Interviews with Black NFL coaches expose continuous disparities in the promotion of people of color
NFL wide receiver Paul Richardson

For decades the sidelines at the NFL have looked nothing like the players they coach. The lack of black coaches hasn't come from inexperience or lack of qualified candidates. Now 16 of the 24 former coaches of color are speaking out. Currently, there are only three Black coaches serving in the NFL. What becomes obvious is that many of the men felt a special pressure to serve as representatives for their race out of fear of backlash for future Black coaches.

“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Just how much progress have we made?’" former LA Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told the Washington Post.

"They have grounds for grievance, but their stories reflect the pride in the paths they took, the pressure they felt, the value of their contributions and the legacy they leave behind," said the Post.

Jim Caldwell, who coached the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions, said that when he joined Wake Forest University he was the first Black man to hold the position in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

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"I knew it was important for me to kind of set precedent on the guys that I have on my staff and how to develop those guys," he said. There was a sense of urgency to not just mentor the younger coaches but to ensure that he did a good job as if he was a representative of his entire race.

"The other thing is you set an example for all of the other schools in the ACC, in that part of the country that, if I failed, then you know, there's a possibility that they will not hire another African American," Caldwell said.

Herm Edwards, who coached the New York Jets and then the Kansas City Chiefs said that as a coach of color he felt like he needed to make a special effort to ensure that white players didn't feel like he was the coach for only black players.

"Now you're the coach. You're a man of color. Most of the athletes in the room look like you. You have a few that don't. You have a few White players. And when you sit in that room, all of the sudden, you go, you know, I got to make sure I do this right because I don't want a White player to think that I'm catering to all the Black players, right?"

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Todd Bowles, who was the interim coach for the Miami Dolphins before coaching the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a bit of a contrast to Mike Singletary, who coached the San Francisco 49ers before being fired in 2010.

Singletary said that he felt like he was being given a chance when he didn't feel like he was ready yet, whereas Bowles said he earned his coaching job.

Hue Jackson from the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns said that as a minority coach he felt the weight of himself but also his brothers who wanted to become coaches.

"If you do great, there's great opportunity that is going move forward. And if you don't, there's a great opportunity that you're gonna move things way back," he said.

Leslie Frazier, the former Minnesota Vikings coach, said that Black men were allowed to be entertainers, sing, dance, "you can catch the ball. You can go out and throw the ball. But can you lead? There was a long time where that false narrative that was out there that we couldn't be a quarterback. You know, that was a thinking man's position, and we couldn't be a center. We couldn't be a middle linebacker. Well, we disproved that myth, as well, over time."

Anthony Lynn made a similar observation that many head coaches come out of being connected to the quarterback, like the quarterback coach or an offensive coordinator, but Lynn was an assistant head coach when he was promoted.

Many of the coaches explained that getting there was difficult but keeping it was harder.

Former Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said that all of his brothers were able to get college educations thanks to football. "It was jail, military or play sports," he said. "And we chose the latter and played sports. My mom and dad always pushed us to be good in school, and work hard and earn degrees."

He went on to say that it was a duty for him after seeing talented guys who never had the opportunity to even be coordinators. He said he wanted to hire the top of the line to ensure that those people of color even have a shot.

It's his job, he said, "to keep opening the eyes of the decision-makers to hire the right people for the right reasons so the next guy who's qualified who's got my skin color, can get those jobs and have a chance."

See the full interviews at the Washington Post.