Good Trouble: we need more Black football coaches
I read an outstanding article in The Ringer this week by Tyler Tynes. The article honed in on how Black coaches from all over the country at high school, college and NFL level have connected for what they call ‘Zoom therapy’ meetings during the pandemic. The calls focus on hopeful stories of progress, but tend to lean towards talk of regressive hiring practices that keep many of them underemployed.
It has been a brotherhood for coaches starting out, and those already well-established. Some Zoom calls feature fourteen people, others hundreds. The calls invariably focus on the same problems that persist for Black coaches at all forms of football trying to advance in an industry designed to obstruct their upward mobility.
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn participated in the Zoom therapy sessions, alongside Stanford's head coach David Shaw and Clemson’s offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. The NFL has the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview coaches of color for open positions, but it has not succeeded in pushing senior Black coaches through at the upper echelons of NFL franchises. As I wrote previously, to reflect a playing demographic of 70% Black players, the NFL needs to be at the vanguard of change by emphatically addressing upward mobility in policy that enables more Black coaches. The statistics don’t lie. As The Ringer article notes; “From 2006 to 2020, NFL teams hired 93 head coaches, and only 14 percent of them weren’t white. There are still 24 franchises that have never had more than one non-white head coach.” I’ll focus on how one of the three Black head coaches in the NFL, Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins, and his team performed in my featured game, and come back to the challenge and opportunity for Black Coaches.
Game of the Week: Miami Dolphins @ Arizona Cardinals
The Miami Dolphins led by rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa edged a thriller 34-31 against the Arizona Cardinals. The Dolphins are on a four game winning streak with the future quarterback of the franchise at the wheel. Tagovailoa and last season’s rookie of the year, Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, faced off. Both sparkled. If they stay on pace with expectations, it will be a duel to relish for years. Tagovailoa was mobile, his decision making excellent, and spread the ball around well. When he needed to, he was able to evade pressure in a spectacular manner. For his part, Kyler Murray was the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 25+ times, have a passer rating of 150+, and lose the game. Head coach Brian Flores' defense has given up the fewest points in the league (18 per game) without a household name in the lineup. Flores is a magnificent coach and has made the Dolphins one of the more competitive teams in the league, and entirely rebuilt the culture of the organization.
Miami has a kicker on a 20 field goal hot streak, and a young quarterback who announced himself at clutch moments in this game. They are a dangerous team in the AFC. They move to 5-3 for the season, capable of winning games in different ways. Week 9 highlights MVP of the Week: The game ball goes to Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints. His offensive scheme dismantled one of the early Super Bowl favorites in Tampa Bay, and one of the NFL’s best defenses. In the NFC South, the Saints have beaten the Bucs twice and they hold the tie when it gets to playoff time. 38-3 is a staggering victory. Cincinnati Joe: The Bengals and Joe Burrow are on bye this week. Joe is enjoying a cigar and well earned rest at his parents house, following an excellent start to his pro football career. Bradywatch: In an utterly forgettable night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were surprisingly blown out by the New Orleans Saints. Tom Brady threw three interceptions in his worst game of the season. No one saw this result coming. Stat of the Week: Six quarterbacks have thrown for 300-plus yards against the Seattle defense in their first eight games. The defense has to improve for the Seahawks to make it to the NFC Championship game. Quote of the Week: During Thursday Night Football’s game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco, two of the best young players in the league collided frequently. With Green Bay leading comfortably, 49ers linebacker Fred Warner tackled Packers running back Aaron Jones, and said; “You’re gonna feel me.” Jones dusted himself off and pointing replied; “Scoreboard!”
Around the NFL with COVID-19: The league took action against laissez-faire mask wearers, the Las Vegas Raiders and head coach Jon Gruden. They were fined and became the first team to be docked a 2021 draft pick, albeit a sixth rounder. The Dolphins were without five assistant coaches because of COVID-19 protocols for the Cardinals game. Curiously, the Packers-49ers game was allowed to go ahead despite COVID-19 outbreaks on either team leading up to it. Don’t underestimate the sway a Thursday Night Football date on Fox must have.
NFC West: The Seattle Seahawks were destroyed by the Buffalo Bills. A decimated 49ers roster was well beaten by the Packers. The Dolphins shaded out the Cardinals in a classic. The L.A. Rams had a bye week and no doubt enjoyed watching how their division rivals fared. Character matters The Ringer article features a line from Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, who was quizzed about how few Black coaches are in the league. “At the end of the day, these are hard issues,” he said. “Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is a choice.” People suspect the NFL of having paid lip service to the problem. You could argue that the NFL is a reflection of American society and its institutions.
A feature of the Zoom calls was that coaches were able to talk about being Black in football and also Black in America in 2020 when violence against Blacks, institutional racism, and protests consumed so many cities. All forms of football, especially the NFL, has a duty to look at institutional reform that allows the best candidates to come forward.
The spine of the Biden-Harris election story is how Black America mobilised, voted in record numbers, and was responsible for implementing the strategy to flip at least one big red state. The 2020 moment is something the NFL should heed, as it looks to move away from an obstructive past in regard to Black coaches.
Alonzo Carter, an assistant coach in San Jose State and former backup dancer for MC Hammer, convenes the Zoom meetings. I think deceased civil rights leaders John Lewis might approve of this as Carter’s version of ‘good trouble’.