The NFL began the 2018 season with seven black head coaches. They ended the year with only two, and the New York Times wants answers.
Four black coaches were let go after the regular season ended on Sunday: Steve Wilks (Arizona), Vance Joseph (Denver), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati) and Todd Bowles (New York Jets). Another coach, Cleveland’s Hue Jackson, was fired during the season.
The New York Times did a feature on the shrinking number of black NFL coaches with the headline: “Firing of Several Black Coaches Puts N.F.L. Hiring Under Scrutiny.”
“On Monday, the number of African-American coaches fired in 2018 soared to five, leaving only two black coaches in a league where at least 70 percent of the players are African-American,” Ken Belson wrote for the Times.
“Race is already a much-discussed topic in relation to the league. Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who in 2016 began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality toward people of color, has not played in the league for the last two seasons. His protests amplified an already polarizing debate across the country, and he has filed a grievance accusing the N.F.L. of colluding to keep him off the field.”
Belson wrote that the slew of dismissals could lead to the “Rooney Rule” being put on the microscope. This league legislation, passed in 2003, mandates teams interview minority candidates for head coaching and GM jobs.
“The next several weeks will unquestionably heighten the scrutiny on the N.F.L.’s hiring practices and how reliably, or willingly, the Rooney Rule will be employed,” wrote Belson.
Jason Reid, who writes for the ESPN vertical “The Undefeated,” also expressed concern about the suddenly low number of black head coaches. The headline of Reid’s column read: “A troubling year for diversity in the NFL ended on an awful note for the league Monday.”
Reid was especially dismayed at Arizona’s dismissal of Wilks after just one season.
“That’s five black head coaches let go in one season,” Reid lamented. “And Wilks only got one — one — season in what the organization acknowledged was a rebuilding year. Good luck proving you’ve got the coaching chops when you’re essentially working on an egg timer.”
Yahoo NFL columnist Terez Paylor called the Wilks’ firing, “one of the most unfair, outrageous firings the NFL has seen in years.” Paylor feels the Cardinals lack the requisite talent to win and blames that on GM Steve Keim.
So why was Wilks fired so quickly?
“When you look at not only the record, but the lack of competitiveness — the fact we went backwards on offense and defense — looking at his plan for 2019,” Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwill said. “I just didn’t feel like it was a plan that I wanted to get behind, that would turn us around and get us back to the type of football that we expect and that our fans deserve.”
While the number of black NFL coaches is down to two, it could go back up when the vacant positions are filled. Jackson is a candidate in Cincinnati, and many teams have a great deal of interest in Stanford’s David Shaw.