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Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Updated: February 17, 10:15 AM ET
NFL coaching ranks need some Green

By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

So now we're supposed to believe the only thing that prevented Dennis Erickson's first tour as an NFL head coach from being a success was a blown call on a Vinny Testaverde touchdown.

Take away Testaverde's TD and Erickson's four-year Seattle stint doesn't end without a playoff appearance and his career regular-season record improves to a jaw-dropping 32-32.

Dennis Erickson
Dennis Erickson has had success in college, but finished 8-8 in three of his four years in Seattle.

Yep. If the league had instant replay in 1998, Erickson, not Jon Gruden, might be the toast of the NFL.

Forget about Erickson's past boozing, his lack of attention to detail, the poor discipline that undermined the Seahawks and the piss-poor coaching staff Erickson assembled. Referee Phil Luckett sabotaged Erickson's NFL career. Luckett is the reason Erickson never posted a winning record.

Yeah, that's what happened.

Or maybe someone has a better explanation. I can't wait to hear it. Maybe the San Francisco 49ers will tell us today when they trot out Dennis The Great as the successor to Steve Mariucci.

Today on Page 2
  • It's another edition of "What the Heck Are They Thinking," starring Ben and J-Lo, Shaq and Phil, Al Sharpton and Mike Vanderjagt.
  • The toughest job in sports? You may be surprised. Patrick Hruby takes us into the seedier side of the mascot world.
  • The Daily Quickie ponders the fates of Shawn Kemp, "American Idol" and Dennis Erickson.
  • Look, I don't think every NFL team needs to hire or even interview a black coach every time there's an opening. The NFL's diversity committee, bowing to pressure from Johnnie Cochran, has set up a system that will generate white backlash and force black assistants to sit through insulting token interviews.

    If Matt Millen's job is on the line in Detroit and he's thoroughly convinced The Mooch is the man to save his job, then Millen shouldn't be forced to go through the farce of interviewing a couple of black assistants just to satisfy Jesse Jackson. Millen, the devout hypocrite, needs to muster the intestinal fortitude to tell his fan base, the media and Mornhinweg that he's making a coaching change solely because he has the opportunity to hire Mooch. There's nothing wrong with that.

    And really there was nothing wrong with the way the NFL conducted its 2003 offseason coaching carousel. A third minority coach, Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, was added to the head-coaching ranks, and two black defensive coordinators, Ted Cottrell and Greg Blache, emerged as future NFL head coaches. The 49ers strongly considered hiring both men before deciding to pry Erickson away from Oregon State, the college squad he guided to an impressive 13-11 record the past two seasons.

    In terms of NFL coaching diversity, no one can deny that progress was made this offseason. But things are far from perfect. Erickson's hiring illustrates a troubling double-standard that has long frustrated black folks.

    Dennis Green
    Can't buy me love: Denny Green's track record means he deserves another head coaching job.

    White coaches can easily re-invent themselves and land prime second-chance coaching slots. Meanwhile, Dennis Green, despite a 97-62 career record, eight winning seasons and four NFC Central crowns, can't seem to land a rebound job.

    I don't have a problem with the 49ers hiring Erickson. He's proven he's an outstanding college coach. He's as good a candidate to lead the 49ers as Cottrell, the runner-up for the 49ers' post.

    But why Erickson over Green? Why a reformed, unsuccessful coach over a reformed, ungrateful-but-successful malcontent who was once a part of the Bill Walsh-49ers family?

    Don't buy this crap that the 49ers only wanted a coach who would be happy just being a head coach, someone with no aspirations to interfere with front-office personnel matters. We all saw Denny Green on ESPN after Mariucci was dumped. Denny skinned and grinned and made it perfectly clear that "Denny be good, content coach for general manager Terry Donahue and Godfather Walsh."

    Green can't get back in the league, even among friends, for the most obvious reason: There's still a huge price to pay for being a strong, outspoken, talented black man in America.

    There's a 12-step program to overcome drinking. The power structure still hasn't invented a legal cure for a black man with a backbone and skill. Maybe Denny will get back in the league after the NFL chops off half his playbook.

    Have I mentioned yet that the white Denny Green -- Marty Schottenheimer -- is on his fourth NFL head-coaching assignment? Marty and Denny are the exact same coach. Marty, a terrific regular-season coach, got run out of Cleveland when he lost a power struggle with owner Art Modell. Late in his Kansas City tenure, Marty won a personnel power struggle with Chiefs general manager/president Carl Peterson. Marty made a complete mess of the team, "retired" and then quickly resurfaced in Washington with a fat contract and control of the Redskins. When Marty and owner Dan Snyder fell out, primarily because Marty didn't want to share power, the San Diego Chargers offered Marty a home.

    The NFL has no bigger malcontent than Marty Schottenheimer. But he's not viewed as trouble. He's a solution.

    Yes, Denny Green's ego got out of control in Minnesota, and he went too far in his battle with management and ownership. But, damn, Denny deserves a second chance just like Erickson, just like Schottenheimer. Green shouldn't suffer the same fate as Art Shell, another black coach who was too good for his own good.

    Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com), the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB (810whb.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at ballstate0@aol.com.