According to NFL Hall-of-Famer Rod Woodson, gold is the new black.
During a recent appearance on TMZ Sports, Rod Woodson—who played 17 years in the NFL as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders—was asked if being a minority was hurting his chances of getting a coaching job?
“I don’t know if it’s a racism with me being black. But I think me being a Hall-of-Famer—I think that hurts,” Woodson said, before noting that there’s only one NFL Hall-of-Famer currently coaching in the league, that being Mike Munchak, who serves as offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos.
Woodson: NFL Head Coaches Don’t Want Another ‘Alpha’
The crux of Woodson’s argument is that most NFL head coaches feel threatened by having a Hall-of-Famer on their staff.
“Having that Gold Jacket and having that respect walk into the room—sometimes other people don’t want that in the room. They want one alpha in the room,” Woodson said.
There may be some truth to Woodson’s assertion. After all, some leaders are decidedly insecure and do shy away from hiring people who are their peers in terms of success. But by the same token, many leaders try to hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, knowing that they benefit from incorporating the best and brightest onto their team.
Hall-of-Famers Aren’t Willing to ‘Grind’? Don’t Make Good Teachers?
Woodson’s argument also isn’t easy to evaluate without data. Only 326 people have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to date, so it’s a relatively small group to begin with, and many have never expressed any interest in coaching.
That’s part of the bias too, according to Woodson, who says there’s a perception that Hall of Famers are unwilling to “grind”—to live the life of an NFL coach, spending long hours in the office for pay that may be lower than they became accustomed to as a player.
Then there’s the theory that a Hall-of-Famer doesn’t make a good teacher.
“When I coached … I had a couple other coaches say, well, ‘He’s not a Hall-of-Famer, you can’t teach it like that,’” Woodson recalled. “And I’m like, ‘Well, I wasn’t a Hall-of-Famer in year four, in year five I wasn’t a Hall-of-Famer.’ It’s the foundation of what we build and what we teach—that’s what makes people good.”
Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Who Became Successful NFL Coaches
Woodson’s sentiment is somewhat undercut in that there is a significant history of NFL Hall-of-Famers having long, successful coaching careers. Bart Starr, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Forrest Gregg, Art Shell, Mike Singletary, and Mike Munchak all were NFL head coaches at one time or another, as was Dick LeBeau, who was an NFL coach—and at one point, head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals—for 29 consecutive seasons beginning in 1973.
Plus, Hall-of-Famer Mean Joe Greene had a long, successful career as an NFL assistant—and then a long run as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers front office. In fact, Greene had a hand in all six Super Bowls won by the organization, including four as a player and two as a special assistant to general manager Kevin Colbert.
Rod Woodson’s Coaching Résumé
It’s worth noting at this point that Rod Woodson has had multiple opportunities to serve as an assistant coach in the league. On two separate occasions he served as a coaching intern via the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship program, plus he did a stint as a coaching intern with the Steelers in 2013. More notably, he has served as both assistant defensive backs coach and cornerbacks coach for the Raiders.
Yet he hasn’t been able to “stick” as an NFL assistant coach, and has experienced more success in broadcasting, including his work as an NFL announcer for Westwood One.
It’s very possible that Woodson’s inability to earn steady work as a coach may not be a result of bias or any shortcomings in terms of coaching ability.
One can’t overlook the fact that being an assistant coach in the NFL is inherently volatile. The bottom line is: If the head coach gets fired, you will too, as happened to Woodson when Joe Gruden was (re)hired to coach the Raiders in 2018.
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