It’s Monday, April 2nd, 2012. Do you know who your head coach is? Whoa there Saints fans, hold on. Put your hands down. Sean Payton’s suspension officially started yesterday and the Saints don’t have a head coach right now. They’re still exploring their options, whether they promote from within with Pete Carmichael or Steve Spagnolo or they hire an outsider like Bill Parcells. The appeals process for all guilty (or should I say accused?) parties will begin soon. I don’t really see Goodell changing his mind on anything. To the point of it probably being a character flaw, Goodell sticks to his guns.
We’ll hear a lot over the next few days as to whether the punishments are justified, are the parties truly guilty of injuring players or just motivating their guys to play hard, etc. I want to talk a little bit about 2 issues in the background of all of this: criminal charges for the players (and possibly coaches) and the Rooney Rule.
The Associated Press reported that the NFL Player’s Association (player’s union, the NFLPA) has told the players involved that they could be subject to criminal charges and attorneys have been retained for them. While convictions will be extremely difficult (I will explain why in a moment) I have to say, I hope they are charged.
Don’t get me wrong, the NFL is a violent sport and injuries are inevitable. Big hits are a huge part of the game that no one wants to lose, even the players. I always loved watching Brett Favre after someone laid a huge hit on him. He’d get up and give the defender a “nice hit” or joke with him about it. Brett wasn’t always the best QB off of the field, but he always played it right on it. For once, I wish he’d speak out.
For as much of a drama queen as Brett has been in the past, the bounty on him is Exhibit A in the Bountygate case. If he wanted to, he could cry in the media all day long about all the questionable hits on him with good cause. If it could be proven in the court of law that those hits were with an intent to injure based on the bounty, the offenders could go to prison. Remove the context of the NFL. Someone is paying you to cause an actual injury to someone; that’s a crime. The essential verbal “contract” of the NFL is that you can get hit hard and get hurt during the game as long as it’s within the rules and context of the game.
When you start paying and accepting payments to knock someone out of the game and possibly cause permanent injury, you’re leaving the context of the game and subjecting yourself to the rules of the world outside the NFL. That means possible criminal charges if you injure someone. If I offer someone $10,000 to injure my neighbor because he won’t clean up his pile of PBR cans and roadkill, myself and the person I hire are subject to criminal charges. I’ll let legal experts like Mike Florio speculate as to what the charges could be, but assault, battery, and conspiracy are all possible charges.
I really do hope guys like Jonathan Vilma have their day in court over this. These actions are disgrace to the game. I don’t care if someone gets $10,000 for every touchdown catch or interception, but I understand why the NFL can’t allow things like that due to a slippery slope. For example, if you pay defensive players for sacks and the QB gets hurt on a sack, now you have an issue where it’s possible the player was paid to hurt the QB, not just sack him. A payment to hurt someone isn’t a byproduct of a violent game, it’s criminal. I highly doubt any players actually sue the Saints or the NFL, but if the NFL wants a prosecutor to pursue criminal charges, I’m sure they have the influence to pull it off.
A prosecutor probably won’t want to pursue charges though because it will be too difficult to prove that any hit on a player with a bounty had an intent to injure. Can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a hit on Brett Favre intended to injure him? Can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the $10,000 was actually paid out? Without a player or coach within the Saints locker room testifying, a conviction will be next to impossible. If you convict a player without proving that the hit intended to injure based on the bounty payment, now you’re just convicting a hard hit. That pretty much would destroy the entire NFL, so that won’t happen. The only people who will know if there was an intent to injure are the guilty parties themselves and their right to no self-incrimination will protect them from conviction.
On a different note, am I the only person offended a little by the NFLPA and their response to all of this? It seems like they’re opting to protect the players involved with Bounygate more than the rest of the NFL they were possibly trying to injure. It does make it seem like this practice was prevalent in NFL locker rooms, and if they don’t defend the Saints, players will fear the same thing happening to them: they’re accused of a bounty and the NFLPA says “good luck.” I’ll never argue with anyone who says the NFL is making an example of the Saints even though the practice was rampant in the NFL and there are dozens of guilty parties who will go unpunished. I will always argue that the example needed to be made.
