African American football coaches have come a long way. The last couple of years, however, have seen a disturbing trend.
When it comes to diversity, the National Football League had it right. In 2003, the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule, which requires all 32 teams to interview a minority candidate for head coaching vacancies. The rule has resulted in more black coaches getting the opportunity to coach; including Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. In fact, Super Bowl XLI in 2007 was the first Super Bowl between two teams coached by African Americans: the Chicago Bears, coached by Lovie Smith, and the Indianapolis Colts, coached by Tony Dungy. Of the last 12 teams to be in the Super Bowl, eight of them had a minority coach or general manager.
But currently, only three coaches are black and a third of assistant coaches are black. A couple of months ago, when six franchises fired their general managers none of them hired a minority. This is in a league where two out of three players are black. This trend continued when it came to new coaching hires. Eight NFL teams were hiring new head coaches. There were a lot of potential minority candidates, including Chicago Bears new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Cleveland Browns new defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Atlanta special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. None of them were hired. In fact, among the eight coaches who were selected, one of them was a coach in the Canadian Football League. Another franchise selected a coach who went 4-12 last year and two franchises hired college coaches.
I am not calling those eight teams racist. I just think those teams did not give other candidates a fair shot. But to be fair, they did hire some qualified candidates; including Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who was hired as San Diego’s new head coach. But that is the beauty of the Rooney Rule. Next year, when more coaches are fired, they will have the same, if not a better, opportunity to get a head coaching job in the NFL, because great coaching candidates can’t be hidden. Still, there are only three minority head coaches. I don’t think this is what the NFL wanted in terms of diversity.
Meanwhile, college football’s diversity is a joke. In 2012, there were only 15 black coaches out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. One of the coaches fired was Jon Embree. In two seasons as the Colorado Buffaloes’ head coach, he went 4-21, including a 1-11 disaster in 2012. What I didn’t like about his firing was that he only had two years to fix the mess he was given because of Dan Hawkins. At the end of the 2011 season, Turner Gill at Kansas and Larry Porter at Memphis were fired after two seasons. Again, two years is not enough for any coach to resurrect a struggling program.
Finally, when black coaches get fired they rarely get rehired at the FBS level. There has only been one black coach, Tyrone Willingham, to be fired from an FBS school (Notre Dame) and to be hired at another FBS school (Washington).
There is progress for black coaches. Yet, as is clearer than ever, there is still work to be done.