NFL inclusion is lacking Black head coaches

(News4usonline) – The National Football League (NFL) likes to tout inclusion and diversity as part of its global pitch. With a month to go before Super Bowl LVI when it comes to the Black coaches at the top of the food chain, the league has been left in a quandary.

And it’s not a good look.

The NFL made it a point to make a grand splash around the hiring of Maia Chaka, the league’s first Black female official who worked games during the 2021 season. Bravo to Ms. Chaka. Jennifer King of the Washington Football Club or whatever they want to call themselves these days, was promoted to a gameday assistant coach in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

She is the first Black woman and the second female to be given that nod. Good for the league. But all of that goodwill and positive public relations feel-good moments for the NFL has been washed away to the apathetic holding of head coaching positions.

When the Houston Texans gave the ax to David Culley, that left the NFL with a grand total of one Black American as a head coach in the league. When the 2021 season began, the NFL had three Black coaches and a total of five people of color running their respective ballclubs.

The firing of Culley, who had to wait more than four decades as an assistant coach before he was given the opportunity to become a head coach, and the ousting of Brian Flores from the Miami Dolphins, has given the NFL a black eye when it comes to the notion of inclusion and diversity. There is no way the league can dance around or spin this.

David Culley was fired as head coach of the Houston Texans after one season. Photo credit: Houston Texans

There’s a problem here and it needs to be solved. Culley was asked to come in and clean up the mess that former head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien left behind and had to deal with the Deshaun Watson drama that still lingers. After posting a 4-13 record in his first year on the job as the head coach, Culley was dropped by the Texans like a bad habit.

And despite rebranding the culture in Miami, Flores was let go by the Dolphins after three seasons. Now that the dust has settled after those two firings, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the lone Black head coach standing. Say what? One. Numero uno. That’s one out of 32 head coaching positions.

In a league where Black athletes make up nearly 60 percent of all players (58 percent, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport), that’s more than a pathetic number. It’s tone-deaf reality. Given that all of this played out just before the Martin Luther King Jr. Day national holiday, one has to wonder what would MLK say to the NFL?

That is really a stupendous number when you consider how the league has tried to ram the inclusion theme throughout its messaging around its hiring practice when it comes to gender and race. The league has made major steps in its racial and gender hiring, according to a report put out by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) in December 2021.

The TIDES’ study gave the league an overall grade of B plus for its racial hiring practice and a C when it comes to gender hiring. The report also gave the NFL a C in its racial hiring grade evaluations of head coaches. It’s a good hunch that C grade has tumbled to an F based on what’s happening now.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is fired up after Rashard Mendenhall’s 8-yard scoring run against the Green Bay Packers during Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. The Packers defeated the Steelers 31-25. (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)

This is a bad, bad look. When you have 32 teams that make up the NFL and have just one Black head coach, you simply cannot pretend this is not an issue and bury your heads in the sand. The league has to identify the problem for what it is and take the necessary steps to fix it.

Clearly, this is a race matter. Talking about race, though, can be a thorny issue. Discussing race can make some people very uncomfortable. There’s a reason why the league implemented the Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule is supposed to help open the doors for Black Americans and other minority candidates to interview and be considered for head coaching and upper management positions.

Apparently, that’s not working out too well for the NFL when it comes to head coaching openings. In a way, though, the lack of Black head coaches, should not come as a surprise. During the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Black Americans manned seven head coaching positions. Since then, the numbers have trended downward.

During the last two seasons, there were only three Black head coaches in the NFL. And then they were down to one. The league will eventually figure this out and when the offseason becomes official, expect an increase in the number of Black and minority head coaches to take place.

But when you consider that this is 2022, the NFL should be in front of the curve, not behind it.

Art Shell, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman in his playing days, made history when he became the first Black head coach (Los Angeles Raiders) to grace an NFL sideline way back in 1989. That move was an important talking point for both the Raiders and the league. It was a step in the right direction. One has to wonder about the direction in head coaching hires that the NFL is going in now.

Featured Image: Caption Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. The photo appears via FB courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dennis J. Freeman

Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He is also the publisher and editor of the Compton Bulletin newspaper. Dennis has more than two decades of reporting experience. His beats include covering sports, social and racial justice, and equal rights. He earned a journalism degree from Howard University. "I write what I'm passionate about."