It’s getting to be that time of year when the NFL coaching carousel starts churning, and coveted head coaching gigs open up as teams start looking for quick fixes to disappointing seasons and failed expectations.
Houston Texans HC Gary Kubiak was recently canned, creating the first HC vacancy of the 2014 season.To be one of 32 NFL HCs is an aspiring coach's ultimate gridiron goal. The competition is fierce, and the jobs are scarce for coaches of any race.
But The Shadow League has continously highlighted the fact that for African-American coaches at the highest athletic levels, rising to a HC job is damn near impossible.
In a previous Shadow League interview, Fritz Pollard Alliance Chairman John Wooten said his organization was vexed that no minority hires were chosen to fill 15 HC and front office NFL positions following the Super Bowl in 2013. Eight HC’s were fired and not one qualified minority candidate got a real sniff.
Making matters worse, two of the five African-American coaches in the game–Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears) and Romeo Crennel (Kansas City Chiefs)—were among those axed, leaving the league with just three brothers commanding the sidelines; Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings) and Marvin “Teflon” Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals). Carolina Panthers HC Ron Rivera is the lone Hispanic.The players dont like it, and in a league that's almost 70 percent black, the math is crooked.
Late last season, Jim Caldwell assumed the position of QBs Coach/Offensive Coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens, and was the technician behind a Ravens offense that set a franchise playoff record with 479 yards of offense in an epic 38-35 upset of the top-seeded Denver Broncos at Mile High, en route to winning Super Bowl XLVII.
Caldwell was the only African-American OC in the NFL at the time. But he was also one of the few black coaches who fit the hiring profile. Caldwell had already been a HC, taking over for Tony Dungy in 2009, and posted the most impressive season by a rookie HC in history, going 14-2 before losing Super Bowl XLVI . The following season QB Peyton Manning got hurt and the team’s record flipped upside down. Caldwell had the quickest rise and fall of any HC in memory and was fired in 2011. But after his comeback success with the Ravens, Baltimore quickly locked him up as OC for this 2013 season.
Caldwell can’t speak with any teams until the Raven’s season is over, but he’s cautiously pessimistic about getting another shot at HC with the Texans or any other NFL squad.
"At some point in time, if the Lord wills, I'd love to be able to do it again. But it may not happen.” Caldwell said last year while preparing for the Super Bowl .
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome was way more optimistic in his assessment of Caldwell’s chances of returning to the sidelines as a Boss.
Said Newsome in the same usatoday.com article, "I can see him getting that opportunity a year from now. I had a couple GMs tell me, 'If it weren't for your guys having success in the playoffs and continuing to play and Jim getting the job, then he would have been someone that we would have interviewed.'"
Late January will be a year since Newsome made that statement, and according to Wooten, Caldwell is one of several minority candidates qualified for the Texans opening. Since 2003, The Fritz Pollard Alliance has worked with the NFL to get more qualified brothers a shot at coveted coaching positions.
Texans owner Bob McNair has publicly stated that Houston, “would like someone who’s had head coaching experience, but has also had NFL experience. It’s a combination of those two things that would be the ideal situation, and there are people who meet those conditions.”
Wooten is certain Lovie Smith or Caldwell fit the criteria like a new pair of church shoes on Christmas morning. Lovie has been sitting idle since getting fired by the Bears in 2012, after compiling an impressive 81-63 record over nine seasons.
“You heard what McNair said,“ Wooten told The Shadow League on Thursday. “They are looking for a coach with NFL HC experience, so Lovie and Jim fit that profile. Don’t forget, Lovie got fired off of a 10-6 season.”
Other names being mentioned as possible candidates are the usual re-treads like Wade Phillips, the celebrity names with Super Bowl bling like Jon Gruden, and former coaches seeking a second chance under better circumstances like Ken Whisenhunt and Jack Del Rio.
