Coaching While Black is still perilous if you want to obtain and retain an NFL head coaching job.
The problem for Black coaches is that there is a clear double standard getting hired for head coaching gigs and holding onto them. The NFL has tried to remedy this, but Black coaches continue to get fewer opportunities and less runway than their Caucasian counterparts.
Despite the NFL’s best efforts to introduce and legislate more diversity through the Rooney Rule, it’s the same old process and the same old faces. In a league where approximately 70 percent of the players are Black, there is currently one Black head coach (Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin). That’s half the number who’ve been fired this offseason — former Patriots assistant Brian Flores was axed by the Dolphins and the Texans dumped David Culley after one season.
The previous four head coaching hiring cycles have produced 27 job openings; three of them went to Black coaches. None of those coaches are still employed, and two — Culley and Steve Wilks in Arizona in 2018 — were granted only one season.
Despite eight coaching openings this offseason, this doesn’t look like the hiring cycle that breaks the cycle of underrepresentation. We’re not off to a promising start when the same Texans that canned Culley are angling to hire journeyman backup quarterback Josh McCown.
McCown’s “coaching résumé” consists of being the quarterbacks coach for his son’s high school team in Charlotte, N.C. No Black coach with such a flimsy coaching CV would even get past the receptionist, never mind get serious consideration. McCown has been interviewed by Houston the last two offseasons.
There’s a Hobson’s choice Black coaching candidates face: Either take less-desirable jobs in unstable organizations with questionable ownership or pass knowing there’s no guarantee they’ll ever get a head coaching opportunity.
You don’t think that Flores and Culley knew the hornet’s nests they were walking into? They knew.
However, as a Black candidate, when someone offers you an NFL head coaching job, you don’t have the luxury of turning up your nose and passing it up because the situation isn’t ideal, a la Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
That was certainly the case for Culley, a 66-year-old career assistant. He was the scapegoat for a 4-13 purgatory season. Former Bill Belichick aide Nick Caserio did nothing to resolve the Deshaun Watson imbroglio hanging over the franchise like a tax lien. Houston has problems that couldn’t be remedied in a single season by a genetically engineered coaching splice of Belichick, Vince Lombardi, and Don Shula.
Keep that in mind when you try to make a meritocratic case for the coaching racial underrepresentation. Context matters. The perceived “failure” of Black coaches becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in poorly-run organizations.
Since Stephen Ross took over primary control of the Dolphins in 2009, Miami boasts zero playoff wins, one playoff berth, and six head coaches. Perhaps, the coaches aren’t the issue.
Even when a coach starts to turn things around and turn the corner, he can fall victim to political infighting and interplay.
Flores, who led Miami to its first consecutive winning seasons in nearly 20 years (1997-2003), lost a power struggle with general manager Chris Grier for ownership’s ear. Grier, who is also Black, is the son of former Patriots GM Bobby Grier. The Dolphins put all of their dysfunction and dirty laundry on display.
Hopefully, one day we’ll get to a point that a GM-coach power struggle between two Black folks is as commonplace as with two white ones. We’re not even close right now with the 11 remaining coaching and GM vacancies.
“The fact that we stand today with only one Black head coach makes clear that the current system does not provide a sustainable pathway for the growth in numbers of minorities as head coaches,” said former Cardinals GM Rod Graves, the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates for diversity in NFL hiring, in a statement.
“For many, the time for progress is now . . . The NFL has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to diversity of leadership. We hope that our increased involvement as partners with the NFL will have an immediate and long-term impact on the system of hiring and evaluating leadership performance.”
Flores posted a winning record against Belichick in three seasons (4-2) and won three straight against him with Tua Tagovailoa at QB. Who else can say that? Certainly, not the career QB caddie McCown.
The greatest indicator of coaching success is quarterback quality. Belichick possesses exactly one playoff win without Tom Brady. Pete Carroll was a mediocre NFL coach with two winning records in six seasons across three organizations before Russell Wilson arrived in Seattle in 2012.
There’s no shortage of qualified minority head-coaching candidates if teams are interested in engaging in more than bureaucratic box-checking. Last year, the Buccaneers became the first Super Bowl winner to have three Black coordinators. Two of them, Todd Bowles (defensive) and Byron Leftwich (offensive), are drawing interviews.
Pep Hamilton, Marcus Brady, Eric Bieniemy, Leslie Frazier, Raheem Morris, Jim Caldwell, Vance Joseph, and Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo are intriguing candidates.
Morris is the canary in the coaching coal mine. He was hired in Tampa Bay the same offseason that McDaniels was by Denver (2009). Neither man was ready for the role and both flamed out.
McDaniels has enjoyed more interviews and job opportunities since then, famously accepting the Indianapolis job before reneging.
Morris boasts experience on both sides of the ball, having worked as wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator in Atlanta. He also possesses the most important attribute teams are looking for in a head coach — a connection to Rams wunderkind Sean McVay. Morris took over as the Rams’ defensive coordinator this season.
There is a disconnect between NFL ownership/upper management and the class of Black coaches, scouts, and front office personnel in identifying and promoting candidates. As one Black candidate put it: “They don’t even know who works for them half the time. It’s crazy.”
There’s frustration that the people owners are leaning on to provide guidance — their brain trust — are often not familiar personally or professionally with Black coaching and GM candidates.
Owners remain comfortable hiring people who look like them — like they always have.