Ravens RB Rice wonders if 49ers can cover him

Advertisement

NEW ORLEANS — In the Super Bowl of brotherly love, neither the 49ers nor the Baltimore Ravens have fired salvos at one another this week.

Black ex-coaches say NFL’s Rooney Rule broken

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Three black former NFL head coaches say the league needs to rethink its Rooney Rule for promoting minority hiring after 15 top vacancies — eight head coaching jobs and seven general manager positions — were all filled by white candidates since the regular season ended a month ago.

“I know the concept is good and something we need to do,” said Tony Dungy, who was with the Indianapolis Colts during the 2006 season when he became the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. “Obviously, it’s not working the way it should.”

The Rooney Rule, implemented in 2003, was named for Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who steadfastly pushed the league to require every team to interview at least one minority candidate every time there is a coaching or general manager opening.

Before the rule went into effect, the NFL had had only six minority head coaches in more than 80 years. Since it has been in place, 12 have been hired.

But none were hired this year to replace the two black coaches who were fired — Romeo Crennel in Kansas City and Lovie Smith in Chicago — and the one fired black GM, Rod Graves in Arizona.

Herm Edwards, former coach of the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs and now an ESPN analyst, has called for not only revising the rule but perhaps even changing its name.

“When you use the Rooney Rule and not correctly, you put a little bit of a bad mark on Mr. Rooney’s name, and that is not good,” Edwards said Wednesday. “If it keeps going this way, we might need to take his name off the rule. It is not being used in the right manner that Mr. Rooney meant it to be.”

Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s executive vice president of human resources, said that the hiring results were “disappointing” and that he expects to make revisions in the rule.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, a group of minority coaches and front-office, scouting and game-day NFL officials, wants the Rooney Rule expanded to apply to coordinators, assistant head coaches and club president positions.

Unlike Dungy and Edwards, Jim Caldwell is still coaching, albeit as an assistant. Not only that, his team, the Baltimore Ravens, will play the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s Super Bowl. But he wasn’t even invited to interview for one of the eight vacant coaching jobs, though having a team in the playoffs can be a hindrance to such opportunities.

Fired as the Colts’ coach following the 2011 season, Caldwell joined the Ravens as quarterbacks coach. When head coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in December, Caldwell was promoted. With his guidance, Baltimore’s offense responded.

Caldwell is no stranger to the Super Bowl, having led the Colts there three years ago after replacing the retired Dungy. It was only after Peyton Manning was sidelined for the 2011 season that Caldwell was fired.

“It has been a great rule and it has worked in the past,” he said. “Just like anything else, you have to, after a certain period of time, revisit it and take a look and see if it needs a little tweaking. I think it does in this particular case.”

Caldwell added: “That’s one of the reasons that the Rooney Rule was put in place, because you’re trying to avoid those situations, if possible. We’re at that stage where guys like Lovie Smith, who didn’t get an opportunity, who had won and been very successful previously ... obviously, there’s some concern there, and that’s why I think the rule is going to be revisited.”

Dungy said he believes the entire system is broken. He cited 21 head coaching jobs changing in a three-year span, which he said indicates owners are making the wrong hires regardless of race.

Edwards said he wonders whether minority candidates get interviewed only to satisfy the rule, even though they have no chance of getting the job. He and Dungy noted that the last black head coach hiring — other than coaches promoted from within, like Leslie Frazier, Raheem Morris, Mike Singletary, Hue Jackson and Crennel — was Mike Tomlin by Pittsburgh, in 2007.

There are currently four minority head coaches: Tomlin, Frazier in Minnesota, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and Ron Rivera in Carolina. Minority general managers include Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome, Detroit’s Martin Mayhew, Houston’s Rick Smith, the New York Giants’ Jerry Reese and Oakland’s Reggie McKenzie.

“I am not saying you have to hire a minority candidate. No one is saying that,” Edwards said. “I am saying you can’t be blinded. It can’t be, ‘Who is the guy to interview to get this out of the way?’”

“The problem I have is you don’t really abide by the Rooney Rule the correct way,” he said.

