The Couch Slouch

When it comes to coaching hires, race very much an issue

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I have a friend – let's call him "Wes," because his real name is Scott but he does not want me mentioning him – who, every time I ask, "How come there are not more black head coaches in the NFL?" responds, "How come there are not more white running backs in the NFL?"

Wes then usually follows up by saying, "Why does it always have to be about race?"

In regard to the lack of white running backs, the NFL scouting combine does not measure skin color. However, the de facto, stopwatch-less NFL coaching combine seems to measure a bunch of things other than speed, power and agility.

And why is it always about race? Well, for starters, I think much of U.S. history – 87 years of slavery, the Civil War and another century before the Civil Rights Act with Jim Crow in between, mass incarceration, Stacey Dash – answers that question.

As for the sports world, the numbers don't lie: In the NFL, 70 percent of the players are black, but never have more than 25 percent of the head coaches been black. That number is usually much lower, as it is right now – the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin, the Los Angeles Chargers' Anthony Lynn and the Miami Dolphins' Brian Flores are the only black coaches among 32 franchises.

In fact, only once in NFL history has a team replaced a black head coach with another black man – in 2009, when the Indianapolis Colts' Tony Dungy retired and Jim Caldwell succeeded him.

After Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many thought a post-racial America – in which prejudice fades as black and white becomes immaterial – had arrived.

Look around: Does this feel like post-racial America to you? I think not.

I have created what I call "the U.S. Postal Service test" to prove this.

Go to your nearest post office – to mail a letter or just for nostalgic purposes – and, while standing in line, take note of your immediate thought every time somebody walks in:

"That's an old guy."

"That's a woman with a baby carriage."

"That's a fat guy."

"Man, that's an ugly shirt."

"That's a black guy."

And there you have it – you identify people by various characteristics, but the defining characteristic of the black person is they are black.

Note: This test might not work if you happen to be black.

(Column Intermission: At the Jan. 2 press conference introducing Ron Rivera as head coach, Washington R*dsk*ns owner Dan Snyder began by saying, "First off, happy Thanksgiving, everybody." In his defense, it is entirely possible that Snyder, who lives under a rock beneath his Potomac mansion currently on the market for $49 million, lost track of the calendar counting his money in the dark.)

To be fair, the lack of black head coaches is not just a product of racism. We tend to hire people we know, people with similar backgrounds. In a league with no black owners and one black general manager, that's a whole lot of white-only business meetings, golf outings and dinner parties.

Which is why the Rooney Rule, an NFL policy requiring every team to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions, was adopted in 2003; it was expanded in 2009 to include general manager jobs.

Yet in 2020, there are only three black head coaches, the same number as in 2003.

So the Rooney Rule hasn't delivered results; on the other hand, I've got to say, nepotism does deliver results.

Frankly, most teams will just go through the motions in interviewing a minority candidate en route to hiring whom they want.

It makes the Rooney Rule feel more like public relations than provocative policy.

And even if the Rooney Rule is well intentioned, if you keep bringing in one minority among 10 or 15 serious candidates, you are hardly ever going to hire that minority. But if you bring in three or four or – gasp! – even more minority candidates, occasionally one will dazzle and you'll think, "Where has this guy been hiding?"

Uh, in broad daylight.

Probably in a post office line.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Seeing how much you like computerized statistical analysis, I performed a computerized statistical analysis on your most recent column. It shows that 52.63157895 percent of the bugaboos you cited had nothing to do with sports. Aren't you out of bounds? (Ian Timberlake; Washington, D.C.)

A. Go fly a kite near a half-built stadium on a windless day.

Q. My wife says I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, but I believe ESPN NFL analyst Booger McFarland stops talking the moment the game ends. Your thoughts? (David Bradley; Austin, Tex.)

A. Socrates: "An unexamined life is not worth living." Booger McFarland: "An unexamined play ain't happening on my watch."

Q. Let's see: a meddlesome boss, a backstabbing culture and a high probability of early termination. Wait, which Cabinet position did Ron Rivera just take over? (Terry Golden; Vienna, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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