As seven NFL teams searched for new head coaches Tuesday, one of the league's two remaining black coaches raised a question: Why aren't more blacks high on the list of candidates?
"It's baffling," Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy said. "There still seems to be a perception out there clouding owners' minds."
Dungy's comment came a day after five head coaches were fired, including Philadelphia's Ray Rhodes.
In a league where 70 percent of the players are black, Rhodes, Dungy, Minnesota's Dennis Green and former Raiders coach Art Shell are the only black head coaches in modern NFL history. The last 16 head coaches hired since Dungy went to the Bucs after the 1995 season all are white.
The search heated up Tuesday.
George Seifert, the former San Francisco head coach, was in Carolina interviewing for the Panthers' job that opened when Dom Capers was fired. Seifert also will be interviewed by Baltimore and is considered a front-runner in Seattle, which fired Dennis Erickson on Monday.
Gary Kubiak, Denver's offensive coordinator, was in Cleveland visiting the expansion Browns, who interviewed Minnesota offensive coordinator Brian Billick on Monday.
Seifert, Kubiak and Billick are at the top of most teams' lists, along with Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren, who can seek a head coach-general manager job when the Packers' season ends.
All are white, as are the rest of the leading candidates -- Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, Capers and defensive coordinators Greg Robinson of Denver and Jim Haslett of Pittsburgh.
Dungy said he thinks much of the perception is fueled by the media.
"I was watching the Monday night game, and Al Michaels and Dan Dierdorf were talking about Capers being a prospect for a head coaching job," Dungy said.
"Then they said Ray Rhodes would make someone a good defensive coordinator. Both were coaches of the year. Why is Ray only qualified for a coordinator's job? Owners watch games and they absorb that."
There are some black candidates.
Browns president Carmen Policy said he will speak to Rhodes, who was defensive coordinator in San Francisco when Policy was the 49ers' president.
"You never, ever discount Ray Rhodes relative to the coaching ranks based upon the level of his talents," Policy said. "But this is something Ray has to think out and deal with himself in terms of whether he wants to be in a head coaching job this year."
The Colts, who fired Ted Marchibroda on Monday, are expected to talk to Tyrone Willingham, Stanford's head coach, and they also are interested in Rhodes. In addition, Rhodes could be a candidate for the Green Bay job if Holmgren leaves.
Willie Shaw, who improved Oakland's defense from last in the NFL to fifth in his first season as the Raiders' defensive coordinator, has also been mentioned as a candidate for one of the vacancies.
"The only thing you can do is wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder and say, `You're our guy,"' he said.
Shaw said he is willing to be interviewed by a headhunting firm hired by the NFL to interview candidates and send the tapes to teams.
Chicago, which fired Dave Wannstedt, may be interested in Mike Singletary, the Bears' Hall of Fame middle linebacker in the '80s, although he's had no coaching experience at any level. Singletary, however, has consistently told friends he's not interested in coaching.
Dungy said he was puzzled about Shell, who was 56-41 in 5« seasons with the Raiders and took the team to the 1990 AFC title game.
Shell is now Atlanta's offensive line coach, and while he doesn't seem to be on many lists, Falcons' defensive coordinator Rich Brooks is. Brooks was 13-19 in two seasons as coach of the Rams.
Then there's Sherm Lewis, Green Bay's offensive coordinator, who has been bypassed for two seasons. He got a ringing endorsement from Holmgren, who said Monday: "I would tell any owner that phoned me that he is the most qualified assistant coach in this league right now, bar none, to be a head coach."
The perception around the league about Lewis, however, seems to be that he's already been considered and bypassed, dropping him toward the bottom of the list.
That happened for a while to Dungy, too. He was first considered for a head coaching job at 33 but had to wait 10 years before he was hired. He said the perception that he had been bypassed hurt him.
"When I was interviewed by Rich McKay for this job, he said 'You've had 12 interviews before,"' Dungy said. "I said, 'No, I've had three.' That's how ideas get around. Your name gets thrown out there and people think you've failed."