*Monday, December 31st, was a particularly bad day for coaches in the National Football League.
One after another, the in-danger head coaches of the league’s worst or most disappointing franchises were removed from their jobs – Andy Reid in Philadelphia, Chan Gailey in Buffalo, Pat Shurmur in Cleveland, Norv Turner in San Diego, Ken Wisenhunt in Arizona.
It was also a particularly bad day for the black head coaches in the NFL. Chicago’s Lovie Smith and Kansas City’s Romeo Crennel got the ax – Crennel, the victim of a horribly cursed Kansas City season and Smith the victim of two consecutive second-half swoons, only a few seasons removed from a Superbowl appearance. These firings come a year after three more black head coaches were fired. Raheem Morris was pink-slipped after three seasons in Tampa Bay, Jim Caldwell was removed after three (and a Superbowl appearance) in Indianapolis, and Hue Jackson was canned after one train-wreck year in Oakland.
So, is there a problem with black head coaches in the league? The answer is no, not in the least. If anything, these spate of firings just go to underline the fact that all NFL head coaches – regardless of color – are just subject to a zero-sum, win-now business. Bill Belichick, Tom Landry, Mike Shanahan – all of them were fired at one point in their career. The black coaches in the league are just facing the same demands as all of the other coaches who don a headset and clipboard. The NFL took a shamefully long time to get its first modern black head coach (that was Art Shell, in 1989), but since then, the success of coaches like Dennis Green, Mike Tomlin and Tony Dungy, as well as the Steelers-led “Rooney Rule” (which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates) has really done wonders to bring some equality to the sidelines.
Also, despite the firings, there are still several black head coaches who don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Marvin Lewis is entrenched in Cincinnati. Mike Tomlin will be in Pittsburgh a long time. Leslie Frazier’s done wonders with a Minnesota team that’s full of holes. Smith will likely be hired for one of the many, many open positions out there, and the up-and-coming black head coach prospects like Keith Armstrong (Atlanta’s special teams coach) or David Shaw (head coach at Stanford) will be in the NFL before too long. Let’s hope their tenures more resemble Tomlin’s and Dungy’s than Crennel’s.