SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — Veteran defensive back Richard Sherman has played for a number of coaches during his lengthy NFL career, none of them have been better in his opinion than his current mentor — San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
So Sherman has been very outspoken by the lack of minority hires among the new NFL head coaches. Saleh interviewed for the Cleveland Browns job, but on Monday that position appears to have been given to Minnesota Viking’s offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. If the rumors prove true, four of the current head coaching hires would have been white — Mike McCarthy in Dallas, Joe Judge with the New York Giants, Matt Rhule with the Carolina Panthers and Stefanski in Cleveland.
In last Saturday’s NFC division matchup between the Vikings and the 49ers, the chessmatch between Saleh’s defense and Stefanski’s offense was dominated by the 49ers coordinator.
Stefanski’s offense converted on just 2-of -12 third downs, the Vikings rushed for just 21 yards and passed for a meager 126 yards in the 27-10 49ers win.
As San Francisco prepared for that divisional matchup, Sherman talked about the NFL’s growing crisis with diversity among its head coaching ranks.
“I think it’s always going to be a challenge in this game, whether it’s male or female, coaches of color, getting a head coaching gig,” he said. “It’s always going to be a conversation. Owners still look a certain way, they still come from a very old background. It’s going to be this way until things change.”
The NFL does have in place the Rooney Rule that requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.
“No matter how much people say about it, no matter how much people say the Rooney Rule, you have to interview these guys, the coaches still look a certain way for the most part,” Sherman said. “Every now and then there will be coaches, owners that go out of the norm and hire some coaches. I think it’s unfortunate because there’s a lot of qualified, very qualified, coaches of color and female coaches that deserve a job, deserve to get the opportunity to be head coaches.”
Sherman called it a cycle of traditional thinking.
“I think sometimes in this game it gets into the cycle of just old school,” he continued. “It’s just like the combine. The 40 (yard-dash time) and all that is obsolete, it’s dumb. People are really fast and can’t play football, but every year you sit there, ‘Oh, my God, look at this guy, ran a 4.3.’ You look it up, the pro team is full of guys who ran 4.4, 4.5, didn’t go to the combine and kill it.”
“Coaching is the same. You can be terrible as a head coach. Hey, no matter what, in a couple more years you’re going to get another job, recycled back if you look a certain way. That’s the unfortunate part.”
Sherman believes Saleh is just one of many minority candidates who would make great head coaches.
“Obviously Robert Saleh is a person of color, got an interview,” he said. “I think (former NFL coach) Lovie Smith, there’s tons of coaches out there that deserve a head coaching job, (Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric) Bieniemy. Those guys aren’t even getting a look. Those that are getting the look are getting it so they can check the Rooney Rule box off. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much you talk about it, because it is not changing. The people who could change it make billions and billions of dollars and they could care less.”
Of Saleh in particular, Sherman loves his leadership style.
“He’s done a great job” Sherman said of Saleh. “He commands the room really well. He has a great way of relating to his players, holding them accountable. As I said before, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what I think. The people that make those decisions don’t seem like they’re hiring people of color very often.”