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Black Someday in the NFL, Plus Opinions on 2022 Coaching Fits

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

David Culley got a raw deal. Culley’s firing by the Houston Texans was kind of like a coach losing a game on a pass interference penalty where the replay clearly indicates no such violation, and yet the coach can’t challenge it, per league rules,

David Culley’s firing hurts the image of the NFL on so many levels. With Culley’s ouster, there is only one black head coach standing —— Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The bitter irony is that in 2003 when Dan Rooney, then the owner of the Steelers, initiated the now infamous “Rooney Rule”, the NFL had only three black head coaches —- now 19 years later, there is only one —- and quite fittingly the one sole survivor is Tomlin, the Steelers’ head coach for 15 years —- a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer whose career record is 154-82-2 plus 8-8 in the playoffs with a Super Bowl win in 2008, Remarkably, Mike Tomlin is one of the rare long-time head coaches whose teams have never had a sub .500 season.

One of the major reasons why the Rooney Rule was put into effect, was in light of Tony Dungy getting fired by the Tampa Bay Bucs after a 9-7 season. In addition, Dennis Green had just been fired by the Minnesota Vikings after suffering his first losing season in 10 years.

Fortunately, Dungy landed on his feet with the Indianapolis Colts and went on to lead the Colts to a victory in Super Bowl XLI in 2006. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

The same good fortune may happen for Brian Flores, who was fired by the Dolphins after leading the organization to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003 (ironically at the same time the Rooney Rule took effect). Flores, who is widely thought of as an effective game planner and charismatic motivator, has been invited to interview for a number of head coaching jobs since his ouster on Black Monday.

And let’s not forget Jim Caldwell, who was one of the main reasons why Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions made it to the playoffs in two of Caldwell’s four seasons as head coach. In 2017. following his third winning season in four years, the Lions fired him in favor of brining in Matt Patricia. Ever since firing Caldwell, the Lions have been the doormats of the NFC North.

It just so happened that Brian Flores, in his first season with the Dolphins, hired Jim Caldwell as his assistant head coach and QB coach. Alas, Caldwell had to take a leave of absence due to health issues, but was retained as a consultant. The Dolphins elected to move on from Caldwell in 2020.

Recently, Jim Caldwell interviewed for the head coaching position with the Jacksonville Jaguars who fired first year head coach Urban Meyer for cause after 13 games and a 2-11 record. Many pundits believe that Jim Caldwell would be just THE MAN to turn Trevor Lawrence into a star.

But —- it would seem that Jim Caldwell’s chances of landing another head coaching gig are extremely slim, given the current head coach hiring trends.

Black NFL head coaching candidates are not the only ones having a disadvantage, so are college head coaches. Of the three most recent college hires, the Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury, ironically, has had the most success (24-24-1). Matt Rhule (10-23) has been given a third season to try to turn things around in Carolina. Yet, as previously mentioned, Urban Meyer (2-11) fell flat on his face in Jacksonville, particularly after telling his assistant NFL coaches that his staff at Bowling Green had more talent.

College Records:

  • Urban Meyer: 187-32, 12-3 Bowls, 3 National Championships
  • Matt Rhule: 47-43, 1-2 in Bowls
  • Kliff Kingsbury: 35-40, 1-2 Bowls

College head coaching success doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the NFL. And vice versa.

However, make no mistake about it, when one peruses the list of college coaches who were given the opportunity to be an NFL head coach —- not a single one of them was or is black.

Typically, when black coaches are given NFL head coaching opportunities, they find themselves operating on a very short leash —- and they appear to be the most likely coaches to get fired after a winning season.

NFL Black Head Coaches and Their Records:

  • Fritz Pollard 8-4-1
  • Art Shell 56–52
  • Dennis Green 117–102
  • Ray Rhodes 37–42–1
  • Herm Edwards 56–78
  • Tony Dungy 148–79
  • Mike Tomlin 154–85–2
  • Marvin Lewis 131–129–3
  • Hue Jackson 11–44–1
  • Anthony Lynn 26–23
  • Todd Bowles 26–41
  • Romeo Crennel 24–55
  • Jim Caldwell 64–54
  • Leslie Frazier 21–33–1
  • Raheem Morris 17–31
  • Mike Singletary 18–22
  • Lovie Smith 89–87
  • Vance Joseph 11–21
  • Steve Wilks 3–13
  • Brian Flores 24-25
  • David Culley: 4-13

You might be surprised to learn that the total records of black NFL head coaches is:

1,045-1,005-9

What makes this plus .500 winning percentage even more impressive is the fact that black head coaches are almost always hired by sub .500 teams.

2021 Playoff Teams with HCs who fit the Current Head Coaching Trend:

GB: Matt LaFleur (Aaron Rodgers)

LAR: Sean McVay (Matthew Stafford)

ARI: Kliff Kingsbury (Kyler Murray)

SF: Kyle Shanahan (Jimmy Garoppolo)

PHI: Nick Sirianni (Jalen Hurts)

CIN: Zach Taylor (Joe Burrow)

What do these head coaches have in common?

As for their QB situations:

  • Matt LaFleur inherited Aaron Rodgers which is a boon for him or virtually any head coach, for that matter.
  • Sean McVay inherited Jared Goff and got a lot out of him, but this year McVay made the big trade with the Lions to acquire Matthew Stafford.
  • Kliff Kingsbury was able to draft Kyler Murray, his #1 choice at QB.
  • Kyle Shanahan traded for Jimmy G. but then last April traded up to draft his QBOF in Trey Lance (big decision coming as whether to trade of keep Jimmy G.).
  • Nick Sirianni endorsed the trade of Carson Wentz and thereby turned his focus toward Jalen Hurts . While Sirianni got a lot out of Hurts in year one, some Philly pundits and fans wonder if Hurts is the team’s long-tern answer at QB.

