BEREA: Some might have expected Ray Horton to use his introductory news conference as Browns defensive coordinator to campaign for changes to the Rooney Rule.
Instead, Horton uttered a statement Tuesday that taken out of context could do more to inflame sentiments than advance the cause of minority hiring in the NFL.
Asked about eight vacant head coaching jobs and seven general manager/player personnel positions being filled by white men, Horton said: “I wasn’t disappointed at all for minorities. I was disappointed for Ray Horton.”
That wasn’t all of his response. But in the 140-character world of Twitter, his comment will spread like wildfire, perhaps drawing notice from the likes of the NAACP. Al Sharpton could be booking his plane ticket to Northeast Ohio as we speak.
But it would be wrong to bash Horton for a comment he would probably like to have back, even if that’s how he really feels.
Horton, 52, has spent 19 years as an NFL assistant and 10 more playing defensive back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys. This year, he interviewed for head coaching jobs with the Browns, Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals; Rob Chudzinski, Doug Marrone and Bruce Arians were chosen instead. He thinks he’s ready for the next step.
As he continued his answer, Horton refused to take the lead on the issue, because he still wants to be an NFL coach. The fact that Horton fears sticking his neck out might hurt him in the future is a sad indictment of a league in which about 70 percent of its players in 2012 were minorities, according to a league spokesman.
“I can’t speak for anybody but myself,” Horton said. “That’s another label. I’m not one to put labels on people. I talk about players. I respect the process. The process this year appeared to be offensive-minded coaches for the most part. That’s what the ownership wants. You can’t control what they want. You can just control yourself, how you prepare, just as I do each week.
“I’m just disappointed because I have expectations. I have expectations for our team, for our defense. If you don’t meet them, you’re disappointed. I’m not mad. I’m not frustrated. Disappointment is the right adjective for me.”
Only one of eight head coaches hired — Gus Bradley, a former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, with the Jacksonville Jaguars — came from that side of the ball.
Minorities going 0-for-15 in this year’s searches could prompt changes to the Rooney Rule, instituted in 2003, which requires at least one minority candidate be interviewed for coach and the highest-ranking player personnel position. The Fritz Pollard Alliance, of which former Browns guard John Wooten is chairman, has called for the rule to be expanded to include coordinators, assistant head coaches and presidents.
When the Rooney Rule was put into place, only two of 32 head coaches were minorities. After the firings of Romeo Crennel with the Kansas City Chiefs and Lovie Smith with the Chicago Bears, there are four, the fewest since 2003.
As bad as the numbers look, Horton would not say that the Rooney Rule didn’t work.
“This is my personal opinion and I can’t speak for anybody else, whether minority or not or whatever that label may be,” he said. “I respect the process. I think it worked because every NFL team this year hired a guy they thought was going to lead them to victory. I don’t think there was one owner that said, ‘I’m hiring this guy because I think he’s going to run my program into the ground.’ So does it work? Sure it works.”
Braids not an issue
Last week on XTRA Sports 910-AM in Arizona, Horton said he brought up his braids in each interview. He said all three teams did not believe they were an issue.
“I didn’t want it to be an elephant in the room,” Horton told the station.
Asked why he mentioned the way he wears his hair, Horton said: “As you look at me, is it an issue? Am I tall, short, fat, skinny, white, black? I’m just a person, but I think I’m a little different looking than most people. I’m different than everybody in this room from the way I look, but it’s not an issue. Sometimes it is and you want to be forward with how you present yourself. I just wanted to be up front and open because it is an abnormality, if you will.”
Three teams passed on Horton, but he hopes the owners, CEOs and general managers he spoke to will say, “ ‘Wow, I didn’t realize this person was that.’ ” Those men might tell others of his personality, honesty and qualifications, although the combative Arizona radio interview might not help his cause.
Underneath, Horton might be angry. He might think he’s more qualified than Chudzinski. But no one can blame him for trying to right his own slight before taking on the plights of his peers. Now he will go about building his resume the only way he knows how.
“My resume is the players on the field and how they perform,” he said.
Perhaps when the news conference is lauding his hiring as a coach, Horton will speak up about the lack of African-Americans at the top levels of the league. But until he’s standing at that pulpit, Horton won’t preach.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.