By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
The NFL and the advancement of social justice really do not mix well when it comes to employment opportunities. For instance, we’ve all witnessed the controversies with Colin Kaepernick and his current status with the league.
For another instance, this year’s “Black Monday” in the NFL brought light upon an important issue that we often times overlook but is in urgent need of change: the diversity among coaches and more specifically, the lack of diversity, within the league.
In 2003, NFL created the Rooney Rule policy in 2003 to spur equal opportunities for coaches of all backgrounds by requiring front offices throughout the league to look at non-traditional candidates for new coaching positions. However, the Rooney Rule only guarantees access to interviews, not official employment.
This off-season alone shows that we might have to make additional edits to the rule, because lack of representation across the league’s coaching fraternity is becoming more prevalent than ever. Entering this season, there were seven African-American coaches. Since the season’s end five of them were fired from their positions with two of the coaches being let go less than two years into their term (Steve Wilks, Vance Joseph).
Only two African-American coaches remain in the NFL (Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn). Of the eight teams that were looking for to employ new head coaches this off-season, six of those teams filled their head coaching vacancies with white coaches and among those hires a couple of them had horrible track records within their coaching careers, others had pretty much no record as a head coach.
Of the 30 head coaches in the entire NFL, only three (Lynn, Tomlin and Ron Rivera), are men of color. Two coaching positions remain with the Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals still in the process of filling their coaching vacancies but both franchises have been widely reported to have their next coaches lined up with assistants who are still working with their current team. Cincinnati will likely hire the LA Rams’ offensive coordinator Zac Taylor, a white man who’s never been a head coach at any level, while the Dolphins have reportedly targeted New England defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who would become the fourth coach of color in the league entering the 2019 season.
Only 10 of the league’s offensive and defensive coordinators are men of color, and two of them are on recent hire Bruce Arians’ staff in Tampa Bay — former league QB Byron Leftwich is the Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator and the recently fired Todd Bowles is defensive coordinator.
According to the Pasadena Journal, which quoted Jim Trotter of the NFL Network, upon Commissioner Goodell’s hiring in 2006, there were seven minority coaches and four minority general managers. Today there are three minority HCs and one minority general manager after the retirement of Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome. We also cannot dismiss the fact that we have no minority representation in ownership within the NFL and what that means to hiring throughout each level of each franchise in professional football.
Clearly, there is a diversity issue within the league, and the league knows it. Dale Hansen, sports anchor at WFAA in Dallas, highlighted this issue during a recent editorial and refreshingly for a white man in media he acknowledged that many of his career opportunities have come because of white, male privilege.
“Kingsbury fits all the criteria to be a head coach in the NFL. He’s an offensive genius, he’s young and he’s white – and not necessarily in that order,” Hansen said. “Getting fired at one place and getting another chance isn’t the problem, but young, talented coaches of color not getting the chance, that’s a huge problem.”
New Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury was fired from his alma mater, Texas Tech, after compiling a 35-40 record and making just three bowl appearances in six seasons — a week later, he signed on as the offensive coordinator for USC.
Kingsbury likely didn’t even move into his on-campus office before he got hired to replace Wilks who didn’t get a full year to implement anything in Phoenix. If Kingsbury was hired on as Wilks’ offensive coordinator that would seem to make more sense, it would have allowed Arizona to be taken seriously both as a place where coaches of color can thrive and as a place that’ll take a chance on potentially gifted offensive minds, but with a black coach in the mix it seems most NFL franchises can only do one or the other, regardless of how Wilks was stuck with one of the worst put-together rosters in the league.
Its likely that no matter how little the Cards’ roster improves in 2019 that Kingsbury will be afforded the second season that avoided Wilks.
In a league that counts about 70 percent of its rosters as African American, it is embarrassing and shameful how low a percentage of its teachers of the game can share in the same background of its current and future players.
I remember watching Super Bowl XLI, the last Super Bowl appearance that featured my hometown Chicago Bears, against Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts. Lovie Smith was the head coach of the Bears and the great Tony Dungy was the shot caller for the Colts.
Even though the Bears lost, I still considered that game as one of the best Super Bowls ever witnessed, simply because it was a historical game. It was a game that featured two black head coaches on the biggest stage, something that was never done before until that 2006 season.
Since then, I have not seen many black coaches set up for success like that and it doesn’t look like many others are being set up for the future. It is time to change the league’s narrative, not just in coaching, but management and ownership as well.
Joshua M. Hicks is the lead columnist of WARR