The Saints are in a tough predicament at head coach because of this and that caused Sean Payton to reach out to Bill Parcells to see if he’d be willing to run the show for a season while he was suspended. There are a lot of reasons to do this, but the main ones are Parcells would only do it for a year, he wouldn’t be a threat to Payton’s job if he does well, and he’s a trusted confidant of Payton. When the suggestion of Parcell taking over the gig came up, those dreaded 2 words for any head coach search popped up.
For those of you who don’t know, the Rooney Rule states that any team that is interviewing candidates for a head coach vacancy must interview a minority candidate. The goal of this is to make sure minority candidates, who were ignored in the past, get an opportunity at the top coaching gig available. I in no way want to make any type of argument as to the merits of this rule. It’s a private business who has every right to make their own rules. Agree or disagree, they put the rule on themselves, that’s their prerogative.
What I want to discuss and get your opinions on is whether or not it works. I want to make a few arguments as to why it doesn’t, but not because qualified minority coaches don’t get head coaching opportunities. It has everything to do with how the NFL functions.
If Bill Parcells takes the gig as the head coach of the Saints and they don’t interview a minority candidate, the Saints violated the Rooney Rule. They could be fined, lose draft picks, etc. The only example of a team who violated the rule was the Detroit Lions in 2003. The Lions hired Steve Mariucci without interviewing any minority candidates and were fined $200,000 for it. I would anticipate if the Saints did this, they would be punished much more harshly given the situation.
Here’s a situation where the Rooney Rule can’t work. Obviously this is a unique situation and the Saints aren’t holding a traditional head coach search, they’re looking for a 1 year stop gap. The Saints aren’t going to hold a full search less than a month before the draft. There will be no scheme changes, they won’t allow a head coach to have personnel control, the ability to change the rest of the coaching staff, etc. Outside of Parcells, this limits them to internal candidates. If they don’t have an internal candidate who’s a reasonable applicant and a minority, their hands are tied (they may have a qualified internal candidate, that’s not the point).
If they don’t have a reasonable internal candidate, this will force the Saints to do one of two things. They will either hold a sham interview which is highly disrespectful and no one should subject himself to this or take the punishment. The Saints aren’t exactly good guys right now but the purpose of the Rooney Rule is to give minority candidates an opportunity, not force them into “well, we have to interview a minority, so how does Thursday sound?” That’s insulting. You aren’t creating opportunity for anyone if you force the Saints to interview someone that has no chance at getting the job. You’re just asking someone if he wants to degrade himself to honor the rule of the law and ignore the spirit of it.
This brings me to the second part of my criticism. Let’s assume the NFL actually does have a real problem with hiring minorities and that it still does prevent them from getting opportunities at a head coach position. If that’s the case, why does the rule only apply to head coaches? If there truly is a problem, it won’t just stop at head coaches, it will funnel down to coordinators, assistants, position coaches, etc. If that’s the case, then the rule should extend to all coaching positions, not just head coach.
If there is a problem in the NFL with racial prejudice, it’s happening in the lower levels of coaches, not the highest. Is the problem that NFL teams don’t give minorities an opportunity to be head coach or that they don’t give them an opportunity to coach the LBs? In my completely non-factually based opinion, the biggest issue with coaching searches is that minorities aren’t considered enough for the lower level coaching gigs.
We’ve heard many times that a coordinator is “going to be a head coach soon.” It was said about Leslie Frazier and Mike Tomlin, both of which were coaches on the Vikings. Why? They were great coaches with the type of personality that could excel as an NFL head coach. Tomlin obviously has and Frazier needs more time before we’ll know. When you’re qualified to be an NFL head coach, you will get that opportunity these days. In the past that might have been different, but it isn’t now. If the Steelers didn’t hire Mike Tomlin, within 2 years he would have been a head coach elsewhere. His race did not prevent him from getting an opportunity to be a head coach because he was in the position to demonstrate his worthiness.
