The NFL's gain is college football's loss and further evidence that the two are going in different directions on minority hiring.
Norm Chow, the architect of the offense that propelled Southern California to two straight national titles, hoped to become college football's first Asian-American head coach.
He waited 32 years, mentoring Heisman Trophy and Hall of Fame quarterbacks, going from BYU to North Carolina State to USC, designing high-scoring offenses everywhere he went.
He earned a national reputation. His phone number wasn't a secret. But precious few calls for head-coaching jobs ever came.
Wednesday, he stopped waiting, got out of the college ranks for at least a while, and signed on as offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans.
The dream to be a head coach hasn't faded. Chow called the Titans job "an opportunity for me and my family to get to the highest level of football." He downplayed reports of friction with USC coach Pete Carroll and spoke of his excitement of being in the NFL.
You'd think athletic directors would have been knocking each other over to hire a man like Chow. He worked with Heisman winner Ty Detmer, recently elected Hall of Famer Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson and Robbie Bosco during 27 years at Brigham Young. He guided standout quarterback Philip Rivers for a year at North Carolina State, then Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC.
You'd think a man with that kind of record of success would have had his pick of schools to be a head coach.
You'd be wrong.
College football still is largely run the way it's always been run, hirings made through the good-old-boy network. There aren't many minorities among athletic directors and presidents, and they don't hire many minority coaches.
"College football is going in the exact opposite direction as the NFL," said sports sociologist Richard Lapchick, who monitors race and gender issues at Central Florida's Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports.
In the NFL, the number of minority head coaches has tripled to six since the "Rooney Rule" was adopted two years ago. During the same span, the number of minority head football coaches at the 117 NCAA Division I-A schools dropped from five to three.
"It was absolutely shocking to me," Lapchick said, "that at the end of this year, after two consecutive national championships and everybody saying how great a coach he was, that Norm Chow didn't get offered a college head-coaching job. It was very disheartening."
The day before Chow took the Titans' job, New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel saw his long wait to be a head coach end when he was named boss of the Cleveland Browns.
On the pro level, Crennel's credentials were every bit as impressive as Chow's in colleges. Crennel, a year younger at 57, earned two Super Bowl rings with Bill Parcells in New York and three with Bill Belichick in New England but never had the chance to run his own program until now.
In becoming Cleveland's first full-time black coach, Crennel is more proof that the league's diversity policy is working.
That policy is all about opportunities, not quotas. It's about opening doors, not shutting people out. It's about giving qualified candidates a chance to succeed or fail on their own merits.
"My skin color is black, but I am a head coach," Crennel said. "I hope that I possess the qualities that are in a head coach with the leadership, organization, and the prioritizing.
"In many cases, I have been the only African-American on a staff or in the neighborhood. The best thing I can do for other minority candidates is be successful and a role model."
Newly elected Hall of Famer Fritz Pollard was the NFL's first black coach in the early 1920s. There wasn't another until Art Shell took over the Raiders in 1989. Two years ago, the only black coaches were the Indianapolis Colts' Tony Dungy and the New York Jets' Herman Edwards.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, responding to pressures inside and outside the game to hire more minorities, appointed a committee headed by Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney. The panel recommended a policy requiring all teams with coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate.
Marvin Lewis was hired by the Bengals after that season. Last year, the Bears hired Lovie Smith. Dennis Green, who spent 10 seasons coaching the Vikings, returned to the league with the Cardinals. Now with Crennel in Cleveland, and more than a dozen minorities holding offensive or defensive coordinator positions, the NFL is showing college sports the path to diversity.
Unlike Tagliabue, NCAA president Myles Brand cannot impose a hiring rule on all the schools. College presidents have to be willing to exhibit the same commitment to diversity as NFL owners.
"It just shows that if you open up the process, and if the owners themselves are involved, there will be change," NFL players' union president Gene Upshaw said. "Over the past few years the change in the NFL has been very substantial."