MIAMI (AP) — It’s common for coordinators in the Super Bowl to have a head coaching position with a new team waiting for them after the game.
Not this year.
The Kansas City Chiefs have perhaps the most dynamic offense in the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers feature one of the stingiest defenses in the league. The men in charge of both units got interviews but were passed over.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy interviewed with the Panthers, Browns and Giants during the team’s bye before the playoffs. Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh also interviewed with the Browns.
Cleveland hired Kevin Stefanski, who was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator, after Saleh’s defense shut down the Vikings in a 27-10 win in the divisional round.
So when two minority candidates with obvious qualifications miss out on coaching jobs, many people question whether the NFL has a diversity issue.
There are just three African-American head coaches in the league and only one minority — Ron Rivera — was hired to fill one of the five vacancies this offseason.
“Clearly, we are not where we want to be on this level,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday about the Rooney Rule. “It’s clear we need to change and do something different. There’s no reason to expect we’re going to have a different outcome next year without those kinds of changes and we’ve already begun engaging in those changes.”
Bieniemy and Saleh aren’t complaining, though others are outraged for them.
“I had an opportunity to interview for three jobs,” Bieniemy said. “One thing I can say, I had a great process, a great discussion. Each and every interview is different. … It’s a blessing and it’s always great to be mentioned. It’s always great to have that opportunity to be considered in those roles. But when it’s all said and done with, I work for a great organization. I work for a great boss. I work for a great owner. On top of that, we have some great people in this building.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid called Bieniemy a “leader of men” and praised his intellect.
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“They also know and respect his mind,” Reid said. “Every week, he and I sit down, and we put together this game-plan sheet with 200-plus plays on it. He memorizes every play, every formation. Just BA-boom, on recall, just like that. Every week, I go, ‘Listen, are you good with this?’ He goes, ‘No problem, got it.’ A lot of hard work goes into it. Plus, he is a brilliant dude.”
Saleh inherited the worst defense in the league in 2017 and turned it into the No. 2 ranked defense this season.
“I just go about my business best I can,” said Saleh, who is Lebanese-American. “Judge me for who I am, not for my ethnicity.”
Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk put all the blame on the owners for the lack of diversity.
“This may be the first time you have a defensive coordinator who could be a head coach and an offensive coordinator who could be a head coach and there’s not a team waiting for them,” Faulk said. “It is sad. But they don’t care. Nothing will be done about it. When the owners meet, none of us are in there to pound the table and say this is wrong. Let’s be real.”
Niners cornerback Richard Sherman blamed the media.
“I put more of the responsibility on you — on the media because you’re asking people who have no say in it,” Sherman said. “You’re asking players. We literally have no say in who gets hired, who gets fired. But the people who have say, we don’t pressure. The owners, we don’t call, we don’t push to get them; when you have them in the media, nobody asks them the hard questions because you don’t want to rub them the wrong way, you don’t want to get on their bad side.
“So I almost say it’s your fault that we don’t have those answers, because none of you are asking the hard questions. Everybody feels comfortable asking a player a hard question about, ‘Man, why aren’t these black coaches getting jobs?’ Ask the dudes who hire them. Ask the dudes who have all the power in the world to hire and fire these men. Then you’ll get the answers. Or maybe we’re not looking for the answers in those dudes, because we kinda know what they are.”