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Even When They Win, Black NFL Head Coaches Get Fired

While the majority of African-American head coaches survived the gauntlet and maintained their jobs for next season, veteran HC Jim Caldwell was axed despite leading the Detroit Lions to a 9-7 record (one game short of the playoffs) and a better win-loss record in his four-year tenure than any Lions coach in 60 years. 

This is not a surprising or infrequent occurrence. African-American coaches tend to get overlooked for leadership gigs, fired quickly or bewilderingly-terminated after a winning season. And Forbes.com has the statistical proof. 

ChuckModi on Twitter

Of 17 black head coaches in NFL history who have coached at least 1 full season 23.5% (4) fired from winning teams. Of 174 white coaches since 1978, only 6.9% (12) were fired from winning team. GREAT research by @wagesofwins puts Jim Caldwell in context https://t.co/fW6vFZK05g

Forbes.com broke down the numbers and brought perspective to what TSL constantly writes about – the disparity between coaches of color compared to their white counterparts especially when it comes to job security. 

The NFL has played a 16-game schedule since 1978. Since that time, 538 teams have finished with a winning record. Using data from Pro-Football-Reference and news stories detailing why coaches left specific jobs, I was able to ascertain that, since 1978, 16 winning teams (or about 3%) fired their head coach.

Half of these 16 coaches led teams that had winning records of 9-7 (or slightly worse) 6% of the 145 total teams with such a record since 1978.

Or to put it another way, in 94% of cases where a team was like the 2017 Lions, the team brought back its head coach.

When we look at the 16 coaches who were fired from winning teams, though, something immediately jumps out. Four of these coaches Art Shell, Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith and now Caldwell were black.

In the history of the NFL, there have only been 17 black head coaches who have coached at least one entire season (minimum 16 games) with a team. But four of these or 23.5% were fired from winning teams.

Since 1978, there have been 174 white head coaches who led a team for at least 16 games. Of these, only 12 or 6.9% were fired from a winning team. So black head coaches appear much more likely relative to white head coaches to be fired coming off a winning season.

James Kratch on Twitter

Jim Caldwell is 62-50 as an NFL head coach. He’s had a winning record in five of seven seasons. He’s made the playoffs in four of seven seasons. https://t.co/vElt5Sgmyd

Look no further than former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Bucs head coach Lovie Smith. Smith, who is now toiling on the college level for a struggling Illinois football program, was fired in 2012 coming off a 10-6 season with a 2006 Super Bowl appearance under his belt. And just as it seemed that a young Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay was primed to become contenders, Smith was dumped by the organization with a 89-87 career record. 

Chris Juzwik on Twitter

The Bears have only 25 victories in the five seasons since Lovie Smith was fired. The teams with fewer over that stretch: the Jags (23) and Browns (15). You are the company you keep.” https://t.co/3IZ1G0ys59

Despite obvious yet incremental gains within the NFLs coaching and executive ranks, the overall numbers dont lie and the struggle for equality in the NFL leadership gigs for people of color remains. 

Black coaches are still fighting for respect, equal treatment and the confidence of their employers to get the job done as effectively as non-minorities. 

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