Asking for a friend: What might a team coached by Condoleezza Rice look like?
“My teams would run the ball and play great defense,” the former Secretary of State told me – years ago, mind you – as we talked football strategy.
Fair enough. Win in the trenches. But here’s to hoping that Rice’s football philosophies have evolved.
The buzz that surfaced Sunday about the Browns considering Rice for their head coaching job – quickly disputed in statements from Cleveland GM John Dorsey and Rice – prompted a flashback from a visit with her in 2009, shortly after she finished her duties with the Bush administration.
It happened to be the only interview that I’ve conducted when the premises, a hotel conference room in Dana Point, Calif., were swept by the Secret Service and a snoopy K-9 operative.
Rice was there as keynote speaker to kick off NFL owners meetings, at the request of Roger Goodell.
“I like the game, technically,” Rice told me. “I like the strategy of the game. I love to imagine how my teams would play. My teams would run the ball. You control territory. It's also the case when you run the ball, not only do you control the clock, but I think it is demoralizing to an opponent. Scoring quickly is exciting. It's fun. But it doesn't really demoralize a defense like four yards, six yards, seven yards, little pass, four yards, eight yards. That's the way you want to play ball."
Yeah, tell that to Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City quarterback who demoralizes and beats defenses with quick, deep strikes. And don’t tell that to Browns fans pumped up by the presence of new franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield. Of course, let’s allow Rice the benefit of the doubt when considering that with Mayfield, she might build her offense differently than once envisioned.
As for her ideal defense, Rice might still mesh with the mindset of interim coach Gregg Williams, preferring an aggressive defense that is heavy on the blitz.
Would that be “46” style or the zone-blitz flavor?
“Buddy Ryan … there always looked like there were 14 people on the field when Buddy Ryan's defenses were out there,” Rice replied. “But I'd probably have more of a Dick LeBeau defense."
Ah, the zone blitzes.
"What a concept, right?” Rice said. “Drop back big defensive linemen. I like defensive linemen in coverage.”
Still, when Rice told one long-time NFL coach during those NFL meetings about how she might even blitz while in a prevent defense, you might imagine the reaction.
“Norv Turner and I had a little exchange about the prevent defense,” she said. “He mentioned that I'd feel differently the first time I blitzed and they went long — 70 yards for the touchdown.”
We know now her approach to defense has evolved since then. In her statement Sunday she said she would love to call a couple of plays next season but "at no time will I call for a 'prevent defense.'"
Rice’s football roots don’t put her in the mix to coach the Browns, but they are indeed rich. Her father coached football and served as athletic director at Fairfield Industrial High School in Birmingham, Ala. (where her mother was English teacher for Willie Mays). Although her father, who went on to become a minister, did the bulk of his coaching before Rice was born, he routinely took her to watch high school games as she grew up. And each Sunday, they watched the games of the NFL team shown on television in the Birmingham market – the Browns.
It’s no wonder that for much of her life, she has professed an allegiance to the Browns.
“Partly I think it was Jim Brown, but of course, I was attracted to Paul Brown,” Rice recalled. “I was talking to (Bengals owner) Mike Brown, and I mentioned that I absolutely loved Paul Brown from the time I was 5 years old. So, alas, when Paul Brown was fired by the Cleveland Browns, I immediately in a great bit of pique at whatever I was, 10 years old, transferred my loyalties to the Cincinnati Bengals when Paul Brown founded the Bengals.”
Rice even rooted for the Bengals to win their two Super Bowl matchups against San Francisco during the 1980s – despite living in the heart of 49ers country.
She became a Browns fan again when the franchise was revived in 1999, with her close friend Carmen Policy, the former 49ers president, enlisted to run the Browns.
Of course, being a big fan is no requirement to become coach.
Yet there’s no question Rice would bring much to the table for the Browns – and certainly on a larger scale for the NFL — in an executive capacity. She’s much better suited to replace Goodell than, well, Hue Jackson.
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