Now, what if he never got an opportunity to rise through the ranks of coaching? It’s hard to show you’re a great coach when you can’t rise above a low end assistant role to a position coach. At that level, the Rooney Rule could be immensely effective at creating opportunity. Once you reach the level of offensive or defensive coordinator, everyone knows who you are. If you do a great job, you will be eligible for a head coach opportunity. If you’re stuck at defensive assistant, a Rooney Rule for position coaches could give you the opportunity you need.
In the end, it is a shame how the rule gets applied. I really don’t see any necessity at the head coach level for the rule anymore. Can anyone name a highly respected coordinator who hasn’t gotten an opportunity in the past 5 years? I don’t mean one guy wasn’t considered for one position, I mean a guy who wasn’t interviewed multiple times over several years. It’s a shame the Saints may be forced to interview someone who has no chance at the job to satisfy the letter of a rule, while completely destroying the spirit of it.
-The Eagles lost Jason Peters to an Achilles injury, most likely for the season. Peters is quite possibly the best LT in football and with him the Eagles could have had the best OL in the NFL. At least Vick is a lefty so his blind side protector isn’t hurt.
-A reader asked me to do an entire expose on Damien Woody, former Patriots, Lions, and Jets OL. His request was obviously tongue in cheek, but I did learn something during an amusing bout of “research.” Woody was AWFUL at shotgun snaps. He was so bad at them he would frequently slide to guard and let someone else snap the ball in shotgun. Think about that. Woody was a Pro Bowl center. He started for a Super Bowl Champion. Yet, he couldn’t snap the ball out of the shotgun. Thanks Wikipedia!
-Donovan McNabb was doing some crappy ESPN show no one should ever watch and he was asked whether or not Robert Griffin III (RG3) would fit into the Redskins offense. He responded that the Shanahans would never use RG3’s gifts properly and that their offensive style would be like a square peg in a round hole. I’d offer Donovan some cheese for his whine but I don’t think I can afford enough cheese to properly satiate him. Not to mention, I don’t know what cheese goes with a wine made with sour grapes. Did I abuse enough bad jokes yet?
Donovan, shut up. I loved you from 1999-2007. I gave you more time than most Eagles fans who quit on you after 2005. It’s a good thing I quit on you in 2007, because if I hadn’t, you choking in another NFC Championship game would have broken my heart. I knew you wouldn’t rally the Eagles with 2+ minutes to go, so the loss was expected. Even still, you still have a place in this league and your whiny, me first attitude has destroyed it. You could be a better starter than Alex Smith, David Garrard, or Mark Sanchez if you checked your ego at the door. But you can’t and you saw the result last season. You were available and your hometown Chicago Bears needed a QB and they opted for Josh McCown over you. The same Josh McCown who hadn’t played a snap all season was deemed more worthy of a position on the Bears than you. I won’t even go into how bad Caleb Hanie is yet he got a contract this offseason and you didn’t.
-The Panthers and Raiders executed a rare player for player trade. The Raiders traded OL Bruce “not The Evil Dead guy” Campbell for Panthers RB Mike Goodson. Goodson is a good backup RB who’s stuck behind the overpaid Deangelo Williams and Jonathan “not the comedian” Stewart. Campbell is a physical freak who has never put it all together to be a really good OL. It’s a win-win trade for both teams.
-Am I the only person who wonders when NFL teams are going to stop becoming fascinated with guys who look great in shorts but never show up on tape? I’m not talking about Mike Mamula, who is wrongly put as an underwear Olympic champ who didn’t do well in college because he had a good college career, but more for guys like Darrius Heyward-Bey or Dontari Poe. I simply cannot understand how a guy like Poe can be as physically gifted as he is yet not dominate lower level competition. Is he soft? Lazy? A quitter? Poe played his college ball at Memphis and his opponents were teams like Marshall, Tulane, and University of Alabama…at Birmingham. Not exactly great competition.
Poe’s physical abilities mean against lesser competition he should be able to just line up and control the guy in front of him. That rarely happened. To me, it seems like Heyward-Bey, a guy who has great physical talents but they rarely showed up on the game tape because these 2 are athletes, not football players. Poe will be drafted high by a team who thinks they can get the most out of his abilities. Don’t be surprised to see Poe on a different team by 2015 or none at all.