And then there was two. That’s right, the NFL, a league in which 70 percent of its players are Black, has only two Black head coaches to date after five were fired at the conclusion of the regular season. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Mike Lynn are the only two remaining Black head coaches in the National Football League’s 32 teams.
Some say race is not the issue. Race is the issue. Perhaps not racism, but certainly race. So far, all of the jobs forcibly vacated by Black coaches have been filled by white coaches, including the Arizona Cardinals’ head coaching job, whose ownership fired Steve Wilks after only one season and replaced him with Kliff Kingsbury.
Kingsbury has no NFL coaching experience and was terminated as the head coach of Texas Tech University after going 5-7 this past season. In six seasons leading the Texas Tech program, the 39-year-old Kingsbury had a record of 35-40. Texas Tech also lost at least seven games in four of the final five seasons of Kingsbury’s tenure. Furthermore, his defense finished ranked 88th, 126th, 125th, 128th, 98th and 87th in college football’s FBS division in his six years, respectively. Awful by any measure.
Conversely, the 49-year-old Wilks, who compiled a 3-13 record this past season on a team lacking requisite talent to be much better, began his NFL coaching career in 2006 as the defensive backs coach of the Chicago Bears and climbed the ladder to become the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers before being hired by the Cardinals.
Juxtaposed, it’s not even a debate as to who is more qualified. Then why was Wilks fired and Kingsbury hired? Quarterbacks. Kingsbury’s work with several high-profile quarterbacks, including the Kansas City Chiefs 23-year-old superstar Pat Mahomes, the frontrunner to win NFL MVP honors, made him a highly attractive candidate for owners and general managers who have designated quarterbacks as their franchises’
saviors or at least top priorities.
Kingsbury coached Mahomes at Texas Tech, and Mahomes has praised him for helping to develop his remarkable abilities. The Cardinals are betting that Kingsbury can do the same for their 2018 first-round pick, Josh Rosen.
It is the current trend in the league, finding a coach who can nurture and grow young QBs. Almost all of those men have been quarterback coaches at the NFL level or have been college coaches who have been credited with being integral to the success of current NFL quarterbacks.
It is seemingly easier to spot an atom with the naked eye than it is to find a Black man holding the position of quarterback coach for an NFL franchise. And clearly it is the most direct path to a head coaching job in today’s league. Is it race? Absolutely.