When the Buffalo Bills hired Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to be head coach instead of Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, it reignited the issue of minority hiring practices in the National Football League.
Much of the criticism isn't necessarily directed at the Bills. After all, Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe did interview Lewis and former Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who now works for the Jets.
The problem is no one else spoke to Lewis, even though he topped the list of hot assistant coaches after masterminding a Ravens defense considered to be one of the best in NFL history.
Detroit (Marty Mornhinweg), Washington (Marty Schottenheimer), Cleveland (Butch Davis), Kansas City (Dick Vermeil), the Jets (Herman Edwards) and the expansion Houston franchise (Dom Capers) made their choices before talking to Lewis. Edwards, formerly Tampa Bay's assistant head coach and defensive backs coach, was the only African-American. Arizona (Dave McGinnis) and Cincinnati (Dick LeBeau) both retained interim coaches with losing records.
Edwards, Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy and Minnesota's Dennis Green are the only African-American coaches. There have been just six in the NFL's 80-year history.
Lewis said he's not disappointed he didn't get the Bills' job, but he felt uncomfortable accepting any offer without a chance to see the area. His interview with Buffalo took place in Baltimore.
Lewis told the Baltimore Sun there was pressure to take the Bills job if offered because of his race. But he didn't want it for that reason.
"It had to be the right situation for me and my family," he said. "I think our people will appreciate the fact that you don't have to take every job because it is extended out there. I'm not looking at this as a negative. We just won the Super Bowl. My family is ecstatic we're staying here."
"I'm happy Marvin is coming back," Ravens free safety Rod Woodson said Saturday from Hawaii. "But we all know he deserves to be a head coach in this league. It's a shame some teams didn't see it that way."
Dungy suggested to Sports Illustrated Thursday the lack of head coaching opportunities for Lewis might have been racially motivated.
"You would have thought more than one team out of nine (counting Arizona and Cincinnati) would say that here's a guy that should be at least talked to," Dungy said. "And you can only beg the question in your own mind: If he were white, would it have been one out of nine? I don't think so. I think it would have been more than one out of nine."
Dungy's disappointment comes from having been passed over so many times in his first 15 years as an NFL assistant. Since his hire in 1996, only two African-Americans (Edwards with the Jets and Ray Rhodes in Green Bay) have filled the league's last 42 openings.
Seeing retreads like Bill Belichick and Dave Wannstedt get second chances after failing elsewhere only adds to the frustration.
"Here is a guy (Lewis) who constructed what may be the best defense ever, but only one out of seven or eight teams talked to him," Dungy said. "Everything happens for a reason, and Marvin will end up in a better place. But that doesn't let the league off the hook. There is something wrong with the process. It's flawed."
The "flaw" is the NFL's anti-tampering policy that prohibits franchises with openings from speaking to assistants until their seasons are over.
A couple of deals made during Super Bowl week in the early '90s precipitated the rule.
Former Bills offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda agreed to be Indianapolis' coach before Super Bowl XXVI. Wannstedt, the Dallas defensive coordinator, signed with Chicago before the Cowboys' victory over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII.
In January, 1995, the Carolina Panthers were the first offenders as the NFL fined them $150,000 and stripped them of second- and sixth-round draft picks for talking to Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dom Capers before the Steelers' season was done.
The rule certainly hurt Lewis and New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox, who is white. The Bills were the only team that bothered to wait for both men.
"The coaches that were in the Super Bowl were at a little bit of a disadvantage because of the pressure of the game and just being exhausted from the week," said Donahoe, who said he chose Williams in part because he was so prepared for his interview. "There's no question that the NFL should look at the whole situation with talking to coaches in the playoffs. There has to be a better way to do it.
"In most businesses, you get rewarded for doing a good job. But in the National football League when it comes to hiring a head coach, if you're successful enough to get to the Super Bowl, you're at a disadvantage. A lot of teams won't wait for you. Most teams didn't."
Dungy agrees the anti-tampering rule is unfair, but also feels teams aren't patient enough.
"People get concerned about the pool drying up," he said. "They think they need to work fast, but what happens is some deserving candidates get left behind."
Meanwhile, Williams is expected to begin filling his coaching staff this week. He has already said Titans defensive backs coach Jerry Gray will be the Bills' defensive coordinator, while quality control assistant Ronnie Vinklarek will land an offensive post. Gray is in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
Williams also is expected to speak to some of the Bills assistants remaining from the Wade Phillips regime. Bills coaches believed to have not signed with another team are Chuck Lester (linebackers), Carl Mauck (offensive line), Max Bowman (tight ends), Chris Dickson (offensive quality control) and Rusty Jones (strength and conditioning).
Joe Pendry (offensive coordinator) went to Washington as offensive line coach. Charlie Joiner (wide receiver) and James Saxon (running backs) signed with Kansas City and Turk Schonert (quarterbacks) joined Carolina. Bill Bradley (defensive backs) is expected to sign with the Jets. John Levra (defensive line) may go to the Jets if he doesn't opt to retire.