As soon as Herman Edwards heard the news, he shook his head knowingly. If you know Edwards, one of the most passionate souls in the football coaching business, he shook his head demonstratively.
When word emerged about the NFL’s plan to modify the “Rooney Rule,’’ which was instituted in 2003 to increase opportunities for minorities to become head coaches, Edwards knew right away it was an idea with good intentions but came with a bad look.
With the “Rooney Rule’’ having become increasingly less effective in recent years — there are just three black head coaches among the 32 in the league currently and, of the past 20 head-coaching hires, only three have been minorities — the NFL’s initial plan was to create a weighted incentive for teams with vacancies to hire a minority head coach or general manager.
That incentive to teams that hired a minority head coach or GM was an improvement in its third-round draft picks by six or 10 spots.
“The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘What does that look like?’ ” Edwards, the former Jets head coach and current Arizona State coach, told The Post this week. “What does that even sound like? This is the National Football League. This is supposed to be the standard bearer of how things are done. And to incentivize people for not only interviewing guys but hiring guys? No one wants that.
“I don’t blame any owner for hiring whoever he wants to hire. But to incentivize it, it just makes it awkward, man. You don’t want to get hired under that cloud. It’s bad for the league, it’s bad for the coach, it’s just bad for football.’’
Fortunately, soon after that proposed plan surfaced league owners opted to hold off on it for later discussion, perhaps recognizing the very flaws that Edwards cited.
“I understand what they were trying to do, but I’m glad they tabled it,’’ Edwards said. “That would have been a bad look.’’
Edwards was hired by Jets owner Woody Johnson in 2001, before the “Rooney Rule’’ was born, but he said the league was in a different place back then with its head-coach hiring practices.
“That was a defensive era, and a lot of defensive guys got hired,’’ Edwards recalled, citing Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Lovie Smith in Chicago and Mike Tomlin to Pittsburgh — all coaches with defensive backgrounds. “Now the era has flipped for the most part to an era of offense. Well, guess what? Who coaches the quarterbacks and who are the offensive coordinators? They’re not many guys of color that coach those positions.’’
Indeed, there are just two offensive coordinators in the league who are minorities — Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy and Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich.
“So, if you’re an owner and you’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to help the quarterback so I need an offensive head coach,’ who are you going to interview?’’ Edwards said. “If you look at the guys who are getting hired now, they’re all coming off that offensive coordinator/quarterback coach tree. And that’s not their fault. They just coach the position.’’
A further — and perhaps deeper — problem is there’s only one minority general manager in the NFL right now, Chris Grier in Miami. And it’s the GMs, for the most part, who are in charge of hiring the head coaches. Grier, it should be noted, hired one of the three current black head coaches in the league in Brian Flores.
Edwards recalled when the “Rooney Rule’’ came in, “its intentions were good’’ but too often now teams simply are interviewing a minority candidate to check the box before moving onto the candidates they’re truly interested in.
“Here’s the problem with that: If you’re one of those guys and in three years you’ve had 10 interviews and [aren’t hired], then the owners are saying, ‘This guy’s had eight interviews and no one’s hired him, so why should I hire him?’ ’’ Edwards said. “That backfires on you.’’
Edwards said he’s had assistant coaches seek his advice when they’ve been called to interview for NFL head-coaching positions they know they don’t have a chance of landing.
What if they turn the interview down?
“That puts you in a bad spot,’’ Edwards said. “If you don’t do it, then they’re going to say, ‘Well, we tried to give him the opportunity.’ If you do it, keep doing these deals and don’t get hired, how does that look on your rèsumè? You’re kind of caught in this bad situation.
“I’ve always said you’ve got to look at it like we look at players. It’s a competitive environment. That should be also the same way when you hire a coach. The playing field should be level.’’
Those days, unfortunately, seemingly remain as far off as the next Jets trip to a Super Bowl.