For the second straight year a member of the Bengals receives a major honor from the Fritz Pollard Alliance when the diversity group holds its annual awards reception during next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Against the backdrop of a renewed push for minority hiring from the Pollard group celebrating its 10th anniversary, recently retired Jim Anderson receives the lifetime achievement award for his 29 seasons as the Bengals running backs coach. He'll receive the award from Bengals president Mike Brown, recipient of last year's Game Ball for making a difference in leveling the playing field for minorities.
"We think 29 years is something to be proud of," said John Wooten, chairman of the Pollard Alliance. "I don't even know how many head coaches Jim worked for in Cincinnati (five), but he's the same pillar of strength and character that he's always been. Just work your butt off and be the best you can be."
Wooten, who played his first four seasons as an NFL guard for head coach Paul Brown in Cleveland, has an easy reference point when recognizing Anderson as one of the league's early successful African-American coaches.
"Jim was hired by the late great Paul Brown, who I think was an outstanding evaluator of people as well as football talent," Wooten said of that 1984 hire. "Paul had a real feel for what a person was about."
The most indelible memory of Anderson's NFL career may be his first as he interviewed for the Bengals job on the field of the East-West Shrine Game.
"There I am watching Paul Brown evaluate talent," Anderson said. "It seems like it was yesterday. I'm humbled by the honor. It's really a tremendous event in my life."
Paul Brown also evaluated Anderson that day and the decision would help yield Anderson's franchise 10 Pro Bowl seasons in the backfield, 18 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 14 different 100-yard rushers. But in the last 10 years Wooten has also relied on Anderson off the field to help him with the Pollard Alliance as a liaison to the NFL coaches.
Anderson had been there near the creation of the Alliance, close enough that he hit it off well with Johnnie L. Cochran, the larger-than-life lawyer who help shepherd The Alliance from an idea to reality. They bonded over their membership in the same fraternity—Kappa Alpha Psi—and would greet each other as fellow Kappas.
"He's been our representative ever since we've been on board," Wooten said of Anderson. "Every single time, wherever we've called on him, the Senior Bowl, or wherever, to stand up and talk for us, he's been that guy. He's been a model of stability. And doing it the right way all the time."
The Alliance was born at the 2003 combine in an effort to diversify the NFL's head-coaching jobs and executive positions. The hiring of Marvin Lewis as the Bengals head coach a month before began a run of success that recently has hit a wall. Wooten acknowledges that there is disappointment with the lack of minority hires this past offseason and says the Alliance plans to unveil some possible solutions to ownership in a presentation at next month's annual league meeting in Arizona.
"We want the sideline and the front office to look like the playing field of the National Football League," Wooten said.
Among topics Wooten plans to present to the owners is extending the Rooney Rule so that teams are required to interview at least one minority for not only head coaching vacancies but also for coordinators. He also thinks it will help if teams can't prevent coaches from taking a promotion to coordinator even if they're under contract.
Wooten says there is disappointment that the Bears fired a Super Bowl coach in Lovie Smith a season after Chicago won 10 games in the rough-and-tumble NFC North and that assistants such as Hue Jackson, Jim Caldwell and Winston Moss didn't get interviews for head coaching jobs.
But, ironically, the move to replace Anderson has given Wooten hope. After Jackson got fired as the Raiders head coach following the 2011 season despite coming within a game of their first postseason berth in nine years, he opted to stay in the league as a defensive and special teams assistant for the Bengals.
Last week Lewis moved Jackson into Anderson's job along with the title "special assistant to the head coach."
"It shows all over the importance of doing things right and meaningful," Wooten said. "Hue Jackson is a very special coach. He's one of these old-fashioned coaches that can coach any position. He's a throwback to the days of (Vince) Lombardi and Paul Brown. Hue Jackson did a heck of a job in Oakland a couple of years ago and got pushed out or fired or whatever you want to call it.
"I think Marvin or Mike would be the first to tell you he's come in there and done a heck of a job for them. Look at what he did for (T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson). Those kids were as fine as receivers as you could find."