The year is 2020 A.D. and there are 32 NFL teams in existence and there are roughly 128 colleges and universities participating in the NCAA Division-I Football Bowl Sub Division. Out of the 32 NFL teams, there are three African-American head coaches (Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins, Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers). Out of the 128 schools in the FBS, only eleven have black head coaches. Even more troubling, there is only one black general manager in the National Football League, Chris Grier with the Miami Dolphins. While it is clear to many NFL owners and college presidents that they’ll consider hiring a sworn enemy if it increases their chances of winning a Super Bowl or National Championship, the bottom line is this. Institutional racism still exists with respect to hiring African-American head coaches.
This week, the Carolina Panthers hired Matt Rhule to take over as their head coach. While he’s had experience in the NFL as an offensive line coach with the New York Giants for one season and rebuilt a Baylor Bears football program that was in tatters after Art Briles destroyed it, it remains to be seen if Rhule is capable of establishing a new course and culture in Uptown Charlotte.
Also, the New York Giants, hired Joe Judge. Who? Judge was the wide receivers coach and special teams coordinator for the New England Patriots. This hire was questionable because, well, Judge lacks the requisite experience to even be considered a head coach. The Patriots was 15th in the NFL in total offense and the wide receivers were average at best. According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called the Giants and personally recommended Judge for the position.
“The Giants from what I understand got a phone call from Bill Belichick basically selling them that Judge was someone who is, in fact, qualified to be a head coach,” Rapoport said on Tuesday. “He had not one job, but two jobs on Bill Belichick’s staff. He was the special teams coordinator, one of the most respected positions on Belichick’s staff, then he was the receivers coach.”
Was Judge more qualified than the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy? Of course not. However, the National Football League does have the good ole boy network. The first African-American head coach was Art Shell, he was hired by the late Al Davis in 1989 by the formerly-known Los Angeles Raiders. The Rooney Rule not only mandated that teams interview coaches of color for coaching vacancies but was later updated so that the general manager job was included. As recently as the 2018 season there were eight black head coaches before five of them got fired on or before Black Monday, the first day of the off-season for teams that have not advanced into the playoffs.
While becoming head coach in the NFL and in the power five of the FBS is a high-risk, high-reward business and many coaches are hired only to be fired three years later, there are several black coaches that are deserving of the shot to become head coach and as Bill Parcells once said, “If I’m going to be asked to cook the meal, I’d like to be able to pick the groceries.”