It's not every day you hear Thurgood Marshall's name spoken in the same context with Marvin Lewis', but that's exactly what lawyer Johnnie Cochran did yesterday during a news conference at Don Shula's Steak House in Baltimore.
Cochran and fellow attorney Cyrus Mehri are calling on the NFL to reform its hiring practices and say they have devised a plan that will help make sure African-American coaches get a fair opportunity to compete for head-coaching positions. Though 67 percent of the players in the NFL are African-American, only two of its 32 head coaches are.
"Baltimore has always been a cradle for civil rights issues," Cochran said. "That's why we're here. We're not announcing that we're filing a lawsuit, but we're hoping to advance the discussion as to why black coaches have not gotten a fair opportunity."
Cochran and Mehri came armed with a study titled "Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities" they commissioned University of Pennsylvania economics professor Dr. Janice Madden to do.
The report looked at the won-lost records of every NFL head coach since 1986, and showed that, when compared statistically, black head coaches have a higher winning percentage than their white NFL counterparts, but were still more likely to be fired.
According to the study, there have been 139 openings for NFL head-coaching jobs from 1986 to 2001, but only six have gone to African Americans. Art Shell (Raiders), Dennis Green (Vikings), Tony Dungy (Buccaneers), Ray Rhodes (Eagles, Packers) and Herman Edwards (Jets) have combined to win an average of 9.1 games a season (compared with an 8.0 average for all white coaches during that time) and have made the playoffs 66 percent of the time, compared with 39 percent for white coaches.
Mehri pointed to these statistics as a prime example of why Lewis, the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator, should be an NFL head coach after his success as the Ravens' defensive coordinator.
"Despite commissioner Paul Tagliabue's best intentions, it's gotten worse," Mehri said. "We're at the lowest point in 10 years in terms of percentage of black head coaches in the league."
Cochran's and Mehri's solution, which they call a "fair competition resolution," would be to reward team owners that diversify their front office with African Americans and women, and to punish teams that do not make minority coaches part of the interviewing process.
"All team owners would be required to make sure that African Americans and other minorities are at least considered, interviewed and brought on site," Mehri said. "They would have a right to opt out under that requirement, but they would then have to forfeit a significant draft choice."
The proposal would require teams to forfeit a first-round draft choice if they choose not to interview a minority candidate for a head-coaching position, and a third-round pick if they don't interview a minority candidate for an offensive or defensive coordinator position.