Charlotte became a hotbed of political fighting this year with the passing of HB 2, the bathroom law that has caused many groups to label North Carolina as small-minded and biased.
However, the Queen City also has become a leader in one category of minority diversity. The Carolina Panthers lead the NFL in minority hirings on the coaching staff.
In football, white players are a minority. About two-thirds are black, then a large percentage are Pacific Islanders (Polynesian, Hawaiian, Samoan).
When a recently retired NBA player like Avery Johnson, Derek Fisher or Sam Vincent is hired to be a head coach, the man’s experience playing at the highest level of competition is a key factor.
When it comes to the NFL, however, all that minority playing experience doesn’t count for much at the top of the coaching ladder.
Sure, many position coaches — like those over running backs and defensive backs — are minorities (usually black), but the upper positions of head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator are overwhelmingly Caucasian. Every quarterbacks coach in the league is white.
When I think of those bucking the trend, two teams that come to mind are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets.
Steeler owner Dan Rooney helped initiate the Rooney Rule, where a team is required to interview at least one minority applicant before hiring a coach or general manager. A black man, Mike Tomlin, is the long-time head coach.
New York is a melting pot of races, and the Jets hired Herm Edwards as head coach in 1997 and Todd Bowles this year. In fact, Bowles is the only black first-time coach hired in the past five years and the first minority to become a rookie head coach since Ron Rivera joined the Panthers in 2011.
So it doesn’t surprise me that when you look at the overall coaching staffs of these teams that the Jets are second and the Steelers third in minority hiring.
And yet, there is Charlotte at number one on the list with more than 55 percent of the staff as minority.
Of course, at the top of the ladder is Rivera, whose dad was Puerto Rican and his mom was a Californian of Mexican descent.
Assistant head coach Steve Wilks is black. So are Ray Brown (offensive line), Richard Rodgers and Curtis Fuller (assistant DB coaches), Jim Skipper (running backs), Eric Washington (defensive line) Sam Mills III (assistant defensive line) and Al Holcomb (linebackers).
Still, the team has lots of white flavor with Mike Shula (offensive coordinator), Sean McDermott (defensive coordinator), Ken Dorsey (quarterbacks) and Ricky Proehl (wide receivers).
One of the issues brought up by minority assistant coaches in an ESPN article is that the vast majority of head coaching hires come from either previous head coaches or coordinators.
So it doesn’t matter how many position coaches are black, Hispanic or Pacific Islander, those men likely will never become head coaches unless they can get into the pipeline via a coordinator job.
When Tony Dungy was coaching in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, black assistants filled the ranks. Those coaches were groomed to become future head coaches like Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Leslie Frazier and Jim Caldwell.
Outside of that circle, however, black head coaches are few and far between (think Bowles, Cleveland’s Hue Jackson and Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis).
Romeo Crennel rode the success of the New England Patriots first three Super Bowl rings to head coach of the Browns in 2005. Now he’s defensive coordinator of the Texans.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have gone increasingly white and are now dead last in minority hirings.
The first six coaches on the team’s web page are white. Then there are two minority position coaches — Ivan Fears for running backs and Brian Flores for linebackers — and two minority strength and conditioning coaches (generally considered the bottom of the totem pole).
As for Charlotte, how is it that a minority coach could come into the South and develop a fan base? Is it just because the team went to the Super Bowl this past winter?
No, I don’t think so. John Fox took the team to the Super Bowl, but we never really warmed up to him and weren’t too upset he left for the Broncos.
We like Rivera because he started off as conservative as Fox, then realized there were times when gambling made sense and developed the Riverboat Ron persona. We also like that Rivera will talk to the media and let us feel like we’re part of the Panthers rather than stone-walling us with more “it is what it is” garbage.
How about that? Here in this “narrow-minded” and “biased” state, we like Ron because of who he is, not the color of his skin. Take that, critics.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.