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All the coaching jobs have been filled in the NFL and, to a certain extent, the pages have been turned to preparation for next season, but the turmoil, hurt and misunderstanding among minority coaches and fans about the passing-over of Baltimore's Marvin Lewis still linger.

The Bills are pretty much off the hook. Tom Donahoe, the team's new major domo, made African-American coaches, Lewis and Ted Cottrell, half his field of finalists. In fact the Bills were the only team to interview Lewis, even though he was seen throughout the NFL as one of the major possibilities for a head coaching job.

There were eight other vacancies besides Buffalo's, and only the Jets, who hired Herman Edwards, filled theirs with a minority candidate. A year earlier, when there were 10 jobs available, it was worse. Not one minority candidate was even interviewed.

Not even the Browns, housed in a city with a population that is almost 50 percent black, waited until after the Super Bowl to interview Lewis, who was barred from such contact while his team finished playing. Instead, Butch Davis, head coach at the University of Miami, was hired at a reported $3 million a season.

To African-American coaches and fans, the future may seem bleak but it says here that there is a silver lining ahead.

Just under half of the NFL's teams are still owned by elderly white men. That's not to say that group is racist. But those men come from another era. They may be completely tolerant, but in their winter years most of them want to feel comfortable with their head coach and, for many of them, their life experiences doesn't allow that.

That's why Dick Vermeil was so attractive, first to Georgia Frontiere of the Rams and now to Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Consider some of the sports owners who broke the color line by hiring African-American head coaches or managers. Usually they were sophisticated, urbane men with a lot of self-confidence and a different view of the world.

The first owner in pro basketball to hire an African-American coach? Believe it or not it was George Steinbrenner, who then owned the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League and hired John McClendon, the legendary coach from Tennessee State. Steinbrenner being Steinbrenner, he also was the first owner to fire a minority coach when he dumped McClendon.

In the NFL, it was Al Davis, chief sorcerer of the Raiders, when he promoted Art Shell, whom he also fired.

Jeffrey Lurie of Philadelphia, a movie producer, hired Ray Rhodes. Woody Johnson, new owner of the Jets and a man from a different generation, hired Edwards. When Rhodes was fired by Lurie, he was immediately hired by Ron Wolf, then GM of the Packers who was a Davis disciple.

Rich McKay, GM of the Tampa Bay Bucs as they plodded through seasons of double digit losses, had nothing to lose so he hired Tony Dungy.

But even among the new era owners, the inclination to break new ground with a minority hire often ends up a case of idealism losing out to reality.

Carmen Policy, president of the Browns, is being squeezed for the expansion team's dismal entry into the league. He opted for Davis because he felt he needed a man with head coaching experience at a high level.

Then consider the Bills' four candidates: Lewis, Ted Cottrell, John Fox of the Giants and Gregg Williams of Tennessee, the eventual choice. None of the four had been a head coach at any significant level. All four had terrific credentials as defensive coordinators. How to make a choice?

Donahoe took the logical course -- probing interviews. It wasn't get-to-know-you stuff, since he already knew Lewis and Fox from his days in Pittsburgh. Their credentials were a given; however, they wouldn't be interviewing for a defensive coordinator's position, but the head coaching job.

These interviews asked things such as "What's your plan? . . . What would you do with the opportunity? . . . We have problems. How do you intend to solve them?"

Williams aced the interview and got the job.

So now there are just three minority head coaches in the NFL. But it wasn't so long ago that black NFL quarterbacks were as rare as albino alligators. That, too, was a different era. Questions were asked about them. Insulting questions: "Can they think? Can they lead? Can they lead a mixed-race team?"

Strangely, the first time an African-American quarterback started a game was in Buffalo for the Bills in War Memorial Stadium in an August, 1969 exhibition game against the Baltimore Colts. It was the first game O.J. Simpson ever played for Buffalo, which made it a national event.

John Rauch, the Bills' coach not widely known for his sensitivity, decided that with all the attention on O.J., it would be the perfect time to use another rookie, James Harris of Grambling, now the pro personnel director of the Super Bowl champion Ravens, as his starting quarterback.

It would be nine years later but the Tampa Bay Bucs became the first team ever to use a No. 1 draft choice on a black quarterback, Doug Williams.

In 1984, the Houston Oilers spent serious money to sign Warren Moon out of the Canadian League. No NFL team had even bothered to draft Moon when he came out of the University of Washington, but he won five Grey Cups in Canada and then played 17 distinguished seasons in the NFL.

A generation of black kids watched them and saw the bar could be lifted. By the time that generation reached adulthood, not only had the bar been lifted but the NFL needed them. Mobile, more athletic quarterbacks had become a necessity because the standard, stationary quarterbacks had become human tackling dummies for the newly-popular zone blitzes.

Two years ago Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Akili Smith were chosen among the first 11 players in the college draft. In voting by the fans this season, McNabb was named the NFC's most valuable player. Culpepper was in the Pro Bowl. Suddenly the pond was full of albino alligators.

Soon it will be the coaches' turn.

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