do that. They are more than $18.2 million over. Sure, they could try to clear an additional $8 million and have a tentative agreement in place, but they couldn't execute the trade until March 12, when the trade period opens. Sign-and-trades are easier to work in the NBA. They are very difficult in the NFL.
Victor in Ottawa, Ontario, is a longtime Colts fan who hopes Dwight Freeney takes a hometown discount and stays in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, I think he'll leave. He's better as a 4-3 defensive end than he is as a 3-4 linebacker. Robert Mathis made the successful conversion and is under contract. Freeney might return if he can't find anything, but someone will sign him. Adam in Ankeny, Iowa, is a Packers fan looking ahead to the offseason. He supports keeping Dom Capers as defensive coordinator. I agree. He also figures the Packers will let go of tight end Jermichael Finley and he wants to see about a replacement. He suggests Brandon Myers of the Oakland Raiders. You know Ted Thompson, the Green Bay general manager. He's not big on free agency, so expect something out of the draft. John in Blairsville, Pa., wonders if the pistol offense will get teams to start looking at bringing Pat White, once a Wildcat QB in Miami, back into the NFL. No chance on White. Teams are looking for starters in the pistol. Bringing White off the bench to run a play or two isn't going to fill many game plans. Danny in Columbia, Pa., doubts the Patriots will be able to pay Wes Welker what he is worth after a 118-catch season. I still think they will work something out. Welker would give the Pats some kind of a hometown discount. Dan in Seattle is among several mailbag readers wondering if the success of the read option will help Tim Tebow land a job. I question that. The successful read-option quarterbacks are accurate passers. At the moment, Tebow isn't.
Q: The read-option/pistol offense is all based on the stretch running game. The stretch running game uses the width of the field, making defenses go from sideline to sideline. When the QB keeps the ball on the read option, it's because the defense has pursued too hard on the stretch running play. This protects the QB because he is not trying to run the ball between the tackles. He can go out of bounds or slide in open field. Read option is here to stay. Period.
Mike in Washington, D.C.
A: Mike, great explanation. You sound like a coach. I think the read option will have more staying power than the Wildcat. Some of the young quarterbacks running it are very talented. What coaches have to do is make sure they don't get the quarterback too beat up. Robert Griffin III averaged about eight runs a game. He doesn't slide well. Knowing that, the coaches have to do a better job of protecting him and saving him from taking those extra hits.
Q: Regarding the success of running quarterbacks, could you see a scenario where the league switches over to mostly young, athletic talent at the position with a high rate of turnover rather than teams valuing long-term franchise quarterbacks?
Dave in Pittsburgh
A: Quarterbacks are too hard to find for that to happen. Look at the Miami Dolphins. They have spent more than a decade trying to replace Dan Marino. Getting younger at quarterback doesn't mean anything unless you are getting better at the position. Look at this year. Where do some of the teams in need of quarterbacks go to find successful prospects? Last year's great draft of quarterbacks was rare.
Q: Because the Jets' salary-cap situation is so bad and most likely the roster will go backward this year, is it possible that management is thinking that it makes no sense to fire Rex Ryan and throw a new head coach into a no-win situation, but rather let Rex take the fall and hire a new coach when the team is in a good position to rebuild?
Bill in Superior, Colo.
A: Woody Johnson kept Ryan because he believes in him as a coach. Ryan can get the most out of the defense. But the salary-cap situation is so bad, Ryan would have to coach at a coach of the year level to get this team back to six or seven wins. If the Jets are 6-10 or worse, I can see him getting fired after next season. It wouldn't have made sense for Johnson to hire a new coach and let him start out with a bad team. Keeping Rex was the right thing to do.
Q: Where have you gone, Jimmy Clausen? Clausen was once projected as a first-round pick and a possible alternative to the Rams taking Sam Bradford with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. He was thrust into duty as a rookie and failed miserably, as many rookies have. Since then, he's been stuck in the No. 3 role in Carolina, seeing only preseason action. I haven't heard much chatter about Clausen. Should other NFL teams be kicking the tires on Clausen as a cheap and largely untested alternative to the Matt Flynn/Alex Smith trade market?
Trevor in St. Louis
A: I see nothing happening this year. Because this is his fourth year, Clausen will become a free agent after the 2013 season. Someone might look at him then, but his recent résumé doesn't excite teams. It's pretty safe to say Clausen has no trade value. Because his salary is at the NFL minimum, the Panthers can keep him as a backup or third quarterback.