Press Box: NFL — A Diversity Crisis

Illustration by Sammy Newman

Andy RiddlerContributing Writer

The next Sean McVay. That’s what teams are using as a motivator to find their next head coach, and why wouldn’t they? McVay is a football mastermind who took the Los Angeles Rams from a laughingstock to a Super Bowl appearance in two seasons. But nobody is looking for the next Anthony Lynn, the man who helped the Los Angeles Chargers win 18 of their last 25 regular season games and one playoff victory. So what has McVay done that Lynn hasn’t?

Lynn’s Chargers ranked top 10 in offense and defense this season, while McVay’s Rams struggled to build an average defense this season with a roster full of pro-bowlers and the likely Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. McVay was expected to already have a coaching tree when his offensive coordinator, Zac Taylor, was introduced as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach following the conclusion of the season. What else does Lynn have to do to get to the praise he deserves for turning the Chargers around?

The NFL knows there is an issue with ensuring equal opportunities for racial minorities to serve as head coaches — in 2003, it established the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority for a vacant head coach position. Even with the rule, owners frequently interview a candidate of color just to check the box. For example, the Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders used Jerry Gray and Bobby Johnson, respectively, as sham interviews to help fulfill the Rooney Rule without having any real chance at being awarded the position.

Over the last few weeks, eight head coaching jobs — five of them previously held by black men — have opened up in the NFL, but only the position with the Miami Dolphins will be filled by a black man, current New England Patriots Linebackers coach and defensive playcaller Brian Flores.  That would leave the league with only four minorities out of the 32 total coaching positions — Flores, Lynn, Mike Tomlin with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carolina Panthers’ Ron Rivera. By comparison, over 70 percent of all league players are racial minorities. Owners are comfortable with non-white players, but God forbid a black man leads the team.

Nobody can certifiably say whether the league owners are racist or if this is just a result of implicit bias that pervades the front offices of the 32 teams. But one thing is very clear: black men have significantly fewer chances to reach the highest point in their coaching careers.

The Arizona Cardinals have raised many questions about the league with their firing of Steve Wilks. Wilks, a black man, only coached for a year, inheriting an aging roster — the eighth oldest according to a PhillyVoice article — and starting a rookie quarterback for almost the entire season. There may have been only a handful of coaches in the history of the league who could have handled that, and yet the Cardinals fired him. Losing 13 games did not help his case, but the Cardinals fired him in favor of a young, offensive mind — Kliff Kingsbury — a friend of McVay’s.

Kingsbury coached Texas Tech for the last six years, accumulating a record of 35-40. Following the 2018 season, he was fired and subsequently hired to be the offensive coordinator at Southern California, where the team expected him to help bring back a championship. Instead, he left after 34 days because he was offered the job with the Cardinals. Sports anchor Dale Hansen said on WFAA in Dallas that, “Kingsbury fits all the criteria to be an NFL head coach. He’s an offensive genius, he’s young and he’s white — and not necessarily in that order.”

A man who won less than half his games at Texas Tech, including years when he had Patrick Mahomes, the likely NFL MVP for 2019, received one of the 32 most prestigious head coaching jobs in American sports. Why? What had he done to warrant it? He is certainly an offensive genius — his teams have averaged 42 points since 2011 — but he never proved to be a coach who can win football games. Isn’t that what being a head coach is about? Apparently not, but it certainly helps to be white.

“You work your way up the ladder, become a defensive coordinator,” said ESPN NFL analyst Damien Woody in a video he posted on Twitter. “Finally get your chance [to be a head coach], and you get fired after one season … and get replaced by a guy who was the USC offensive coordinator for all of what? 30 days?”

Everybody wants the next Sean McVay, but the future for black coaches in the NFL may hinge on who can become the next Anthony Lynn.

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