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Carolina Panthers interim head coach Perry Fewell posted a 3-4 record after taking over for Dick Juaron after the Bills began the season 3-6 in 2009.
For most interim coaches, compiling a better record than your predecessor would be enough to warrant a shot at the top job. It didn’t go down like that and Fewell was passed over for Chan Gailey, who went 16-32 in three full seasons.
10 years went by before Fewell got another shot at head coaching. He took over for the Panthers in Week 13 after Ron Rivera was fired. Rivera’s termination lowered the number of minority NFL head coaches to three; Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh), Anthony Lynn (San Diego) and Brian Flores (Miami). Fewell’s brief ascension makes it four out of 32 teams — for now.
Then came “The Black Coaching Purge” of 2018 that saw five of the seven African-American coaches in the NFL fired and replaced with white coaches.
The QB Guru to OC to HC Pipeline
There’s definitely been a philosophy shift, and I’m not going to say it’s intentional but a convenient way to eliminate Black head coaching candidates is to start a trend of hiring offensive play callers and quarterback whisperers as NFL head coaches.
Byron Leftwich (Tampa Bay) and Eric Bienemy (Kansas City) are the only notable Black offensive coordinators/playcallers/quarterback molders in the NFL. Jim Caldwell serves as an assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach for Miami but he’s been there and done that and really should be a head coach somewhere.
Hopefully the cultural shift which now lauds the skills of dual-threat quarterbacks also helps African-American coaches get more looks.
Not every coach has to be a QB coach to become an OC, but they almost definitely have to have been an OC or HC at the college level. That hurts some black candidates because the D-1 college ranks, a feeder system for offensive NFL assistants, has a pitifully low number of black head coaches as well.
The tide has only slightly turned in the past decade, so most black coaches don’t have the experience and years in the game to work up through the ranks. Many of the white OCs coached for over a decade before they got to the NFL. Some began their careers many moons ago, at high school programs, and established credibility through years of grinding.
Defense Kills, So Does Inexperience
Most Black coaches tend to have a defensive background. So they are easily ignored in the name of copycat evolution.
We see how dangerous that can be. Freddie Kitchens was made the head coach of the Browns after a few games of success with Baker Mayfield and he’s already imploded and even admitted that he shouldn’t be leading a team.
The 36-year-old genius Zac Taylor, who replaced veteran winner Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, has managed to win just one game. I dare to say, an experienced coach could have mustered at least four more wins. The Broncos went 6-10 with no QB last year under Vance Joseph. At 5-9 under Vic Fangio and a potential franchise QB in tow with Drew Lock, they are heading to the same record.
The Black Head Coach: Miracle Worker
Fewell probably won’t get considered for the full-time position unless he runs the table and the team shows miracle improvement in these last three games. He’s already 0-2 after losing to a championship-caliber Seattle Seahawks team on Sunday 31-24. In his first game, a 40-20 shellacking at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, cornerback Donte Jackson ripped a strategic decision made by Fewell after Jackson was burned for a 93-yard touchdown by speedy rookie Olamide Zaccheaus.
That’s never good when your players are blaming you for their mishaps. The Black head coach gets scapegoated by his own race too.
Perry barely put his head set on and he’s already getting thrown under the bus, but that’s what happens to African-American coaches in the NFL. They don’t get the same quality opportunities or time to grow as their white counterparts.
They are often expected to work miracles. Look at Mike Tomlin. He’s done an incredible job keeping a decimated Steelers squad in the playoff race and has a Top 3 resume in the league, but people are constantly calling for his head. As if someone else could come in there, wave a magic wand and grind out a 16-game NFL season with the same consistency.
Baby Sitting Duties With No Promise For Permanent Employment
In Perry’s case, he’s been no more than a short-term babysitter for teams with nothing to play for. He won’t be the next Panthers head coach for several reasons.
While young head coaches with little professional experience continue to acquire leadership positions, Fewell’s 34 years of coaching experience hasn’t meant jack to NFL owners who have passed him over for a decade in favor of inexperienced, white coaches.
Fewell has served as a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach for 22 seasons. He was the New York Giants defensive coordinator from 2010-2014, helping the team win Super Bowl XLVI. He moved on to Washington from 2015-16, Jacksonville and then Carolina.
Once long-time coach Rivera was fired, that was basically Carolina waving the white flag on the season. Fewell deserves another full-time gig, but outside of Christian McCaffrey the Panthers have too many question marks for Fewell to be properly evaluated for the HC position.
In addition, the move towards offensive minded head coaches by the majority of NFL teams, makes Fewell’s chances of getting hired even slimmer.
The NFL had seven minority head coaches at one point last season. Now they are down to three and a possible. Say what you want, but the optics are terrible. The Fritz Pollard Alliance has been supplying the NFL with worthy African-American candidates for years. The Rooney Rule has been tweaked and expanded in scope, but little progress has been made in hiring minority head coaches, who have never risen above the 25 percent mark in representation in NFL history.
Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship
What happened to all of that talent they were cultivating when Bill Walsh started his minority-coaching fellowship program? A record 96 minority coaches – 43 of them former players — took part in the 2010 Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship, and the numbers were supposedly rising.
I guess alot of those guys just dissappeared.
Perry Fewell will be no different. He’ll coach out this season and probably fade into the background as a defensive coordinator again. It’s sad.