Fritz Pollard Alliance co-founder Cyrus Mehri: Onus on NFL owners to hire minority coaches

MOBILE, Ala. -- Cyrus Mehri, who co-founded the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes diversity in the NFL, said NFL owners are "acting irrationally" and that the onus is on them to hire more minority coaches.

There are just four minority coaches among the 32 teams, with Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Brian Flores (Dolphins), Anthony Lynn (Chargers) and the recently hired Ron Rivera (Redskins). Minority coaching candidates Eric Bieniemy and Robert Saleh did not land head-coaching jobs during this year's hiring cycle, while former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier didn't even get a head-coaching interview.

There has been much discussion about the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule, which requires league teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching and senior football operation positions. Mehri, who helped establish the Rooney Rule, believes the rule in itself is not the issue.

"Right now, we have a wealth of great candidates," Mehri said. "We have the people ready to lead these club. But the decision-makers have to think it through a little more differently than they have. It's on the decision-maker side. It's on the ownership side. It's not the rule. It's not the talent. We've got that. It's on the owners. The decisions they are making collectively, the owners are acting irrationally and in a way that's contrary to the best interest of the game.''

The comments came after a town hall meeting at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday with about 50 minority executives, coaches and scouts, moderated by Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves. The discussion about the lack of diversity in the NFL during the three-hour session was not for public consumption, but attendees spoke about the benefit of the meeting afterward.

"First of all, you have to take a look at Rod Graves and what he's trying to do and see how he's pulling guys together and making them aware of what the issues are,'' said Frazier, now the Bills' defensive coordinator. "On the outside, you have an idea of what you think the issues are. But he's on the inside, so he's got a better feel for how things need to be approached and attacked. I just applaud him for having a meeting like this and just informing guys on what is going on and what the potential solutions are.

"It's important because you want to educate guys and not just let things be floating out there that are not real.''

Graves firmly believes former head coaches such as Frazier, Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Jim Caldwell should get the opportunity to become head coaches again.

"In this day and age, when you have strongly qualified individuals who are not even part of the process, then something is wrong with the system," Graves said. "We need to shift our conversation away from talking about what's not right to finding solutions."

When asked if Frazier, 60, is intent on rejoining the head-coaching ranks, Graves downplayed the topic, saying he's "at a point where I really want to help as many guys as I possibly can."

One of the young coaches Frazier is rooting for is Bieniemy, whom he coached alongside in Minnesota.

Graves emphasized the importance of Bieniemy and Saleh coaching in this year's Super Bowl as coordinators for the Chiefs and 49ers, respectively.

"That just underscores how effective these guys are as coaches, as leaders,'' Graves said. "It really shows when given the opportunity, what we can accomplish. Those are prime examples.''

In terms of executives, Graves rattled off a long list of potential general manager candidates. Miami's Chris Grier currently is the lone black GM.

"When I'm talking about experienced candidates, I'm talking about Jerry Reese, I'm talking about Martin Mayhew, I'm talking about Reggie McKenzie -- guys who have been in the seat and are now available,'' Graves said. "Then you have guys who are strong candidates as vice president of player personnel like Alonzo Highsmith, Doug Williams. I could go through a list of those guys who have not been in the GM seat but are well-trained on player personnel. They understand the cap system. They understand pro personnel. They understand college personnel. They are prime candidates for the job.

"Then you've got a young breed of guys like Terry Fontenot at New Orleans and Champ Kelly at Chicago, just to name a couple. These guys are invigorated. They're young. They are anxious. They're looking forward for leadership opportunity. And they're capable.''