The one possible exception is the low-boil, long-distance chippy exchanges between Ravens running back Ray Rice and the 49ers defense, specifically the linebackers, whom Rice says won’t be able to keep up if he happens to get isolated against them on pass patterns.

“I’ve heard that (Rice) has been saying a lot of good stuff about us,” Patrick Willis said Thursday with a wry grin. “I’m being sarcastic right now.”

Rice, the 5-foot-8, 212-pound dynamo, set the stage for one of the most crucial matchups in Super Bowl XLVII earlier in the week. A loquacious sort, Rice complimented Willis and his fellow linebackers for being one of the best units in the NFL, but then maintained they probably won’t be able to handle him in the open field.

“This game will come down to matchups,” Rice said. “In the run game, the linebackers, they might get their fair share of plays. They might make some tackles. But there comes a point in the game when you have to cover me.”

And then?

“I don’t think a lot of linebackers can cover me, not just the 49ers,” he said. “Linebackers are built a different way. They’re built to tackle. They’re not built to cover, so when I’ve got them man-to-man, I’m going to win my fair share. Let’s pad up. We’ve got to pad up to see.”

Even though the 49ers lost to the Ravens 16-6 in 2011, they did a decent job of containing Rice. He gained just 59 yards on 21 carries and, perhaps more important, he was limited to three catches for 24 yards. Consequently, they’re not sure where he’s coming from with all his talk.

“Let Ray Rice say what he says,” Willis said. “He’s a good football player. But we believe we can cover any back in the NFL. In the Super Bowl, the best cornerbacks cover the best receivers. The best safeties cover the best tight ends, and the best linebackers cover the best running backs. Watch the game tapes. We’ve been covering more elusive backs than him.”

NaVorro Bowman was even more direct in his comeback.

“Obviously, he’s underestimating us,” he said. “We’ll have to go out and show him on Sunday. I’m looking forward to it.”

In addition to rushing for 1,390 yards and 11 touchdowns through 19 games this season, Rice has caught 65 passes for 547 yards. Although he scored only one touchdown as a receiver, many 49ers defenders recalled the play he made in the Ravens’ improbable comeback victory in San Diego in Week 12. On fourth-and-29, Rice caught a pass in the right flat and zigzagged for 29 yards to help set up the field goal that sent the game into overtime, where the Ravens won 16-13.

Some 49ers were quick to note the breakdowns in the San Diego defense. “We don’t play like that,” Bowman said flatly.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers, alluding to the team’s film study of the Chargers game, said: “Their angles to the ball carrier were unbelievable. We just said, ‘Oh, my God. What y’all doin’?”

Still, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who spent two seasons in Baltimore, knows how lethal Rice can be. And he said his defense must be at the top of its game to deal with him.

“He’s extremely quick and fast, No. 1,” Fangio said. “He has the ability to jump cut and cut the ball back at any moment. He’s only 5-8 but he’s a very strong 5-8. He’s very tough to cover. Joe Flacco likes to throw it to him, and he has been one of their leading receivers every year since he’s been in the league. So he’s a dual threat, and he doesn’t have a weakness.”

Fangio said every player on defense will need to keep an eye on Rice. Linemen will play a pivotal role when Rice runs. Linebackers must watch for him on pass plays. And the secondary will need to be alert to Rice breaking through the first two lines of defense.

One thing is for sure: Rice’s words got around to the entire defense, so he won’t sneak up on anybody.

“He’s a good player, so of course he’s going to be confident in his talents,” said end Ray McDonald. “But we have good players, too. I’m pretty sure whatever guys we have on him will be up to the challenge of stopping him.”

“First, our D-line, whoever’s in the ballgame, has got to stop the run,” said linebacker Ahmad Brooks. “And the linebackers have just got to cover him when he comes out of the backfield. That’s all you can do. There’s nothing scientific about it. Get up there and cover him. He runs hard. I played against him last year. I hit him and felt the hit. But just like any running back in the NFL, you have to wrap up, drive through and bring him down.”

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in