NFL head coaching jobs a whitewash for Black coaches

As Super Bowl Sunday approaches, the talk of the league should be that of the matchup between the ageless Tom Brady and his league-leading 10th Super Bowl appearance, going up against fellow star quarterback Patrick Mahomes who comes in looking for back-to-back championship victories.

Brady has helped engineer three road wins for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in route to becoming the first home team to ever host a Super Bowl.

On the other side of the field, Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs phenom will be the youngest quarterback ever at the age of 25 to repeat as champion if he can outduel the master himself.

Instead, the talk around the NFL yet again is about the lack of black or minority head coaches in the league, as only one of the seven head coaching vacancies went to a black coach this offseason.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. The photo appears via FB courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs

The Houston Texans stood as the lone team to hire a black head coach, making former assistant head coach David Culley from the Baltimore Ravens the fourth head coach in the franchise’s history.

Even though being mentioned for several head coaching positions, black offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy of the Chiefs will have to wait another season before possibly getting another shot at a head coaching gig. Mahomes, speaking during the Super Bowl media day availability on Tuesday, Feb. 2, talked about the issue of Bieniemy being overlooked for a head coaching gig.

“Obviously, you know he’s disappointed that he doesn’t get the opportunity to be a head coach after the season,” Mahomes said. “But he knows that all he can do is make himself and this team better.”

Bieniemy is not alone here. There’s a case to be made for his offensive coordinator counterpart in the Super Bowl to have a head coaching position just as well. After all, Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich is running an offense with perhaps the greatest quarterback to play in the NFL in Brady. Like Bieniemy, Leftwich is Black.

“I was really upset that Byron didn’t get one because I think he’s everything that everyone is supposedly looking for-a quarterback, a play-caller, and he’s African American,” Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said. “So, I don’t know what else that you’re looking for. He’s a great leader.

David Culley is the Houston Texans’ new head coach. Photo credit: Houston Texans

For Culley, this will be his first head coaching position in the NFL despite having over 27 years of coaching experience with six different organizations. Culley also spent 16 years as a coach at the collegiate level prior to landing his first job in the NFL as a wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 1994.

During his introductory press conference, Culley was asked how he felt about the league’s effort in hiring minority coaches. Culley tried his best to sidestep the hot-button topic.

“Well, my feeling is that I’m one of those and I’m the head coach here for a reason. I don’t feel like I’m the head coach here at the Houston Texans because I’m a minority,” said Culley.

The new head coach went on to say that he was hired simply for being a good football coach, and hopefully not due to the color of his skin.

“I’m happy for that, and I hope if me getting this job because of that reason allows other teams to in this league to see that, with all the other African American head coaches that are in this business right now, then so be it. I’m part of that and I’m for that,” said Culley.

Joining Culley as the only other minority head coach hired this offseason was former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Saleh, who was hired by the New York Jets, made history himself by being the first Muslim head coach in the NFL.

Even with the hiring of these two minority coaches, the league continues to lack diversity at the head coaching position, with only five minority head coaches leading the helm out of the 32 possible positions in the league. The other three minority coaches are Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins, and Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh signs the paperwork to make it official. The photo appears via FB courtesy of the New York Jets

Despite being implemented over 17 years ago in 2003, the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which states that teams must interview at least one or more candidates of a diverse background when a head coaching position becomes available, continues to fail in its efforts in promoting minorities.

In 2009 the rule was extended to require teams to also consider candidates of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to interview for the general manager position.

Currently, there are only four black general managers in the league, with Andrew Berry leading the front office of the Cleveland Browns and Chris Grier of the Dolphins.

General managers Martin Mayhew and Brad Holmes were hired this offseason for Washington and Detroit, respectively, to double the number of African American men in the front office.

Independent groups such as The Fritz Pollard Alliance advocate for diversity and job equality in the league, as well as helping provide the resources needed for its members to succeed in the workplace. The organization works closely with the NFL when any changes may be implemented to the Rooney Rule.

In a recent change that occurred in 2018 to strengthen the rule, the Fritz Pollard Alliance worked with the league to ensure that these changes were in the best interest of the group’s overall mission.

“These Rooney Rule enhancements are a breakthrough. After last season’s hiring cycle, something had to be done. These enhancements should strengthen the rule and ensure that it applies as intended and truly gives candidates of color a fair chance,” said Harry Carson, former executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Photo appears via FB courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Photo appears via FB courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rod Graves, the current executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, believes that it is time for the players to step up and voice their opinions. Otherwise, real change may not happen at the head coaching position.

“That disruption has got to come from either the players and/or sponsors. People have to be willing to ask the question, why or why not. What are you doing about it?” said Graves.

While organizations such as the Fritz Pollard Alliance continue the fight for equality and diversity, other advocates such as Dr. Richard Lapchick and former Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, who became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, contribute with their own causes.

As the founder of The Institute for Sport and Social Justice over 35 years ago, Lapchick has brought his mission to bring empowerment to minority groups through the power of education and social change in sports.

The program has focused on helping the youth with race relations, developing conflict resolution skills, as well as prevent the use of drugs and alcohol. Throughout his career, Lapchick has fought to improve racial equality and has used sports to bridge the gap between people of color.

The same can be said about Doug Williams, who currently serves as senior vice president of Player Development for the Washington Football Team. He helped create The Shack Harris & Doug Williams Foundation in order to provide grants for after-school initiatives in underserved communities.

The foundation also established the Black College Hall of Fame, which now calls Canton, Ohio home alongside the NFL Hall of Fame. As both men continue to push for equality within the game, it is clear the league has a way to go when it comes to diversity.

While this Super Bowl provides a glimpse of the best black coordinators from both sides of the ball, none were offered a head coaching job despite leading their respective teams to the promised land.

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