The reasons for this racial disparity in the NFL coaching ranks has been long-debated. A previous Shadow League article, “In the NFL Offensive Play Calling Is a White Man’s Job”, researched the pipeline every NFL coach took to becoming an OC, which is the quickest and most common final step to becoming a head coach.
The study found that being a QB coach or play-calling college head coach are also fast-track jobs. However, a black assistant coach’s road to NFL leadership has been cultivated through their work on D, or as wide receivers and running back coaches, which has made their ascension to HC gigs even harder.
After last season’s coaching blackout, Wooten and the FPA—in a letter also signed by Executive Director Harry Carson and sent by overnight mail to the NFL’s Park Avenue quarters—asked the NFL to expand the Rooney Rule, which currently requires at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for every head-coaching and G.M. vacancy, to include coordinators, assistant head coaches, and team presidents in an effort to increase the pool of potential minority candidates for these plush, “leadership” gigs.
While the FPA acknowledges that the Rooney Rule hasn’t parted the seas and moved mountains, it has increased diversity among the NFL’s head coaches.
A Rooney Rule Fact sheet distributed by the FPA notes that almost twice as many minority HCs have been hired in the last decade under the Rooney Rule (12) than the six hired in the NFL’s 80 proceeding years. It can be assumed that expanding the scope of the rule will improve overall hiring numbers.
Wooten says the proposal doesn’t apply to new HCs, because the FPA understands the need for a new coach to already have a staff in place.
“We tell our own (minority candidates) that when they come in to interview for a job with a team, they must have a plan and a coaching team set in place that is committed to them. But for say like a Tom Coughlin or Rex Ryan and other veteran HC’s who lose assistants and coordinators to other teams, we ask the league that they institute the Rooney Rule for the coaching candidates that would fill those vacated assistant coach and coordinator positions,” Wooten explained.
Under NFL contract rules, while a coach can leave an assistant position to assume a HC gig, lower-rung coaches such as running back and defensive back coaches, who are under contract, can be denied the opportunity to leave and upgrade their job status.
Wooten says that the FPA has been able to gain leniency for its minority coaches, whereas, if a minority coach has an opportunity to advance to a coordinator or assistant coach position with another team, then the NFL’s owners have a gentleman’s agreement with the FPA to allow the coach to break contract and accept a promotion with another squad.
This also allows for qualified black coaches to side step the inhibitive politics and more quickly advance through the pipeline to an eventual HC gig,
On Thursday, Wooten told TSL that the FPA, “Just recently met with the NFL and submitted our list of potential HC candidates and guys we think are fully qualified and have satisfied the necessary protocols to run an NFL team.”
Wooten said the leading names on the list include Bengals assistant coach and former Raiders HC Hue Jackson, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Smith and Caldwell. Other up-and-coming minority candidates include defensive coordinator Mel Tucker (Chicago), and NFL assistants Winston Moss and Darren Perry (Green Bay) and Houston QBs coach Karl Dorrell.
Horton felt snubbed when he didn’t get the Arizona opening last season that went to Bruce Arians. It's a situation we touched on in a previous Shadow League article, “Black Coaches Shout Out Of NFL Carousel.”
“The most controversial snub has been Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton… Horton’s situation blurs the eyes, though. He grinded in the NFL for 19 years as an assistant and then to see the number of high-risk college guys like Doug Marrone (Buffalo Bills) or cats with minimal coaching experience like Gus Bradley (Jacksonville) get a shot, you start to scratch your dome and wonder, “what part of the game is this?”
Marrone and Bradley are a combined 9-19 this season, which is surely a job Horton could have done. But on a positive note, the recent promotions of African-Americans Pep Hamilton (Indianapolis Colts) and Harold Goodwin (Arizona Cardinals) to OC/play-calling leadership roles, indicates solid racial diversity growth at a position that is the direct pipeline to becoming a HC.
As the Super Bowl concludes and the smoke clears, we will know if the NFL is getting “Black to Action,” or if they will overlook qualified brothers and continue with its blatant white washing of NFL leadership positions.