This Super Bowl Has it All—Except a Black Head Coach
What's missing from the sidelines this Sunday, and the rest of the NFL season
This has been a hell of an NFL playoffs—and I can’t wait for the Super Bowl, which has every storyline you could ask for: Chiefs v. Bucs, Brady v. Mahomes, Old v. New. I expect it to be one for the history books, and not only because it took place during a global pandemic.
But while I’m pumped for what’s gonna take place on the field, I also can’t stop thinking about what won’t be:
A Black head coach.
This isn’t a problem with the Super Bowl; it’s a problem with the NFL. In a league where three in every four players is Black, only six percent of head coaches are. I’ll do the math for you: that’s two. Brian Flores and Mike Tomlin.
And it’s not like the league has been improving on this. Recently, there have been six openings for head coaching positions, not one of which went to a Black candidate,, despite a wide field of qualified possibilities. This isn’t random. There’s bias at play, plain to see in the way teams force decades-old NFL coaching veterans to compete against candidates with far less experience for the same jobs. I’ll leave it to you to deduce which one is usually Black.
As an athlete who knows the value of having coaches who have shared life experiences with you—and as a Black man in America—these numbers are more than disappointing. They are revealing. They demonstrate that the new diversity and inclusion policies of leagues like the NFL tend to be all talk. Who cares what you say in a statement if you’re not willing to back it up with actions? Sure, the NFL says they’re incentivizing the hiring of coaches from diverse backgrounds, but that only works if you... actually hire minority coaches. And that’s exactly who keeps getting screwed over: The talented Black coaches who, despite their contributions and achievements, have been passed over year after year for the top gigs.
That’s not to say we’re not getting anywhere. This month, the Jets made Robert Saleh the league’s first Muslim head coach. After fifteen years in the NFL and a successful stint as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, plenty of his peers thought his hiring was “belated.” I’m inclined to agree.
One bright spot in all of this is the Bucs, who have one of the most diverse staffs in any sport: an all-Black coordinator squad, plus the only duo of female full-time coaches in the NFL. Talk about walking the walk.
Which brings me back to the Super Bowl. Now that this crew has helped lead Tampa Bay—the same Tampa Bay that has been a laughing stock for decades—to football’s biggest stage, what more evidence do we need that they deserve head coaching jobs, too? And if none of them are hired after bringing that city to the Big Game? That’s not the football I want to be watching. That’s just messed up.
So yes, I’ll be spending Super Bowl Sunday glued to the TV, same as always. A Brady-Mahomes matchup isn’t something you miss. But while I’m watching some of our finest athletes put their bodies on the line––and their coaches dedicate their lives to the game in hopes they’ll get a crack at the top spot––I’ll be wondering this: What am I supposed to think?
Am I supposed to keep watching the NFL if it doesn’t reward Black excellence? If it doesn’t even encourage its Black employees to seek a promotion? Should I expect another year of limited opportunities for coaches who aren’t white? Or is the league ready to finally live up to its word in the offseason?
I’ll wait for the answers. And I hope, by the next Super Bowl, the coaches on the sidelines of the NFL will look more like the players on the field.