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Rhodes' firing goes more than skin deep

Reverend Jesse Jackson wants to see greater representation of minorities in sports in both the coaching ranks and the front office. That's a very noble agenda. It's too bad that his current means prevent such an end from being accomplished.

It all started when Ron Wolf, general manager for the Green Bay Packers, booted coach Ray Rhodes after only one year on the job. Soon after Rhodes was sent packing, Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition sent a letter to Wolf questioning whether Rhodes was "held to a different standard" because he is black.

Moreover, the letter expressed "grave concerns and disappointment" that Wolf also dismissed offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis and defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, both of whom also are black.

Yet by Wednesday, all seemed well in Packer country again. In Jackson's words, Wolf "had assured [the Coalition] of his commitment to racial inclusion and expansion of black coaches' ranks" in a private telephone conversation on which Wolf declined to comment.

First, let me say that I strongly advocate the increased hiring of black coaches. When over 65 percent of the players in the league are black and there have been only four black coaches in the modern era, there is definitely a discrepancy.

Yet that doesn't mean that teams that hire -- or fire -- a black coach should be held to a higher standard.

If the Vikings had fired Dennis Green or Tampa had axed Tony Dungy, that definitely would be a point of controversy. But we're talking about Ray Rhodes, who inherited an 11-5 Packers squad and perennial Super Bowl contender, and promptly coached them to an 8-8 record and out of the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

Coaching isn't about black or white, or any color, for that matter. First and foremost, teams want to win. Moreover, with the rise in salaries for players and coaches, and the increased costs of maintaining and fielding a team from year to year, the emphasis is on winning quickly.

Teams don't have the patience to stick with a coach, no matter how talented he might be, if he consistently produces a team incapable of rising to the next level. The New Orleans Saints' recent termination of coaching legend Mike Ditka stands out as an example. Ditka came in with a great legacy, but he couldn't get the job done in the Big Easy; now his career is over. So when a coach inherits a quality team -- as Rhodes did -- he'd better be ready to produce a good season immediately, or he might as well get his resume in order to help find another job once the season ends.

Yes, Rhodes was fired swiftly once the season ended, but Wolf said he felt he'd made a mistake in hiring Rhodes in the first place. And if you look at his career coaching record, which is far from impressive, it's hard to disagree.

I'm not the only one who finds the recent news in Green Bay a bit unusual. Dungy, who was passed over for head coaching jobs several times before finally catching on with Tampa Bay, criticized Jackson's targeting of the Packers as being off the mark in an Associated Press article.

"I don't necessarily think that was the right way to go, because to me the Packers made a move. They hired the guy, and for whatever reason they decided not to continue with it," Dungy said. "I think we need to look at the situations where they don't hire people, as opposed to the Packers' situation, personally."

Jackson does have a point: Black coaches are woefully underrepresented not only in the NFL, but also at the professional and collegiate level in baseball, football and basketball. Unquestionably, qualified candidates for these positions are out there. But they should earn and lose these jobs on their own merits. Let their records and accomplishments -- not the color of their skin -- determine their professional future.


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