The short leash for African-American NFL head coaches continued this offseason with the unexpected firing of Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins) and the expected firing of Houston Texans scapegoat David Culley.
On “Get Up!” Domonique Foxworth says race played a factor in both firings, but not as much in the case of Culley, who was basically hired to babysit a dumpster fire for a season.
‘”The start is not a great look, but I think it depends on what they do next. I try to be as honest and fair as I can be on these issues, so I’d be lying if I said race doesn’t play some factor in many of the decisions that are made in the NFL. I believe that to be the case. The Culley situation is slightly different than the Flores situation. Culley took a job that nobody wanted. They found somebody who would mind the store until they found their next coach.”
Of the eight head coaches fired in the NFL’s annual coaching carousel, two were Black, leaving the NFL with one Black coach. This in a league that’s promised to be more committed to changing the systemic barriers that exclude qualified Black candidates from securing executive leadership positions within the league.
Brian Flores was 8-1 in his last nine games and led Miami to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the early 2000s. He’s young, intelligent, respected by his players and passionate.
Rumors of him not being amicable in nature or butting heads with his quarterback and management aren’t any different from experiences that other great head coaches had in the early stages of trying to build a winner.
If GM Chris Grier and company were expecting a Super Bowl in Flores’ first three seasons, then upper management did a terrible job of providing Flores with elite resources. Few coaches are the anomaly that is Mike Tomlin.
NFL Should Be Ashamed
This is shameful, considering that over the last decade — with the help of The Fritz Pollard Alliance Rooney Rule, its database of qualified candidates of color, new programs designed to aid in developing minority coaching talent, as well as the organization’s constant dialogue with NFL owners — we’ve seen a deeper pipeline of minorities being interviewed for plush NFL gigs.
There’s also more of them getting training at the college level as offensive/defensive coordinators and filling NFL assistant coach slots.
The problem is that it’s not resulting in increased hiring of NFL head coaches, and it certainly isn’t helping Black head coaches with job security. There’s still a blatant disparity between the opportunity and level of commitment that Black head coaches and their white counterparts are given.
I offered statistical proof in a January 2018 story entitled, “Even When They Win, Black NFL Head Coaches Get Fired.”
Of 17 black head coaches in NFL history who have coached at least 1 full season 23.5% (4) fired from winning teams.
— ChuckModi (@ChuckModi1) January 3, 2018
David Culley went 4-13 in his first season with a Houston Texans organization in disarray. Once Deshaun Watson was erased from the playing field the season was expected to be a disaster. Culley, 66, actually overachieved by winning four games and was rewarded with a pink slip after one season of managing the slop. He knew he was on a suicide mission, but he waited so long to get a head coaching opportunity. The Texans job was probably his only chance to ever lead one of the NFL’s 32 teams.
Culley had a great attitude in his exit presser, but deep down he has to crave a real opportunity with a team that was constructed to win now. Overseeing a tank job is a lame duck job.
At least Flores got three seasons out of it. Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks was fired after just one season in Arizona. Wilks was a highly touted rookie hire in 2018 and was gone by 2019 after a 3-13 season overseeing a tank job. As soon as he was fired Arizona retooled with a new coach, a franchise-changing QB in Kyler Murray, and a Hall of Fame wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) December 23, 2018
While Wilks was getting ushered out the door, former Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia was getting ample time to prove that he was a terrible head coach.
Interesting that a lot of people think Steve Wilks will be one-and-done, and no one thinks Matt Patricia will be. I would argue that Patricia has performed worse, relative to what should've been expected with the teams they each inherited. https://t.co/QdCwZvpDeo
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) December 23, 2018
Culley and Wilks are the only two head coaches since 2018 to be fired after one season.
Back in September of 2018, I wrote the story, “Apparently, 8 is Enough For Minority NFL Head Coaches.”
“The NFL had a record number eight minority coaches at the start of 2017, which ties the record set in 2011, when it appeared as if minority head coaches would reach double digits in the next couple of years, bringing an end to any anachronistic ideas about the leadership and intellect of a minority head coach.
Unfortunately, seven years later, just 25 percent of the head coaches are minorities in a league that is 70 percent, Black.
8 minority coaches seem to be enough for NFL owners.”
That seems so silly now. Not because tremendous progress has been made following years of lip service on both sides of the conflict. Black folk should have been celebrating that rate of representation. Who knew we should have been rejoicing?
The ones that are hired don’t get the same nurturing and patience to establish a culture, impress their principles on a franchise, develop relationships, and implement a successful system.
That takes time, and owners aren’t willing to allow Black head coaches to play by the same rules as their white counterparts. It’s reflected in the numbers. There’s no way in heck that NFL owners can only find one Black man capable of running a franchise.
Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell have all been to Super Bowls, with Dungy and Tomlin winning the Lombardi Trophy and changing the course of history for minority coaches.
Answer: Tony Dungy on February 4, 2007 in Super Bowl XLI when the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29–17 pic.twitter.com/LaGl6YNTO3
— Ajay Gohil (@AjayRGohil) January 14, 2022
Tom Flores broke barriers as the NFL’s first Latino head coach and the first to win a Lombardi Trophy in the 1980 season when the Raiders defeated Dick Vermeil’s Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl XV. He won another in the 1983 season.
30 years later and Washington Football Team’s Ron Rivera is the only Hispanic head coach in the NFL.
Flores, nicknamed the Ice Man because of his stoic facial expressions as a player, was also the first-ever Hispanic starting quarterback in professional football with the Raiders.
NFL owners seem to be trying to move the league backward at a time when forward-thinking, progress and an end to system racism is clearly what the players want.
Now we are going into an offseason that will leave the league with fewer Black men in leadership positions, which lessens the opportunity for other coaches of color to be infused into the head coaching pipeline. It’s really looking bleak as ever.
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