Why the NFL's best coordinators can't get head coaching jobs
He's intelligent, articulate and respected. He has been called
an exceptional football mind and a great leader of men by both
players and other coaches. This past NFL season he masterminded
a defense that demolished opponents on the way to the Super
Bowl. By all rights, he should be an NFL head coach by now. But
Giants defensive coordinator John Fox isn't, because, more than
anything, he was too good at his job.
In the days following New York's 34-7 Super Bowl loss to the
Ravens, Fox's failure to land a head job was largely
overshadowed by a similar snub of Marvin Lewis, his Baltimore
counterpart. Lewis, an African-American, was considered a
front-runner with Fox for the last two openings, with the Bills
and the Browns. That the Ravens' assistant was passed over for
those jobs stood out because white coaches have filled 44 of the
last 47 vacancies. While we won't know how much Lewis's skin
color counted against him, he and Fox were equally disadvantaged
by another force: the absurd league rule that prohibits clubs
from talking directly to a candidate until his team is
eliminated from the playoffs.
In effect, the two Super Bowl defensive coordinators were victims
of their success, as owners in dire need of help (why else were
they sitting at home in January?) felt they couldn't wait until
after Jan. 28 to get their houses in order. With as many as 18
staff positions to fill and the scouting combine and free agency
looming, owners become understandably jittery, which is why
retreads (this year, Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer) and
big-name college types (Butch Davis) so often get the January
call-ups instead of the best candidates from the assistant ranks.
February 19, 2001
In explaining his hiring of Titans defensive coordinator Gregg
Williams as Buffalo's coach, Bills general manager Tom Donahoe
raved about Williams's preparation for the interview, during
which Williams deployed charts detailing everything from his
game plans to his evaluations of potential assistants. How could
Fox or Lewis--both of whom interviewed for the Buffalo job just
hours after the biggest game of their lives--have competed?
"Marvin will end up in a better place," said Buccaneers coach and
NFL rules committee member Tony Dungy, speaking of Lewis's being
shut out this year. But, he added, "that doesn't let the league
off the hook. There's something wrong with the process. It's
Here's a sensible fix: Allow teams to contact anyone they wish
after the conference championship games. Interviews done during
the off week, before preparation for the Super Bowl intensifies,
can hardly be considered a distraction. But they will make the
most attractive candidates--men like Fox and Lewis--more viable
ones as well. --Josh Elliott
Five Other Assistant Coaches on the Verge
MIKE McCARTHY Offensive Coordinator, Saints. 37-year-old whiz kid
was huge part of New Orleans's breakthrough.
AL SAUNDERS Offensive Coordinator, Chiefs. Former Chargers head
coach on rise again after two years of running Rams' high-octane
ROMEO CRENNEL Defensive Coordinator, Patriots. Relative unknown
who improved Cleveland's defense from No. 31 to 15; worked 19
years for ultra-influential Bill Parcells.
MAURICE CARTHON Running Backs Coach, Lions. Another Parcells
disciple who might have landed Jets job had Tuna stayed.
TED COTTRELL Defensive Coordinator, Jets. Got mentions while
overseeing Bills' top-rated defense in 1999, but must keep Jets'
D humming to stay hot.
Brandon Williams had just finished packing his car last Thursday
for the drive from Detroit back to Rockford, Ill., when a friend
phoned with the news. The Continental Basketball Association--at
55 years the oldest pro hoops league in America--had died.
"I had a feeling things were going to crash," says Williams, 25,
a 6'6" Rockford Lightning swingman who led the CBA in scoring in
1999-2000. "Our team was one of only two that had been paid in
the last two weeks. Then we read in the paper that our All-Star
Game had been canceled. When I was getting ready to come home to
Detroit last week for the All-Star break, I packed everything
because I had a feeling I might not be coming back."
The demise of the CBA left minor league basketball in chaos, with
the two-year-old International Basketball League (IBL) and the
start-up ABA 2000 trying to stay afloat. Two of the IBL's eight
original teams folded before the season started, and ABA 2000 is
struggling with attendance. Rockford and two other CBA clubs have
joined the IBL, and as many as four more were in talks with the
After graduating from Davidson five years ago, Williams played
in France for a year, but he has turned down offers in excess of
$300,000 to return to Europe, believing that his best shot at
the NBA is to stay close to home. Williams, who has never made
more than $25,500 in a CBA season, has had brief call-ups from
four NBA teams and in 1999 earned a championship ring with the
Spurs, though he was mostly on the injured list that year. "A
lot of players bounced around before finding a place in the
NBA," says Williams's agent, Mark Bartelstein, noting that
Darrell Armstrong, Anthony Mason and John Starks were CBAers.
