Dungy de­stroys poor in­ter­view­ing myth

- Mike Free­man Colum­nist USA TO­DAY Sports · American Football · Tony Dungy · Pro Football Hall of Fame · United States of America · Indianapolis Colts · Kansas · Kansas City · Eric Bieniemy · NFL · Pittsburgh Steelers · Washington · Pittsburgh · Atlanta Falcons · Jacksonville Jaguars · San Diego Chargers · New York Jets · Houston Texans · Philadelphia · Philadelphia Eagles · Mike Tomlin · Dan Rooney

Tony Dungy, now in the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame, re­mem­bers go­ing through in­ter­views for head coach­ing po­si­tions and how af­ter­ward he’d hear that the in­ter­view went poorly.

“For years, that was said about me,” Dungy ex­plained to USA TO­DAY Sports. “What’s be­hind it is a car­i­ca­ture of what a head coach should be. In my case, I was calm. I didn’t curse at peo­ple. Some own­ers be­lieved that un­less you jumped up and down on a ta­ble, you’re not a real coach.”

Dungy re­mem­bers in­ter­view­ing with one owner and the owner told him: “I like a lot of things about you, but you’re so soft spo­ken, you don’t curse. How are you go­ing to con­trol a locker room?”

“I’d do what I’ve done my en­tire ca­reer,” Dungy says he told the owner, “which is earn the trust and re­spect of the play­ers by ap­peal­ing to their in­tel­lect, their pro­fes­sion­al­ism.”

“I just don’t think this can work,” said the owner.

“That,” Dungy says now, “was a ‘poor in­ter­view.’ ”

Dungy would go on to win a Su­per Bowl with the Colts and be­come one of the great­est de­fen­sive minds in the his­tory of the game. But he didn’t get that job be­cause he didn’t demon­strate in an in­ter­view that he could curse a lot if he needed to.

Why is this rel­e­vant? Be­cause the poorly in­ter­view­ing Black coach nar­ra­tive is hap­pen­ing again, this time with

Kansas City of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Eric Bie­niemy. Like a hockey-masked vil­lain in a hor­ror movie, it’s baaaaaaack.

There’s no need to re­peat the ori­gin of the Bie­niemy rumor but it be­came a thing (again) re­cently. Last year, there were peo­ple in the NFL qui­etly spread­ing the same rumor about Bie­niemy. I was specif­i­cally told by sev­eral team ex­ec­u­tives that this nar­ra­tive was cir­cu­lat­ing. The rumor is, by all ac­counts, false.

The in­ter­view has long been a land

mine for Black coaches, some of them have told me for years. They can oc­ca­sion­ally be of great ben­e­fit as Mike Tom­lin’s in­ter­view with Steel­ers owner Dan Rooney helped him get the job.

The in­ter­view can also be used as a weapon. Black coaches say pri­vately that if an owner or gen­eral man­ager never wanted to hire a Black coach in the first place, they will say the coach in­ter­viewed poorly.

It’s not that white can­di­dates aren’t ac­cused of hav­ing poor in­ter­views, it’s that Black ones face this nar­ra­tive so much, it’s be­come al­most a run­ning joke with Black coaches.

“What both­ers me,” said Dungy, “is you rarely hear about young white can­di­dates hav­ing bad in­ter­views. When­ever I hear about poor in­ter­views, it’s al­most al­ways about Black can­di­dates. My an­tenna goes up when I hear about Black can­di­dates not in­ter­view­ing well. It re­minds me of my own ex­pe­ri­ence in the past.”

Or, the in­ter­view will be used by an owner to say he felt more com­fort­able with an­other can­di­date.

“I’ve been in in­ter­views and asked later, ‘Why did you hire him in­stead of me?’ ” said for­mer Washington as­sis­tant Ray Hor­ton to The Washington Post last year. “And they’ve said they felt more com­fort­able with the guy. How do you quan­tify that? Why did they feel more com­fort­able with him?”

“Mike Tom­lin wasn’t sup­posed to get the Pitts­burgh job, but he got it in the in­ter­view,” one of­fen­sive coach told the Post. “So there’s hope you can go in and win the room. At the same time, there comes a point when they start to think you’re a dumb n----- just for go­ing. I’ve felt that, be­ing there as a to­ken, where you know you have no shot.”

Bie­niemy thus far has in­ter­viewed with the Lions, Fal­cons, Jaguars, Charg­ers and Jets. He hasn’t in­ter­viewed with the Tex­ans and likely won’t. Bie­niemy could be a strong can­di­date in Philadel­phia as the Ea­gles just fired coach Doug Ped­er­son.

The odds re­main high Bie­niemy will get a head coach­ing job. But the fact coaches still have to deal with this myth re­mains dis­turb­ing.

“We need to move past this kind of stuff,” Dungy said.

Dungy was asked if he ever saw that owner who said he didn’t think he’d be a good coach.

“Years later I saw him,” Dungy said. “He told me, ‘I was wrong about you.’ ”

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