WASHINGTON, July 20, 2016 –The NFL Network’s discussion over the lack of minority coaches and executives in the NFL is important, but it also needs a reality check regarding the facts.
It true that the numbers of minorities in executive positions in the NFL are quite low.
However, whenever this particular discussion develops, it slips toward some type of conspiracy theory, suggesting there is an overt effort to keep minorities out of head coaching jobs and front offices in the NFL.
Is this truth, hyperbole, conjecture, or something else?
Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall were the first two Black players in the NFL. They entered the league in 1920. An esoteric fact is that Pollard was actually the first Black head coach in the NFL. Pollard coached four NFL teams until 1926.
After his NFL career, he organized all-black teams that played all over the country into the mid-1930s in an effort to get the NFL to sign more black players.
It is believed there were no black players in the league from 1934-46. (ESPN)
The NFL’s first Black head coach in the modern era was Art Shell, who took the helm of the Oakland Raiders in 1989. The late Al Davis asked Shell to take the position because Davis felt that Shell was the best man for the job.
The discussion about minority head coaches is perplexing because it almost never emphasizes the great strides over the past several years. You don’t have to be an avid NFL fan to know that Lovie Smith, Tony Dungy, Tom Flores, Herman Edwards, Ron Rivera, Mike Caldwell, Marvin Lewis, Mike Tomlin and others have done their jobs with excellence. Or that they were given the opportunity to do those jobs in the first place.
The longevity of Marvin Lewis is certainly noteworthy. Lewis is one of the longest tenured head coaches in the NFL, and has been with the Bengals since 2003. Lewis was also named Associated Press (AP) Coach of the Year in ’09.
Mike Tomlin has also been at the helm for a while, taking the head coaching job with the Steelers in ’07.
Both Lewis and Tomlin are former Defensive Coordinators.
“Riverboat Ron” Rivera is also a minority head coach, and he has done an outstanding job with the Carolina Panthers. Rivera was the first NFC South coach to lead his team to consecutive division titles, and led the Panthers to an NFL-best 15-1 regular season record.
No one can make a viable or intelligent argument that Lewis, Tomlin or Rivera are “token” minority head coaches. They were named to their positions because of their qualifications, and have kept their jobs because they have repeatedly demonstrated their abilities.
Contrast that with Romeo Crennel, who was the Browns’ head coach for 4 years. Crennel had a 24-40 record from 2005-2008. As a result, Crennel was removed as Head Coach and is again Defensive Coordinator with the Texans. It is hard to argue that his move was racist, when his record so clearly speaks for itself.
With respect to minority executives in the NFL, Kevin Warren, Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the Minnesota Vikings brings an enlightened perspective to the topic with the following:
“…what I’m trying to do is get a pool of candidates who are able to
start at entry-level jobs. So they can start as managers, end up as
directors, and then get promoted to senior directors, and then to
vice presidents and EVP’s, promoted to COO’s, and then hopefully
to Presidents and CEO’s. What we have to do is continually grow
good people, regardless of their color.”
The bottom line is that the NFL, as well as other professional sports leagues, does need to address the issue of minorities in head coaching and executive positions. However, in order to have a good dialogue, the participants must not only take a constructive tone, but also look at the facts.