To fully understand how bad the NFL is at hiring African-American and black coaches, a history lesson is needed.
Grab a seat. The class is in session.
During the 2006 regular season, the NFL had 7 African American coaches; Dennis Green (Arizona), Lovie Smith (Chicago), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), Romeo Crennel (Cleveland), Tony Dungy (Indianapolis), Herm Edwards (Kansas City) and Art Shell (Oakland). That season ended with two African American coaches in the Super Bowl—a historic high that has yet to be repeated—when Dungy’s Colts defeated Smith’s Bears 29-17.
During the 2021 regular season, the NFL had three African American coaches; David Culley (Houston), Brian Flores (Miami) and Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh). This season did not end with African American head coaches in the Super Bowl, as the numbers are not in their favor given the 15-year regression.
In a league that has been rocked by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid’s continued blackball, race standardization, and the ongoing debate about the lack of black and African American coaches being hired, we’ve landed where Brian Flores had to file 58-page class-action lawsuit against the NFLMiami Dolphins, New York Giants and the Denver Broncos, for discrimination related to its recruiting practices.
It’s proof that it was better for coaches that”become visibly asyin the mid-2000s than it is today. After that 2006 season, only Green and Shell were fired. But instead of just five African-American head coaches left, that number rose to six when Mike Tomlin was hired by the Steelers. As of early Monday morning, Tomlin is still the only African-American head coach in the NFL, and the youngest, of any race, to win a Super Bowl.
With Culley’s resignation from Houston and the focus surrounding Flores and his lawsuit after he was fired in Miami, the debate over who will and will not be hired as head coach in the league is the talk of Super Bowl week. On Monday morning, rumors circulated that Lovie Smith could play in Houston, while others believe Eric Bieniemy could finally land a job if the Saints hire him. Meanwhile, while the league will soon point to Mike McDaniel as a black coach being hired as it has been reported that he will take over the Dolphins.
Much has been made about McDaniel’s identity, as the 38-year-old is biracial and so light-skinned that he appears white. Black people are not monolith – we come in different shades. However, this puts McDaniel in a very precarious place. The league — and right — will be parading him around as proof that diversity has always been a pillar of the NFL as the league is in scramble mode, trying to do everything it can to help his image over Flores’ lawsuit. The left – and many African Americans – will focus on McDaniel and how he goes about this.
Is this a situation where he leans into his Blackness as a “handy minority” because it will help him?
Or will he try to ignore the situation altogether, knowing that his fair skin will not allow him to be grouped with the Tomlins and Floreses of the world?
Whichever way McDaniel decides to play this will tell us a lot about him and the league.
As time goes on, progress and evolution are supposed to go with it. But when it comes to African American head coaches in the NFL, we have proof that 15 years after 2 of them met in the Super Bowl at the peak of improvement, things are as bad as they’ve ever been. And that’s not just an NFL problem, it’s an American problem.