Black Defensive Coordinators Are Showing Out In NFL Playoffs| Raheem Morris, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier Deserve Head Coaching Gigs

(Photo: Getty Images)

NFL Wild Card Weekend has come and gone, and let’s just say these Black defensive coordinators and their respective units put on some dominating performances. The level of professionalism and aptitude displayed by these elite assistant coaches during the most critical portion of the NFL season should lead to head coaching jobs for a few of them.

 

Leslie Frazier, Buffalo Bills

Frazier, a former Vikings head coach (2010-2013), just completed his fifth season as the head of a suffocating defense in Buffalo, which finished the regular season as the No. 1 overall defense in fewest points allowed (289), fewest yards allowed per game (272.8) and fewest passing yards allowed per game (163.0). 

His defense completely stymied the division rival Patriots in a 47-17 blowout win. During the season the Bills showed a ton of promise and at times looked like the most complete defense in the league. Led by their All-Pro safety tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, the Bills secondary excelled despite losing All-Pro corner Tre’Davious White to a torn ACL during the season.

The success of the Bills defense is a testament to the strategic brilliance of Frazier and the main reason why they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. 

Frazier’s big test comes this week as he matches wits with Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy, Patrick Mahomes and the third-ranked Chiefs offense. Mahomes threw five TD passes in less than eleven minutes in a destruction of the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

The Bills allowed scoring drives on a league-low 28.7 percent clip. Their only weakness at times has been stopping the run. Frazier was the head coach of the Vikings, compiling a 21-32 record over four seasons. In 2012, he led Minnesota to the playoffs. The next year he was gone. That would be Frazier’s last head coaching opportunity. He was Bucs defensive coordinator from 2014 through 2015 and Ravens secondary coach in 2016 before finding a home with the Bills in 2017. 

Now he’s worked himself back into a position for a second crack at a head coaching gig. He’s at least getting interviews and reportedly has met with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins with more to come. 

Frazier lives by the motto “if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you,” and he expounded on those words in a zoom conference call.

“When things are smooth and complacent you can get a little complacent at times. Then you don’t always grow when you don’t get challenged. I think it’s important to be challenged in life. I think it’s not a bad thing to have some adversity every now and then or experience difficult times because it forces growth if you handle it the right way.”
Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bowles joined the Buccaneers in 2019 following a four-year run as the New York Jets head coach. Bowles joined back up with his former Arizona boss Bruce Arians. In 2020, Bowles’ defense was a huge piece to the Bucs’ run to a Super Bowl title.

This season the defense has been injury-plagued and inconsistent, but still a top-15 unit. With the defense now starting to get those injured players back, the expectation is that the Bucs are finally sturdy on both sides of the ball. 

Bowles’ D was causing havoc as Tampa took a 31-0 lead over Philly in Sunday’s wild card game before surrendering two garbage-time TDs. 

Tampa has the league’s top run defense since Bowles was hired in 2019. He makes opposing offenses one-dimensional by shutting down the run. 

Bowles has nothing to prove as far as résumé or inspiring his defense to perform on the brightest stages. Been there, done that. He does still have much to prove as a coach. Bowles went 26-40 in four seasons with the Jets (2015-2018), including a 10-6 record in his first season.  

He’s a prime candidate for another shot this time with a franchise that is equipped to compete with the big boys. 

Prior to the Bucs versus Rams divisional game this weekend, Bowles will reportedly interview for the Vikings and Chicago Bears head coaching positions. There’s also been reports that the Raiders are interested. 

In the meantime, the 58-year-old has a formidable playoff test against Sean McVay and the rolling Rams this weekend. Bowles will try to crack the code of a Rams squad that has beaten his team in both regular-season matchups the last two seasons.

Raheem Morris, Los Angeles Rams

Morris has spent his coaching career on both sides of the football, but he just completed his first full season as a defensive coordinator. Morris was the Falcons DC early in the 2020 season before they made him the interim head coach. Morris spent his first five seasons in the ATL, as the assistant head coach, passing game coordinator, and wide receivers coach (four seasons). 

He was also awarded the Buccaneers head coach at the age of 33 from 2009-2011. He went 17-31, including a 10-win season in his three-year run as Bucs’ coach. The team wasn’t very good. Considering how young and highly touted Morris was, it’s shocking he hasn’t gotten another crack at a head coaching job. How many head coaches have mastered the passing game and defense?

With future Hall of Famers Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and the recently acquired Von Miller, “Heem” has myriad ways to incapacitate opponents. The Rams ranked second in the league in pressure rate, led by Donald’s 87 pressures.

It’s been reported that the Vikings have requested an interview with Morris, which should be a bit more incentive for the 45-year-old to be at the top of his game heading to Tampa to face Tom Brady. Byron Leftwich versus Raheem Morris should be a tremendous watch. 

DeMeco Ryans, San Francisco 49ers

Ryans is on the fast track as pertains to Black coaches getting leadership opportunities. He’s gone from NFL player to first-year defensive coordinator in 2021. He began his coaching career as a defensive quality control coach with the Niners in 2017. 

From 2018-2020 he coached the inside linebackers and is credited with the development of 2020 All-Pro Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. His defense is built on pressure without blitzing. Having Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead makes that possible. Bosa had a team-high 70 pressures this season after tearing his ACL last season.

Ryan’s guts and versatility were on full display in Sunday’s win over Dallas. With the game hanging in the balance Ryan went against his defensive principles and called a “zero blitz,” sending the house. 

Head coach Kyle Shanahan raved about Ryan’s defensive wizardry. 

“DeMeco [Ryan]’s been unbelievable all year…Calling that zero at the end on fourth down was really cool too.”

 

Vance Joseph, Arizona Cardinals

Joseph was the only one of these talented defensive masterminds not to advance to the divisional round next weekend. But that still doesn’t detract from the impactful job he did with the Cardinals’ defense.

Joseph’s entire scheme is based on pressure, and over the first seven weeks of the season — with a fully healthy roster — Arizona was terrorizing QBs. When the injury bug hit, Joseph was forced to work with inferior parts and still held his own. Joseph is considered a defensive backs guru. He led the Dolphins defense in 2016 before becoming Broncos head coach for two seasons.

The Dolphins have requested an interview with Joseph. 


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JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.