Steelers recently fired two black assistants

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney is defending the team's minority hiring policy despite the firings this week of two black assistant coaches.

Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis and wide receivers coach Kenny Jackson were fired Tuesday, a week after coach Bill Cowher indicated he didn't plan any staff changes.

Rooney, chairman of the NFL's diversity committee, was critical last year when the Detroit Lions hired coach Steve Mariucci without interviewing any minority candidates. Lions president Matt Millen was subsequently fined $200,000 by the league.

Last month, the diversity committee reiterated that all teams must interview at least one minority candidate for coaching vacancies. The committee also banned telephone interviews of candidates.

"You have a right to hire and fire anybody you want," Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The thing they (the league) want to make sure of is that you are willing to give a fair chance to a minority to get the job. We have every intention of doing that here."

The Steelers hired the NFL's first black coordinator, Tony Dungy, in 1984. Dungy is now head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Cowher has had two black coordinators in his 12 Steelers seasons, Lewis and former offensive coordinator Ray Sherman, both of whom were fired.

The firings of Lewis and Jackson leave two minority coaches on Cowher's staff, defensive line coach John Mitchell and assistant secondary coach Darren Perry.