After a 41-year wait for a Black coach to reach the Super Bowl, suddenly we had two matches up against one another in the penultimate game.
With their two fresh-off conference championship wins over the Saints and Patriots, Bears coach Lovie Smith and Colts coach Tony Dungy finally broke through one of sports last color barriers.
In a league where about 70% of the players but only 6 of the 32 head coaches in 2006-07 were African-American, Smith and Dungy headed to Miami knowing that one of them would make even more history that Super Bowl night.
That night was awesome but it still showed at that time just how far the NFL had to travel. As since 1989 when Raiders coach Art Shell was hired up to this particular Super Bowl in 2007 there were only eight Black heads coaches.
The fact that seven of them held jobs in this particular season was in part because of OJ Simpson’s lawyer, the late Johnnie Cochran.
Cochran and his fellow lawyer colleague Cyrus Mehri, co-authored a 2002 report that condemned the sport for failing to promote minorities to management positions.
Much hasn’t changed in 2021 either as there are only 4 Black general managers and three Black head coaches. The central message of the report was that African-Americans were among the last to be hired, but the first fired.
The evidence of talented individuals being scarcely overlooked and not much time to succeed was so persuasive and the publicity so potentially damaging that the NFL itself nearly set up a diversity committee.
This committee would make each team have to interview at least one minority candidate for all available jobs. In early 2003, a coalition of Black coaches, scouts and front-office personnel formed the Fritz-Pollard Alliance to ensure this just wouldn’t be a fad or get phased out.
Pollard, an African-American pioneer, coached several teams in the 1920’s before the league’s introduction of segregation effectively and wrongly ended his career.
We all know what Jackie Robinson did in baseball. Some have also heard about Pollard and his great play and shrewd coaching mind. But Pollard doesn’t get the same attention like Jackie did for his baseball exploits.
It’s impossible for a Black coach to come up through the ranks without knowledge of the league’s very checkered past as it relates to racial history. When Dungy took over as head coach in Tampa in 1996 he hired Smith as his linebackers coach. These two formed an unbreakable bond in an era when only two other African-Americans held top jobs in the league.
The problem is they’re still not being given the chance some 14-15 years later. The so-called “Rooney Rule” was supposed to level the playing field…what a joke.
It hasn’t worked.
Dungy and Smith are Christian men who are role models and men of high character who live their lives with deep faith and do things the correct way. Both men believed it was their duty to shine their light wherever they’re in the spotlight and be a leader of men.
Dungy became the first Black head coach to coach in and win a Super Bowl leading the Colts past Smith’s Bears 29-17. The Steelers Mike Tomlin would follow suit by winning one two years later.