That’s the number of current Black head coaches in the NFL out of its 32 teams. It’s imperative to note that 70% of the league’s players are Black. The alarmingly low ratio should be a critical concern of everyone who is a proponent of equity in both the public and private workforce.
But to state the NFL’s collective hiring practices of head coaches is rooted in racial and cultural bias is not appropriately ascribing the dire circumstances qualified Black candidates face. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 49-year-old Mike Tomlin, who has not had a losing season in 15 years at the helm, is the league’s lone Black man holding the position out of 32 franchises.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, views the matter of assessing Black head coaches and potential coaches in comparison to white coaches as disproportionate.
“There is a double standard. I don’t think that that is something we should shy away from,” Vincent said to the Washington Post last week. “But that is part of some of the things that we need to fix in the system.”
Yes, the dearth of Black head coaches is inarguably systemic. There is no defensible reason why team owners continue to hire white coaches who have less experience and tangible skill sets than their Black counterparts. Ostensibly, the most obvious and logical supposition is that all but one of the NFL team owners are white. The exception is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Shahid Khan. A Pakistani-American, Khan’s last head coaching hire, Urban Meyer, was an abject failure who lasted less than one full year before being fired a little over a month ago with a record of 2-11.
The implication is white owners feel far more comfortable and reassured placing their multi-billion dollar property in the hands of someone with a shared ideological background. The feeling of similarity is the unquantifiable elephant in the room that Black coaches cannot overcome. They are at a disadvantage due to factors that should not be but are paramount.
Entering this season there were only three Black head coaches, Tomlin, the Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores, a Brooklyn native of Honduran descent, and David Culley of the Houston Texans. Flores and Culley were both fired this month following the end of the NFL regular season. The 40-year-old Flores has been widely commended for establishing a winning foundation for the Dolphins in his three seasons as head coach, amassing a record of 19-14 over the last two.
The 66-year-old Culley entered a dysfunctional environment marred by the sexual misconduct scandal hovering over the Texans’ star quarterback Deshaun Watson and instilled respectibilty and pride into a talent-deficient team that played hard all season despite going 4-13. While eligible to play, Watson requested a trade last January and did not dress for any of the Texans’ 17 games. The only other so-called minority head coaches are the
Jets’ Robert Saleh of Lebanese descent, born and raised in Michigan, and the Washington Football Team’s Ron Rivera, a California product and the NFL’s only Latino—Rivera is Puerto Rican—head coach.
Today, there are eight NFL head coach openings to fill. History says most will be apportioned to non-Blacks. The outcry already should have been clarion. This is not a sports concern in a vacuum. It is a microcosm of society that has far-reaching significance.