Rooney praises Brown

2-19-03, 7:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS _ Bengals President Mike Brown drew praise from the NFL's diversity chief here Wednesday, but Steelers president Dan Rooney is looking to improve minority hiring throughout the NFL's front offices.

So is Marvin Lewis, who calls the dearth of minority front office minority jobs, "as alarming," as the lack of coaches in this first offseason of the NFL's guideline that stipulates at least one minority should be interviewed for a head coaching job. Lewis became the NFL's third African-American head coach last month when Brown tapped him and then went a step farther and made him the club's spokesman.

"You've got to ask Mike that, but he would say no because he voted against it," said a smiling Lewis when asked if the guideline helped him get hired.

Rooney is chairman of the NFL's diversity committee that met Wednesday night over dinner with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Lewis, and several other minority coaches and team officials. Rooney is overseeing some controversial times in light of the Lions' hiring of Steve Mariucci as head coach, but he saluted Brown's interview process.

"Mike did a good job. He did it very well, very professionally," Rooney said. "I talked to him several times and I commend him. He's the guy that did it."

The Lions violated the guideline when several African-American candidates turned down interviews after it was clear Mariucci was Detroit's first choice.

"You have a man who's fighting (for) his own life for his job," said Lewis of Lions CEO Matt Millen. "He's got to hire the guy he thinks is most right. I don't think guys should interview if they knew Matt was going to hire Steve. I don't think that's right. There's too many emotions that go through that whole deal. When you have to prepare to go and meet with people, the emotions you have to put forth to go in there, you don't want to go halfway. Let's bring it all."

Lewis admits he has a tough time getting his hands around the problem. Especially after just hiring his own staff, a process based largely on previous associations and relationships. There are no easy answers. Just take the Jack Del Rio quandary.

The Jaguars got flayed when they named the 39-year-old white Del Rio, the Panthers defensive coordinator, as a first-time head coach after what was seen as a cursory interview with former Vikings coach Dennis Green.

But three years ago, Lewis recommended the Ravens hire Del Rio to his staff as linebackers coach.

"I have a very high regard for Jack," Lewis said. "I think he'll do a great job.Obviously, I don't want to comment on the hiring situation because that's not my job. But I think Jack is very thorough. He did a tremendous job with our guys. He was very loyal to me and Brian (Billick). I think that's what he brings."

Lewis has lived both sides of the coin.

"You can't give a coach tryouts," Lewis said of his own staff. "You cannot tell somebody who to hire. When I put together my coaching staff, in my mind I wanted to hire people I knew 24 hours a day as much as I could. I can't judge how people hire people. I know people have associations, they have relationships and they want to know how a guy is going to work under stress and how can he handle the stress. I really wish there was a way when people could get to know more coaches."

Rooney plans an informal session Wednesday to get feed back from coaches and officials who were part of the process under the new guideline. Overall, he is pleased.

Lewis went to Cincinnati and then hired the Bengals' first minority coordinator in Eagles secondary coach Leslie Frazier. James Harris is now running the Jaguars' football operations, and Rod Graves got promoted in Arizona when general manager Bob Ferguson got fired.

"We have to do better," Rooney said. "We have to spend some time now on the front office. We have a lot of work to do but I think we made good progress considering we came on Nov. 1."

But Lewis saw a lot of guys as he came up through the ranks.

"I don't exactly know how to put a handle on changing it. I think as we continue to get more minorities in the front offices, that will help change," Lewis said. "As the personnel departments continue to grow and guys get opportunities there. It's just as alarming there as it is in coaching."

Harris, one of the pioneering black quarterbacks, has been going through the ranks longer.

"I just go look at the bottom line and see there are 32 jobs and three blacks," Harris said. "I think that speaks for itself. I just feel there's so many others that are qualified to do this, that paid their dues, and are prepared to do it, and are not getting an opportunity."

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