A Washington Post exposé reveals the candid experiences of Black head coaches in the NFL, of which there have only been 26.
Earlier this year, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a discrimination lawsuit against the NFL as result of his interview experiences with the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos.
The 58-page lawsuit detailed the history of the NFL’s coaching hires, shedding light on the fact that franchises such as the Washington Commanders were once owned by George Preston Marshall, who refused to racially integrate his team.
The Commanders have done away with his legacy, and by filing the lawsuit, Flores hoped to change the culture of the NFL and its hiring practices, which are still influenced by “systemic racism”, according to Flores.
While the Rooney Rule intended to combat the lacking diversity in head coaching has been in place since 2003, Flores is one of the many head coaches hired within the past 19 years who have been critical of the way in which it has been improperly implemented — such as interviewing Flores in a “sham” interview intended to meet the requirement, which is what Flores alleged in his lawsuit.
The Washington Post recently shared some of the experiences of 16 Black head coaches in the NFL, including both current and former coaches. Their experiences, which were chronicled in a video and longform article, illustrate what the collective experience has been like for Black head coaches in the NFL.
Those featured in the interview include Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith, former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles, and former Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy.
Black NFL head coaches from the past and present open up about their experiences in the NFL
To illustrate the racial disparity in coaching, the Post notes that since the Raiders hired Art Shell as their head coach in 1989, the NFL has employed 191 different people as head coaches.
The Washington Post article reports that there have been 25 Black head coaches hired since then including Shell, which excludes Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, who is biracial.
“In my era, we played, but you didn’t see a lot of African-American coaches, so it wasn’t your path or thought process,” Dungy explained.
“I knew if I had success, that would open the door for people,” Dungy continued.
“I do think the words ‘genius’, ‘guru’, ‘quarterback whisperer’ are all phrases they use to describe non-African American coaches,” Jim Caldwell explained.
“It’s as if we don’t have the same I.Q. intelligence level as some of other brothers,” Hue Jackson said.
In these conversations and in exploring decades of NFL data, the Post found the following:
“While White candidates are offered a vast and diverse set of routes to the league’s top coaching jobs, Black coaches face a much narrower set of paths. They have had to serve significantly longer as mid-level assistants, are more likely to be given interim jobs than full-time ones and are held to a higher standard when it comes to keeping their jobs.”
As the coaches interviewed stress, there continues to be unique pressure to being a Black head coach in the NFL — because to this day, those opportunities have been severely limited.