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Bell: Keith Armstrong dives into pool of candidates
Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports7:43 p.m. EDT May 8, 2013
PHILADELPHIA — One name that popped up multiple times as a long-shot candidate during the NFL head coaching carousel this year really made me wonder.
Three teams, the Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles, interviewed the Atlanta Falcons special-teams coordinator for jobs Andy Reid, Marc Trestman and Chip Kelly ultimately landed.
Armstrong, 49, who has never been a head coach on any level and previously had never interviewed for an NFL head coaching post, spent at least four hours with each team as part of a wham-bam Friday-Saturday in Atlanta during the Falcons' first-round playoff bye. He didn't get a second interview, but all three teams complied with the Rooney Rule, which requires at least one minority interview for each head coaching job.
I wonder if Armstrong was used for sham, token interviews. It's less likely in the Eagles' case, as Lurie also interviewed Lovie Smith, who like Armstrong is African American.
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Armstrong couldn't care less about such cynicism.
"If I have the opportunity," he says, "I'm going to take it."
Since the Rooney Rule was instituted in 2003, just one team was disciplined for not complying. Former Detroit Lions president Matt Millen didn't interview a minority after then-Pittsburgh Steelers secondary coach Tim Lewis (now with the Falcons) pulled out and longtime assistant Sherman Lewis declined to interview because he sensed the next coach already had been picked.
Millen, who hired Steve Mariucci, was fined $200,000.
That same year, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' telephone interview with Dennis Green was looked into as a possible violation. But Green told the league, as he told me, he thought his interview was legit.
Jones hired Bill Parcells and didn't deny he was his target all along. I remember him telling me he thought Green, who he had gotten to know during their work on NFL committees, was a good Plan B.
As Jones put it, "You know how Parcells can change his mind."
Armstrong, whom I met for the first time at the NFL career development symposium this week, thinks the Rooney Rule is still needed yet maintains he doesn't think that's why he got three interviews this year. I'd have to disagree with him on the latter point, but love his upbeat spirit.
At the symposium, New York Giants owner John Mara urged coaches to take interviews even if they didn't think they had a shot at a job.
"You never know what's going to happen two years down the road," Mara said.
And in the NFL, word gets around. Maybe that's why Armstrong — a former Temple running back who has coached on the college and pro levels on both sides of the ball — drew such interest on the circuit this year.
But Armstrong has another issue to face. Of the eight new coaches this year, seven burnished their credentials on the offensive side of the ball.
Offense is the flavor of the year.
"You can either coach or you can't," Armstrong said. "I can coach alligator wrestling. If you give me a videotape, I can come back and coach it an hour later."
Bill Belichick once coached special teams. Marv Levy, who won four consecutive AFC titles with the Buffalo Bills during the 1990s, is a former special-teams coach. And John Harbaugh, once a longtime special-teams coach, just guided the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl crown.
"A guy who, obviously, knows how to manage people," Armstrong said of Harbaugh.
Armstrong knows that's essential to the job of head coach.
Listen to him sell it.
"I deal with cornerbacks and wide receivers; I deal with offensive linemen and defensive linemen," he said. "A lot of times you're trying to get guys to accept roles they may not want. It's like, 'They brought me in here to be a receiver.'
"'Well, until they need you at receiver, let's go cover this kick.'"
Maybe Armstrong will get more chances to make an impression.
He's in the pipeline now.