Here’s a sentence I never thought I would write: I’m fairly certain former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will not be the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that the Browns “would like to interview” the former George W. Bush cabinet member, who has been a fixture in the football world since her departure from politics. The report quoted one Browns source as saying “she’s an amazing person.” The team did not respond to a request for further comment Sunday morning when reached by Sports Illustrated (but went on to release a statement denying the report).
But I do think there would have been some serious issues at play the longer the Browns waited to address this situation. This is not a run-of-the-mill coaching rumor. This is an NFL team holding in its hands the possibility of interviewing a woman for a head coaching position for the first time in league history.
I don’t think Rice should be that person. The league has been struggling to develop many coaching pipelines over the past few decades outside of "white men." However, there are—or recently were—a number of women in high-powered positions in the NFL and a few involved at the coaching level. Kathryn Smith was with the Bills in 2016. Kelsey Martinez is a strength coach for the Oakland Raiders. Katie Sowers is an offensive assistant for the 49ers. Katie Blackburn is one of the most integral members of the Cincinnati Bengals, serving as their executive vice president. Jacqueline Davidson, a Cornell Law graduate, was a long-time football administration director for the New York Jets. How would interviewing someone without any football coaching experience impact these pipelines which, trust us, need to do a better job of organically diversifying coaching staffs around the league, but could be susceptible to folding under the weight of one catastrophically strange decision?
I do think that having someone with Rice’s background could help an NFL team in some way. Let’s drop a little bit of the sanctimonious act when it comes to discussing NFL head coaching openings. There have been a lot of bad head coaches in the league. As Michael David Smith quipped in Pro Football Talk Sunday morning: Rice probably wouldn’t be any worse than Hue Jackson. More than a few NFL teams are in desperate need of outside perspective when it comes to their organizational structures. Look at how many clubs fail because they are essentially a house of cards consisting of a half-dozen power-hungry individuals looking to substantiate their own claims and ideas. The general manager wants credit for picking the best players. The head coach wants credit for putting the right ones on the field. The offensive and defensive coordinators want credit for calling the right plays and so on and so on. I think that Rice—and many, many, many, many other successful people outside the world of football—are worth listening to when it comes to the pitfalls of a politically charged environment. How to streamline. How to avoid toxicity. What works and what does not work? We’re also not suggesting that the Bush White House—or any White House for that matter—was a model of efficiency. However, people can draw from those experiences and apply them in other areas of life and business.
I don’t think the Haslam family is doing those leading the search any favors. Former Eagles executive Joe Banner made a decent point on Sunday when he said that the Browns are struggling to emerge into an era of professionalism, and that allowing this to permeate without clarification harms what general manager John Dorsey has done so far. You can probably connect the dots here. The Haslams are a politically connected family. Rice and the Haslams are reportedly close. The Haslams have sought ideas from everywhere in order to save their floundering football organization. Despite the talented roster, Dorsey has a gargantuan task ahead convincing potential candidates that they will be able to run their own show and not be sideswiped by management. Would an electric, young college coach make this his first NFL destination knowing the outside influences at hand? Would a veteran coordinator looking for his last—or only—shot, pick Cleveland as the place to do it?
I do think we need to be better at facilitating outside-the-box ideas. While the Rice news wasn’t on my radar when I penned SI’s Weekend Read on Thursday, I do think that there needs to be a middle ground forged when it comes to selecting the moral and spiritual leaders of an NFL franchise. Creating the kind of competitive environment where all legitimate ideas are heard and respected—the kind of place where hopefully some day soon, a female candidate with coaching experience gets her name tossed in the ring for a job and doesn’t become subject to jokes or harassment—is better for everyone. It improves the product.
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