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Super Bowl exposed major flaw in NFL’s head coach hiring process

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Imagine, if you will, that all seven of those NFL head-coaching jobs that came open in the aftermath of the 2020 regular season were still open the morning after Super Bowl 2021.

Do you think, after his brilliant body of work in Sunday’s 31-9 dismantling of the Chiefs’ prolific offense and Patrick Mahomes coming after postseason wins over Drew Brees’ Saints and NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers’ Packers, that Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles might have been hired for one of those seven jobs before lunchtime Monday?

Given the way the NFL operates — with its owners attracted to the hottest assistant coaches on the open market like bees to honey — there’s a pretty good chance Bowles would be preparing for his second chance at an NFL head-coaching gig right now.

Because the job Bowles’ defense did to the Chiefs was as much the talk on Monday as Tom Brady winning his seventh ring.

Maybe, too, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, whose résumé continues to become enhanced with each year in the league, would be getting a close look from teams.

So, in Bowles and Leftwich, you have two coordinators from the Super Bowl champions who never got a sniff at one of those seven vacant jobs — in large part because they were all filled long before Super Bowl Sunday.

This is where a rule change by the league that prohibits teams with head-coaching openings to make a hire until after the Super Bowl has become necessary.

It’s not a perfect solution to fix the hiring inequities, which includes not enough African-American head coaches in the league, because there’s little the league can do to prevent teams from making back-channel deals with candidates they’ve targeted.

byron leftwich and todd bowles
Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles
Getty Images (2)

But it’s the closest thing the league can do to leveling the playing field.

This isn’t to say that no interviews can take place before the Super Bowl. Teams should continue to be able to interview candidates. They simply should not be permitted to make the hires until after the Super Bowl.

Much was made before this Super Bowl about the fact that Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, after interviewing with six of the seven teams with openings this year (making it 13 different teams he’s interviewed with in the past three hiring cycles), still was not offered a job.

Bowles had an interview with the Eagles, who ended up hiring 39-year-old Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, and he had a scheduled interview canceled by the Lions, who hired Dan Campbell.

To be clear: Bowles, 57, did not have a very good run as the Jets head coach, compiling a 24-40 record from 2015-18 (14-34 in his final three seasons), and to his credit, he owns his shortcomings.

“I had four years,’’ Bowles said before the Super Bowl. “When you get four years to make some things happen, you don’t make excuses.’’

Full disclosure: I never felt Bowles had the “it’’ factor as a head coach when he was with the Jets. He never projected himself as a coach who had command of his locker room, as evidenced by some of his players — most notably defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson — taking advantage of too much leniency on the part of Bowles, who’s a former player.

Bowles, if given a second chance as a head coach, surely would correct the mistakes he made with the Jets, beginning with preventing players like Wilkerson from being habitually late to meetings and not paying consequences.

Bucs defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, Bowles’ defensive coordinator with the Jets and a confidant of his, said he believes Bowles “has become more well-rounded as a defensive coordinator after being a head coach.”

Since being fired by the Jets, Bowles has rebuilt his reputation as one of the best defensive minds in the game. His defense, which ranked No. 6 in the NFL, finished with 14 takeaways during the Bucs’ eight-game winning streak to close out the season, climaxed by Sunday’s Super Bowl victory.

“That guy is a mastermind,’’ Buccaneers linebacker Devin White said after the game Sunday. “I say this selfishly: I’m glad he didn’t get a head-coaching job, because I love playing for him.’’

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David praised both Bowles and Leftwich for the “great game plans they called’’ in the Super Bowl and said, “Sooner or later, they’re going to be calling their own shots [as head coaches]. Those guys deserve it.’’

NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell, said during Super Bowl week he was “not satisfied” with the current rate of minority head-coaching hires, adding that this year’s cycle, during which one black coach was hired, was “not the outcome we wanted, and we’re committed more than ever to make sure we do that.”

Then do more to level the playing field. Change the rules. Prohibit any team from hiring a new head coach until after the Super Bowl. Do it now.

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