Teams like the Giants and Broncos may want to follow the Bengals’ and Cardinals’ formula for pairing their offensive minded head coach with the QB of his choice.

For the Giants , who have the #5 and #7 picks, the odds are excellent that they will be able to select QB Kenny Pickett. The GM/HC combination that makes a great deal of sense to me is Adrian Wilson and Byron Leftwich. What’s fascinating about Adrian Wilson is that when Michael Bidwill announced Kliff Kingsbury as the new head coach, Bidwill paid special thanks to Adrian Wilson and former Giants’ GM Ernie Accorsi (The “QB Guy”) —- and thus one could imagine Accorsi going to bat for A-Dub in New York. Of course, A-Dub and Byron Leftwich have their connection with the Cardinals —- and essentially they could do what the Cardinals did —- move on from a former 1st round QB to draft the QB the new head coach’s thinks is his GUY.

Some are speculating that if Adrian Wilson gets the Giants’ GM job, that he will want to hire Brian Flores, particularly in light of Deshaun Watson’s rumored interest in being traded to the Giants, if Flores is the head coach. But, it may be doubtful that the Mara family would want to take on Watson’s baggage.

The Broncos have struggled to find their QB of the future, yet they keep hiring defensive minded head coaches —- it makes no sense, at least to me, for them to fire Vic Fangio and go ahead and interview another defensive head coach like Dan Quinn, Leslie Frazier, Todd Bowles or Brian Flores.

I think what would make perfect sense for the Broncos is to hire an offensive head coach. While there are rumors that Nathaniel Hackett could be on the way to the Rockies with Aaron Rodgers in tow, it looks like Rodgers is embracing his team in Green Bay more passionately than ever before. Thus, assuming Rodgers stays in Green Bay, I think the Cowboys’ OC Kellen Moore would be a wise choice to pair with QB Matt Corral of Ole Miss, who is likely to be on the board at pick #9.

As for Brian Flores, his Boston College ties to Las Vegas GM Mike Mayock could be a boon for him as the next long-term head coach of the Raiders. Flores could help build on the team’s recent emergence on defense, while helping Derek Carr kick his game up another notch. While Flores has strong Patriots ties to Houston’s GM Nick Caserio, the gig in Los Vegas is more attractive. And Flores would likely be amenable to retaining the charismatic Rick Bisaccia as assistant head coach and special teams coordinator.

In Chicago, while there’s chance that the Bears could be gung-ho for Jim Harbaugh, I think a superb scenario for them would be to hire Louis Riddick as GM and Eric Bieniemy as the head coach. Bieniemy has the gravitas of a head coach and his experience working with and helping to develop Patrick Mahomes could be the coaching that Justin Fields needs. Louis Riddick has the all of makings of a star GM —- for him it’s only a matter of time.

As for the Dolphins, they need an offensive minded head coach to help bring Tua’s game to the next level. Thus, Brian Daboll would be a super choice because of the profound impact he has had on Josh Allen’s development.

Just a few days ago, Green Bay OC Nathaniel Hackett interviewed with the Jaguars —- and it would make complete sense for the Jags to put Trevor Lawrence in Hackett’s hands.

In Minnesota, it would seem like a slam dunk for them to pair Kirk Cousins with Doug Pederson. When I thought of which GM candidates would be a good fit here, I was torn between Ed Dodds (asst. GM in Indy who has been nailing the Colts; recent drafts left and right) or Catherine Raiche (Eagles’ VP of football operations) and back when I wrote this tweet on January 13th (below), I went with Dodds, thinking that Raiche may be a tad too young at 33. The next day, after I heard that indeed the Vikings were bringing Catherine Raiche in for an interview, I began to believe that the Raiche/Pederson/Cousins trio could be made to order.

With the Texans, this may be the right opportunity for Josh McDaniels to take on his second head coaching stint. His ties to Nick Caserio should create a comfort zone for him and Davis Mills looks very much like a system fit for McDaniels’ offense.

The Cardinals’ DC Vance Joseph has drawn interest from a few teams, most keenly perhaps from the Dolphins, where Vance once shined as their interim head coach. Vance has said that he is interested in getting another chance as a head coach, but that it has to be right situation for him. With the Dolphins he would have to jive with owner Steven Ross’ and GM Chris Grier’s short and long term vision, which may including committing to Tua as the franchise QB. In Vance’s one good, close look at Tua last year in Glendale, Tua led the Dolphins to an upset win over the Cardinals. It was Tua’s second start in the NFL.

Defensive coordinators Todd Bowles and Leslie Frazier have has the kind of success to warrant another head coaching opportunity —- but defensive minded head coaches are not as in vogue these days because of the ever-revolving door at OC in the NFL, in that when an OC starts to shine, chances are fairly certain that he will rise to the top of the list of head coaching candidates. When teams have a chance to lock down a superb offensive play caller and QB groomer, they typically go out of their way to do it.

The problem is —- there are more black defensive minded head coaching candidates than offensive minded ones —- and the head coaching market is higher at this time for offensive coaches. The lack of black offensive coordinators has to change, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t.

There is a good reason why Hank Aaron devoted his Hall of Fame speech to one word —- Aaron’s one word was opportunity.

What I have suggested before is that the NFL heavily invest in creating a Coaching Academy for young, aspiring coaches —- where coaches are judged not by the color of their skin or by their gender, but by the quality of their character and their coaching acumen. Imagine then, what a dream come true this Academy could be for Martin Luther King, whom America annually honors on this day.