January 30, 2013

Minority game plan needs to add play-callers

The Baltimore Ravens' Jim Caldwell was the only black play-caller in the NFL this past season.

NEW ORLEANS -- Suddenly, Jim Caldwell is all the rage again.

With so much criticism of minority coaches being blacked out in the latest round of head coaching vacancies -- this time supposedly because the NFL has become an offensive game and there's a dearth of black coordinators in the pipeline -- Caldwell is making history as the first black offensive coordinator/play-caller to do so in a Super Bowl.

His ascension from quarterbacks coach to overseer of the Baltimore Ravens' offense is considered the key to their run to Super Bowl XLVII.

Now, win or lose against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, he is considered a hot coach who could get a call for a head coaching opportunity when the next round of hirings and firings take place in 2013.

You'll just have to excuse Caldwell if he is not jumping up and down with glee.

"Maybe that's the case then maybe not" said Caldwell, who has been on this merry-go-round more than a few times in his 37 years of coaching.

Things are better than they were when he first made history as the head coach at Wake Forest, becoming the first black coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But clearly things aren't where they need to be and much work still needs to be done.

"Realistically, no," said Caldwell when asked if he was surprised to still be talking about issues of race and equity in coaching.

"These kinds of talks are not new to me. I was the first African-American head football coach in the ACC. That was 1993. That wasn't 1956. That wasn't 1965. That was 1993. That wasn't long ago.

"Obviously, we think at this point in time that we would be beyond that. The fact of the matter is we are not. It's probably going to be a hot-button issue for some time now."

Listening to Caldwell answer questions at the Super Bowl about his success as an offensive play-caller and how that has bolstered his résumé is laughable.

Or rather, you have to laugh to keep from crying as my grandma used to say.

Here Caldwell is three seasons removed from leading the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl in his only previous head coaching gig and one season removed from being fired mainly because the team went 2-14 after losing future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning to injury -- never minding his history as a play-caller and head coach at the college level -- and his résumé needs bolstering?

"I take it for what it is," Caldwell said. "It's not that I'm not concerned. I'm concerned, more for people that have never had a chance."

Caldwell is continuing to build bridges 20 years after supposedly breaking ground for black coaches in the ACC, calling for a revising of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a head coaching or general manager's job.

He thinks something needs to be done to open opportunities for coaches on the offensive side of the ball to get chances to be offensive coordinators and play-callers.

Caldwell was the only black play-caller in 2012. The addition of Pep Hamilton to Indianapolis will bring the number to two for 2013.

"It's going to take some work," Caldwell said.

To that end, John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard alliance has already made a recommendation to the league to tweak the Rooney Rule so that it not only requires at least one minority to be interviewed for a head coaching and general manager job but offensive and defensive coordinator as well as assistant general manager and vice president of pro personnel.

Ravens running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery has gone from a successful player with the Philadelphia Eagles to an accomplished coach.

He has worked for three teams and tutored a plethora of star players, including Marshall Faulk and Stephen Jackson before Pro Bowler Ray Rice with the Ravens.

Montgomery hasn't been asked to interview for a head coaching job, let alone get an opportunity to coordinate an offense. He still aspires to be a coordinator and a head coach. But, like Caldwell, Montgomery's concern is not for himself but rather the young coaches who follow him.

"For the longest time, they said you couldn't be a center and you couldn't be a quarterback," Montgomery said. "Progress has been made."

Yep, Montgomery, who broke barriers as one of the first black players to play football at Abilene Christian University, has been down this hopeful, yet largely unfulfilled road, before too.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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