Black Position Coaches Matter
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to sweep across the country this summer, the lack of Black head coaches and coordinators in the National Football League has once again become a hot topic of discussion in the media. We all know the disturbing numbers. Only three of 32 head coaches are Black, and only 13 of 91 offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators are Black. These would be troubling percentages in any sport, but they are particularly disturbing considering that nearly 70% of the players in the league are Black.
It’s obvious the NFL needs more Black coordinators if it wants more Black head coaches, but before that can happen, the league needs more Black position coaches and assistant position coaches. There are currently 391 such positions. The number of Blacks occupying those positions is 137. That’s just 35% – even though many positions (running back, wide receiver, linebacker, and cornerback) are comprised almost entirely of Black players, while other positions are comprised of a majority of Black players. You don’t have to be Einstein to understand that until the number of Black position coaches and assistant position coaches goes up, the number of Black head coaches and coordinators will continue to be too low.
Interestingly, Blacks are best represented when it comes to quality control coaches. According to Wikipedia, a quality control coach is “a member of the coaching staff whose primary job is preparing the team for a game, beginning sometimes two or three weeks before the actual game. Their primary duties include preparing for the game by analyzing game film for statistical analysis.” Almost 44 percent (21 of 48) of these positions are held by Blacks. And while that’s obviously not a bad thing, it’s a long way from analyzing game film for statistical analysis to even being a coordinator, and considering how difficult it is for Blacks to climb just one step on the coaching ladder, climbing multiple steps is usually a bridge too far.
So which teams are doing the best job when it comes to hiring Black coaches? I decided to study that very question, and while my results are certainly subjective, I think they are pretty informative. I went through all 32 coaching staffs and assigned point values to each position. The point values were as follows:
10 pts. = head coach
7 pts. = offensive, defensive or special teams coordinator
5 pts. = run or pass game coordinator (offense or defense)
4 pts. = position coach
1 pt. = assistant position coach
These were the only positions on the coaching staff I counted. For the sake of this particular exercise, I didn’t count quality control coaches or assistant coaches who weren’t assigned to a particular position group.
Let’s use the Packers as an example to show how my final numbers were calculated. Their total number of points was 13. The Packers have three Black position coaches (12 points) and one Black assistant position coach (1 point). The Packers do have four Black quality control coaches on their staff, but again, I chose not to include them in this particular study. So, of the 71 available points, only 13 were allocated to Black coaches. That’s 18 percent. In comparison, just over 68 percent of the team’s players are Black (60 of 88). As for where the Packers rank when it comes to diversity in their coaching staff, here’s a look at all 32 teams.
What makes Tampa Bay’s score of 48 so impressive is that it was achieved without a Black head coach. All three of Bruce Arians’ coordinators are Black. He also has one Black run game coordinator and five Black position coaches. So while the 67-year-old has yet to win a Super Bowl, he’s Bill Belichick, Chuck Noll, Don Shula, Tom Landry, and Vince Lombardi combined when it comes to giving Black coaches a chance.
As for the Packers, they came out ahead of only five teams. This isn’t to suggest head coach Matt LaFleur acted maliciously in putting together his staff, but it does suggest he could do a better job when it comes to hiring Black assistants. And while it’s good that four of his quality control coaches are Black, that only means something if they are promoted when an opportunity arises. That didn’t happen a few months ago.
After Black wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted was surprisingly fired, LaFleur replaced him with Jason Vrable, a white offensive assistant last season. LaFleur could’ve given the job to Black quality control coach Kevin Koger, who coached receivers in college. Again, I’m in no way implying that race played a part in this decision. LaFleur obviously felt Vrable was the right choice. That said, the optics aren’t the best when you replace a Black coach with a white coach at a position where 90% of the players on the roster are Black.
The Packers aren’t stepping up now, nor have they at any point this century. Since Black head coach Ray Rhodes was fired along with Black offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis and Black defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas in 1999, the team has employed one Black coordinator. Edgar Bennett was in charge of the offense from 2015 to 2017. That’s very troubling, especially when you consider some of the coordinators during the past two decades were named Tom Rossley, Ed Donatell, Bob Slowik, Frank Novak, Jeff Jagodzinski, Mike Stock, John Bonamego, Bob Sanders, Shawn Slocum, Tom Clements, and Ron Zook.
This brings us back to Arians. Do you think every Black coach he hired was the very best available coach, or do you think it was extremely important for him to give an opportunity to a deserving Black coach? My guess is the latter, and until more head coaches take that view, the problem surrounding Black coaches isn’t going to go away. The country is finally waking up to racial inequality. It’s time for the NFL to do the same.