"If we can get Brandon to the right place, he can have a good
Look for two minor leagues to survive: one for older players
(either the IBL or the ABA 2000), and the NBA's Development
League, which will tip off in November, featuring young guys
being groomed for the big league. "I don't want anybody in the
NBA to go down with a major injury," says Williams. "Just be
nice and sprain an ankle long enough so I can show what I can
do." --Ian Thomsen
Last week the Yankees joined with British soccer powerhouse
Manchester United in a marketing and merchandising alliance. So
what's your Man U IQ?
1. United's home stadium is:
A. Old Trafford
B. Old English
C. Old Navy
D. Old Grand-Dad
2. The team competes in the:
A. Carling Premier League
B. Guinness Challenge
C. Bass Masters
3. The current manager is:
A. Sir Alex Ferguson
B. Sir Alec Guinness
C. Sir Neville Marriner
D. Sir Mix-A-Lot
4. Man U's nickname is:
A. Red Devils
B. Yellow Fever
C. Blue Meanies
D. Black Plague
5. Superstar Eric Cantona was once suspended six months for:
A. Kicking a fan
B. Slapping a coach
C. Punching an opponent
D. Being French
6. Midfielder David Beckham's celebrity spouse is:
A. Posh Spice
B. Scary Spice
C. Baby Spice
D. Old Spice
7. Beckham's child is named after which famed U.S. locale?
C. South Beach
8. British tabloids have linked United star striker Dwight
Yorke to which sex scandal?
A. Menage a trois with teammate Andy Cole and a besotted
B. Foursome with Chelsea defender Celestine Babayaro and two
C. Videotaped seven-person orgy including Chelsea keeper Mark
Bosnich, two leather-clad blondes and a transvestite
D. All of the above
Answers: All are A except the last, which is D.
Belting 'Em Out
What is it about the sweet science and singing? Pugilists
gravitate to the mike with alarming frequency. Witness Roy Jones
Jr., who's set to release his debut rap album, Round One, in
May. Here's a one- to five-glove rating of some other warbling
JAKE LAMOTTA After his boxing career the Raging Bull opened a
Miami nightclub, where he often sang standards. He also appeared
onstage in a Broadway production of Guys and Dolls; Walter
Winchell called his performance "surprisingly good." Crooner
rating: [Two Gloves]
JOE FRAZIER (left) Played gigs from Atlantic City to Las Vegas
in the 1960s and '70s, first as the front man of Joe Frazier and
the Knockouts and later with Smokin' Joe's Revue. In February
1977, The New York Times said, "He has a warm and pleasant voice
and an easy, gracious manner." Crooner rating: [Four Gloves]
LARRY HOLMES Dueled with Frazier in the Battle of the Singing
Heavyweight Champs in June 1987 in Atlantic City. Holmes opened
with the rap Boxing Politics. Sample lyrics: "I trained real
hard/To do the job/But I got robbed.... Everybody knows I beat
Spinks/Everybody knows boxing stinks." Crooner rating: [One Glove]
OSCAR DE LA HOYA (right) His eponymous album, which blends
romantic pop numbers with ballads in English and Spanish, was
released last year. Said Billboard, "A surprisingly pleasing
experience, with more expressed talent than any number of
successful artists." De La Hoya is up for a Grammy next week for
Best Latin Pop Album. Crooner rating: [Five Gloves]
The White Shadow
There's never been another sports drama like The White Shadow.
For one thing, most of the actors had played organized hoops, so
the action was realistic. For another, the program tackled tough
issues--a teenage character's learning his girlfriend is a
prostitute, for example. But for me, then a preteen, the show
stood out for its touchstone qualities: Shadow (seen these days
on ESPN Classic) provided a common mythology for me and my
friends growing up on Long Island, N.Y., in the late '70s.
Guided by the White Shadow himself, coach Ken Reeves (played by
Ken Howard), the mostly black team from Carver High included
Coolidge, the goofy center with a third-grade reading level;
Hayward, Carver's best player, whose smarts allow him to escape
conviction after each of his 17 arrests; Thorpe, the team wag
("Remember," he once said, "Naomi spelled backward is I moan");
Jackson, a shades-and-beret-wearing dope smoker who doesn't
practice because he "might get stale"; and Salami, the most
prominent white guy.
We used their moves on our driveway courts and quoted them in
school and set ourselves in front of the TV on Monday nights.
