News Column

How Many Hispanic Coaches? Not Mucho

October 28, 2002

Mark Kram

See if you can guess the problem facing the National Football League: By the year 2005 - or so we are told by the U.S. Census Bureau - the Hispanic/Latino population is expected to be the largest minority group in America. The bureau goes on to say that by the year 2050, that population is expected to triple to close to 100 million people.

As of today, there are currently just four Hispanics on NFL coaching staffs.

By the way, that would be just four of the better than 300 coaching slots in the NFL. None is a head coach.

Can Johnnie Cochran be far behind?

Interestingly, two of the four Hispanic coaches - offensive-line coach Juan Castillo and linebackers coach Ron Rivera - work for the Eagles. Neither blames the small number of Hispanic coaches on the NFL, but rather on a variety of other factors. And both say they see that changing in the years to come, as the Hispanic player population increases and former players from that pool become coaching candidates.

While they say they understand what Cochran is trying to do in challenging the NFL to bring in more black head coaches - there are currently just two in the league, Tony Dungy (Colts) and Herman Edwards (Jets) - both agree they can get ahead as coaches on the strength of their ability alone.

Cochran can expect to find neither Castillo nor Rivera in his waiting room paging through a copy of "Field & Stream."

"I know that if I work harder than anyone else - say nine hours when somebody else works eight - good things are going to happen to me," Castillo, 43, says. "Right now, my goal is to get the offensive line to protect Donovan McNabb and help get us to the Super Bowl. I know that if I can do that, good things will come."

Rivera, 40, adds that it would bother him if someone got ahead because of a quota system.

"What concerns me is if they hire someone because they are supposed to hire someone," says Rivera, a former linebacker with the Chicago Bears. "To me, that is just wrong. You hire someone because they are qualified to do the job."

The NFL has stepped up its efforts to acknowledge the Hispanic population, which is an increasing segment of its fan base. According to a recent ESPN/Chilton Sports Poll, 25.3 percent of that population selected the NFL as its sport of choice, just under 10 percent more than the NBA (15.6). In addition, Nielsen ratings indicate that NFL games also account for four of the 10 most-watched English-language television programs in Hispanic households.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has enacted an array of initiatives to promote the game among Hispanic fans, including the implementation of a Spanish-language section on NFL.com. While the league has no program in place to specifically help develop Hispanic coaches, Rivera began his coaching career by participating in the NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program. The program allows coaches to join NFL coaching staffs during training camp and perform the duties of an assistant coach.

Some 700 coaches have participated in the program since it began in 1987. Jets coach Edwards and assistant coaches across the league have emerged from it. Rivera calls it "a heck of a program," and adds, "It gives a coach a chance to step up to the professional level to both network and learn."

That more Hispanic coaches have not participated would account in large part for the fact that there are so few in the league. Besides Castillo and Rivera, the other two have positions off the field: Pete Garcia is the director of football development for Cleveland and Ray Ogas is the player-programs coordinator for St. Louis.

Why so few?

Castillo and Rivera say it has to do with numbers.

"What you have to remember is that there are very few Hispanic players in the league," says Castillo, a former USFL linebacker. "How many are there when you come down to it? Only 10, 12, maybe more?"

He is told there are 18.

"So you see - not a lot," he says. "And that is probably more than it has ever been."

Rivera agrees. "Because of the limited number of us who have been a player," he says, "you have a limited number of us at this level who get into coaching."

But surely there are college and even high school coaches with the ability to move up.

The Eagles coaches agree, yet say that cultural factors also come into play.

Castillo says "the good Hispanic coaches I know" are content to remain high school coaches. "They have no desire to be NFL or college coaches," he adds. "They just enjoy working within the community."

Rivera expands on that.

"Culturally speaking, if there is one thing in the Hispanic community, it is that they always want to have everything good at home," he says. "Hispanics have a real sense of home and community. Consequently, a lot of these guys are really satisfied to be where they are."

Rivera adds that the coach in the Hispanic community feels a big responsibility.

"A big part of it is to be a role model for youth," he says. "To stay within the community and help guide the way instead of going on to a higher level."

But Rivera expects the landscape to change for Hispanic coaches, due in large part to the growing popularity of the sport in the Hispanic community.

"Football is becoming such a part of culture there," he says. "Once you just heard of Hispanic field goal kickers, but kids are no longer playing just soccer and some of the other sports. They are playing football."

And the more they play...

"Exactly," Rivera says. "The more that become coaches one day." He adds that he would like to be a head coach in the league himself. "Absolutely," he says. "I think if you are in the coaching profession and it is not your ambition to be a head coach, you should not be in the coaching profession."

Castillo just hopes to set "a good example" for others.

"The best thing I can do for my race and for myself is to be the best I can be," he says. "Let people look at me and say, 'You know what? That guy is a good football coach. And by the way, he is also Hispanic.'"



Source: Copyright ©2002 Philadelphia Daily News. All Rights Reserved.


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