The Couch Slouch

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

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

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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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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