I'll never forget the high-water shows: Thorpe's sleeping with
Coolidge's girl and getting syphilis, the team's forming the
band Shower of Power, Jackson's getting shot. Nor will I forget
the immortal lines we co-opted. "You're like a White Shadow,"
we'd say to one another on the playground, even though we knew
there was only one. --Kostya Kennedy
Japanese citizens, at Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. After he was
informed of the crash of a U.S. submarine and a Japanese fishing
vessel that left nine of his countrymen missing at sea, the
links-loving politician proceeded to finish his round of golf.
Said Mori, in the face of criticism from members of his ruling
coalition, "It would not have gotten any of us anywhere if I
rushed and gotten all flustered."
The Devil, from the Devil Rays. Their new uniforms will read
simply RAYS, and club promotional materials will use the
one-word moniker. Though the franchise will officially remain
the Devil Rays, team execs have copyrighted Rays and hope the
shorter name catches on.
Computers worldwide, by a virus in an e-mail purporting to
contain a picture of tennis vixen Anna Kournikova. By Monday the
virus had spread to more computers than the Melissa bug, which
affected hundreds of thousands of users in 1999, but hadn't
reached the proportions of last year's ILOVEYOU epidemic.
By Major League Baseball, a proposal to change the way home
field advantage is determined for the World Series as well as
boost TV ratings for the All-Star Game. A memo circulating in the
commissioner's office suggests giving home field to the team
whose league won the game.
Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo, on the outskirts of Rio de
Janeiro. The perpetrators cut his BMW off in traffic, forced him
from the car at gunpoint and took his wallet before driving away
in his auto. The two-time FIFA world player of the year says
only the fact that the robbers recognized him saved his life.
They were as dramatic a duo as baseball has seen, which is why
it was only a matter of time before the story of Mickey Mantle
and Roger Maris got the Hollywood treatment. Here's a first look
at 61*, director Billy Crystal's paean to the Yankees sluggers
and their pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record. Wearing
Mantle's number 7 is Thomas Jane (Deep Blue Sea), who came to
the project with limited baseball skills and had to be taught to
switch-hit by former big leaguer Reggie Smith. Maris is played
by Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), a dead ringer for the
press-shy slugger. The movie debuts on HBO on April 28.
You've enjoyed the reality shows, but are you ready for Survivor
III: The Brooklyn Blacktop? Magic Johnson and Hoop Dreams
director Steve James are looking to ride the reality craze by
creating a series called Making the Team. Johnson will put a
group of young players who have not received college
scholarships through their paces and select a team of nine that
will play against one of the country's top high school squads.
Each of the nine who makes the final cut will get a full
four-year scholarship, either from a school impressed by his
playing ability or from the show. The idea is to milk drama out
of the selection process and the players' back-stories. "It will
be an ongoing documentary, not the structured Survivor format,"
says James. "There will be attrition, but no tribal councils."
If a network commits soon, the show could be on the air as early
as next fall....
If Venus and Serena Williams can do it, why not an NBA star?
Kevin Garnett unveiled a clothing line featuring denim and
leather coats, sweaters, shirts and other casual wear to be
marketed under his label, OBF (Official Block Family). Garnett
describes his designs as "a very relaxed, upscale contemporary
look. We have jean suits, but they're nice jean suits."...
Last week Mark McGwire hosted the premiere of Close to Home, a
documentary about sexual abuse produced by the Mark McGwire
Foundation for Children. Codirected and coproduced by McGwire's
former girlfriend Alexandra Dickson, the film chronicles the
cases of seven victims of abuse, including former NHL player
Sheldon Kennedy. The film, which cost $400,000 to make, has yet
to find an outlet. "I was warned about making it," says McGwire.
"Nobody wants to acknowledge sexual abuse. It's taboo."
Average age, in years and months, of starters on the sophomore
team in the NBA Rookie Challenge game--12 months younger than
the average age of the starting rookies.
Unprovoked shark attacks around the world in 2000--10 of them
fatal--according to the Florida Museum of Natural History's
International Shark Attack File; the figure is the highest in
four decades of shark monitoring.
Bill Elliott's pole-winning qualifying speed, in miles per hour,
for Sunday's Daytona 500--nearly 27 mph slower than his
record-setting pole-winning speed in 1987.
Time into his first game that it took for Marty McSorley, the
suspended NHL brawler who's attempting a comeback with the
International Hockey League's Grand Rapids Griffins, to be
ejected for fighting.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The CIA says Islamic extremist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah
and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida have been exchanging information
on terrorist targets through encrypted messages posted in
Internet sports chat rooms.
They Said It
President of the Professional Bowlers Association, assessing the
state of his sport: "We're only a couple of breaths from being a
carcass. We're just above roadkill."