To fully understand just how bad the NFL is at hiring African-American and Black coaches, a history lesson is needed.
Grab a seat. 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 mark that has yet to be repeated — as 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 didn’t end with any African-American head coaches in the Super Bowl, as the numbers aren’t in their favor given the regression that’s taken place over 15 years.
In a league that has been rocked by the continued blackballing of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, race norming, and the ongoing discussion about the lack of Black and African-American coaches being hired, we’ve come to this moment where Brian Flores had to file a 58-page class-action lawsuit against the NFL, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, and the Denver Broncos, alleging discrimination regarding his hiring practices.
It’s proof that things were better for coaches that “visibly get ashy” in the mid-2000s than it is now. After that 2006 season, only Green and Shell were fired. But, instead of there being only five5 African-American head coaches left, that number jumped to six when Mike Tomlin was hired by the Steelers. As of early Monday morning, Tomlin is still the lone African-American head coach in the NFL, and the youngest, of any race, to win a Super Bowl.
With the firing of Culley in Houston and the attention around Flores and his lawsuit after he was let go in Miami, the discussion around who get hired and who doesn’t get hired as head coaches in the league is the talk of Super Bowl week. Monday morning, rumors were swirling that Lovie Smith could be in play in Houston, while others think Eric Bieniemy could finally get a job if the Saints hire him. Meanwhile, while the league will be quick to point to Mike McDaniel as a Black coach getting hired, as its been reported that he will take over the Dolphins.
Much has been made of McDaniel’s identity, as the 38-year-old is biracial and is so light-skinned he appears white. Black people are not a monolith — we come in a variety of shades. However, this puts McDaniel in a very precarious spot. The league — and the right — will parade him around as evidence that diversity has always been a pillar of the NFL, as the league is in scramble mode trying to do whatever it can to help its image due to Flores’ lawsuit. The left — and a lot of African-Americans — will be focusing on McDaniel and how he addresses this.
Is this a situation in which he leans into his Blackness as a “convenient minority” because it will help him?
Or, will he try to ignore the situation altogether because he knows the fairness of his skin allows him not to be grouped in 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 moves on, progress and evolution are supposed to advance 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, as it’s an American one, too.