Now that the conference championship round of the NFL is upon us, there are no more Black head coaches among the four remaining teams.
The Houston Texans, coached by Demeco Ryans, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by Todd Bowles, were recently eliminated. There were two more, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike McDaniel of Miami lost in the opening wild-card round.
The league has long been criticized for its lack of hiring of Black head coaches. There was encouragement a few years ago when the number peaked at seven, only to revert to one the following year.
There are currently six Black NFL head coaches as of the season’s end. Ryans, Bowles, McDaniel, Tomlin, Antonio Pierce of the Las Vegas Raiders, and Jerod Mayo of the New England Patriots remain standing.
Ryans paid his dues as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers before being hired by the Texans this year. With his leadership, he was able to lead his young team to the playoffs.
Bowles helped his team rally from an early 4-7 start to the division title and a coveted playoff berth.
Pierce’s story is especially intriguing, serving Raiders. Pierce was given the title of interim coach after a dismal early season and responded by galvanizing the team and leading them to a strong finish.
McDaniel has led the Dolphins to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
And there is, of course, the venerable Tomlin, who has just completed the season with another strong finish. He has never had a losing season in 17 years, unheard of in the modern-day era of professional football
Add to the list Mayo, who was hired recently to replace New England Patriots Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick. Mayo was named head coach after serving as defensive coordinator for the past four years.
“To be named the first Black coach in team history means a lot to me,” noted Mayo in a press conference. “I would say that if you don’t see color, then you don’t see racism.”
The history of African American coaches all started with Hall of Famer Art Shell, who became the first Black head coach in the modern era of the National Football League (Fritz Pollard was the first in 1894).
Others followed with minimal success until Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts became the first Black to win a Super Bowl in 2007. Incidentally, that year, Lovie Smith was the opposing coach during Super Bowl XLI, making it the first time that two Black coaches faced each other in the big game.
Calling Out the NFL on Lack of Black Coaches
One of the loudest critics of the league’s hiring policy has been Jim Trotter, the celebrated journalist, who called out NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the subject of Black coaches, or lack thereof.
An NFL writer for years with the San Diego Chargers and later with SI.com and the NFL Network, Trotter asked Goodell about the lack of Black coaches, not once, but twice. The result was that his contract with the NFL Network was not renewed. Trotter has filed a pending lawsuit against the NFL for its practices.
“It is good to see some of the young Black coaches getting the opportunity,” said Trotter, a Howard University graduate who is now a columnist for The Athletic. “But we have seen this before. It’s a moment. Let’s give it time to see how it unfolds before we can say it is a movement.
There are a number of strong Black candidates for open positions, including Eric Bienemy, offensive coordinator of the Washington Commanders, whose name is being passed around as a possible replacement for Ron Rivera.
Aaron Glenn, defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions, is a strong candidate for a head coach position. Anthony Lynn, Brian Flores, Howard University graduate Pep Hamilton, and Byron Leftwich, who went to the local school H.D. Woodson and is a former offensive coordinator with the Buccaneers, have all paid their dues
The question is: “Will the NFL start seriously looking at the qualified Black candidates?”
“There has always been a pool,” noted Trotter. “That is not the problem. The owners choose not to hire them and that is where the problem starts.”
Antoine Bethea played years in the NFL after leaving Howard University. During his time, he played for the Indianapolis Colts, the San Francisco 49ers, the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants before retiring after 12 years.
Bethea, who played for two Black head coaches (with the Colts and Cardinals), offered his perspective on the current state of affairs of diversity in NFL leadership roles.
“The NFL is a monkey-see, monkey-do league,” declared Bethea, who was a three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion. “Whenever it sees something successful, the tendency is to copy it. With the current group of coaches like Demeco, Todd, Antonio Pierce and now Jerod, the success that they had this season served notice.”
The twice-minted NFL Man of the Year, celebrated for his community service, reflected on his own time in the league when sharing his hopes for the future.
“When we played for Coach Dungy and later for Steve Wilks, we felt a strong responsibility to do what we could as players to ensure that they were successful,” Bethea said, emphasizing the importance of African American coaches in a league that has predominantly Black players. “Hopefully, it will become a movement that opens the doors for a group of young Black assistants who have paid their dues and deserve the opportunity.”
Source: Washington Informer