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Minority candidates call for change at Fritz Pollard Alliance town hall at Senior Bowl

Tony Dungy joins Mike Florio to talk about how the NFL can evolve the Rooney Rule to help minority candidates get head coaching opportunities.

The NFL’s annual hiring cycle nearly has ended, but the criticism and concern regarding lack of diversity in the various decisions made could extend long after the attention of the league and its teams turns to the next item on the calendar.

Jason Reid of ESPN’s reports that the Fritz Pollard Alliance held a town hall meeting earlier this week in conjunction with the Senior Bowl regarding the lack of meaningful opportunities for minority coaches and executives. According to Reid, the “anger in the room was most palpable” regarding the inability during the last two offseasons of Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to get a head-coaching job and of Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to get a single interview.

“What’s really clear, at this point, is that it’s not the league office,” Fritz Pollard Alliance co-founder Cyrus Mehri said, via Reid. “The league office has been fighting with us. It’s the owners. We have . . . spectacular candidates, and we still have decision-making [among owners] that’s irrational. I don’t want to pick on anybody, I really don’t, but it’s hard to justify Freddie Kitchens being hired [by the Browns in 2019] and overlooking Eric Bieniemy.

“It’s hard to justify [Bengals coach] Zac Taylor, and not Eric Bieniemy. It’s hard to justify how [former Colts and Lions coach] Jim Caldwell didn’t get an interview this time. It’s hard to justify Leslie Frazier not getting an interview. Look at the job he did in Buffalo with that defense. Look at the job he did as a playcaller, getting the most out of that defense.”

“The bigger issue, what [the Fritz Pollard Alliance is] talking about, is how can you truly make things better in the future? How can minorities get legitimate opportunities?” Frazier, who took the Vikings in the playoffs in 2012 but was fired after the 2013 season, said. “What you don’t want is in the next hiring cycle, if somebody gets an opportunity, that [owners say], ‘OK. We quieted them down now.’ So, yeah, then it’s quiet.

“But then the next cycle comes around, the next cycle begins, and we’re right back where we are today. That’s not what we want to happen, and we know that can happen. What we’re really talking about is the need for long-term solutions. So it’s not about Leslie Frazier and Eric Bieniemy. There are much bigger things that need to be delved into.”

Frazier is right. Long-term solutions remain critical, but elusive. It was the threat of a discrimination lawsuit that forced the adoption of the Rooney Rule in the first place. And the threat, or reality, of litigation continues to be the only way to spur meaningful change among a group of billionaires who are accustomed to doing what they want, when they want, how they want.

Despite its potential strength, it remains difficult if not impossible for a landmark racial bias action to be pursued against the NFL unless and until the plaintiff is willing to sacrifice his career, either as a potential head coach or an assistant coach. No one should be expected to become the coaching equivalent of Colin Kaepernick, but that’s exactly what it will take to fix a problem that in recent years has gotten worse, not better.