Thursday, January 01, 2004

The sin of knowing what you want.

When the Florida Marlins decided they wanted to make a managerial change they knew who they wanted to hire. Jack McKeon had a history of taking teams over in mid-season and somehow turning them around. McKeon was available and wanted the job. Open and shut case, right? Wrong! The Marlins were fined by Major League Baseball for failing to interview a minority candidate.

A similar rule exists in the NFL. Ostensibly these rules exist to ensure that minority candidates are considered for managerial/coaching vacancies, a goal which is admirable but in practice these rules are clumsy and can have unintended consequences.

The Marlins wanted to make a quick decision because they believed (rightly so) that they still had a chance to turn their ship around. Part of their decision to fire the current manager must have had something to do with availability of the guy they wanted.

In this day and age a coach's experience, track record, and qualifications are an open book for anyone with a computer and a phone line. Teams as employers have a big advantage over corporate America in the sense that a potential employee is much more of a known commodity.

Bringing in minority candidates when a team has already made up its mind as to who it wants to hire smacks of tokenism. Race is the most incendiary topic in the United States today but the reality is that most people are against strict quotas.

Forgetting the reverse discrimination angle for a minute these rules can have the unintended effect of actually hurting a minority candidate. Being brought in for unsuccessful interview after unsuccessful interview so that teams can pass their league's scrutiny can make a candidate appear undesirable to other teams that maybe don't have a clear direction as to who they want to hire.

Sports, more than any other industry I can think of, is a meritocracy. In this sense I believe that eventually equilibrium will be reached. Teams that pass on better qualified minority coaches will pay the ultimate price on the field of play. Isn't this the best way to make the case? Years ago it was widely and incorrectly believed that Blacks didn't have "the faculties" to play quarterback. Today that seems laughable considering Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, and Daunte Culpepper. Marvin Lewis is similarly blazing trails in coaching by turning the hapless Cincinnati Bengals around. There's quite few teams out there that wish they had him as their head coach including his most recent team as an assistant, the Washington Redskins.

The Florida Marlins knew who they wanted and they were right. Their reward was a World Series Trophy and fine from Major League Baseball. I'm sure they'd do it all again in a Miami minute.

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