Posted on January 11, 2020

Black Coaches Are Losing Patience with the NFL’s Hiring Process: ‘You Know You Have No Shot’

Robert Klemko, Washington Post, January 10, 2020

As word of each NFL head-coaching hire landed this week, a sprawling network of black coaches and their advocates traded messages bemoaning what they saw as the latest in a long string of insults to their fraternity. One coach summed it up in a text to his agent: “I’m sad for all of us.”

Four of the league’s five coaching vacancies have been filled: Joe Judge, in New York to the Giants; Mike McCarthy, in Dallas; Matt Rhule, in Carolina; and Ron Rivera, in Washington. The reported front-runners for the fifth opening, in Cleveland, are both white. If the Browns job goes to one of them, it would leave the NFL, in which roughly 70 percent of the players are black, with just three black head coaches. That’s as many as there were in 2003, when the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule, requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate when they had a vacancy.

This season has been especially frustrating, several coaches said. That’s because there was one candidate who was not just the best black coach available but, they said, the best coach on the market: Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. Bieniemy has interviewed with seven teams over the past two years, including the Browns, Panthers and Giants this hiring season. If he’s hired by the Browns, he would be the latest in a string of former offensive coordinators under Andy Reid to land top jobs, after the Philadelphia Eagles’ Doug Pederson and the Chicago Bears’ Matt Nagy. If not, it will be viewed by many black coaches as the most prominent snub in recent years.

“People have gotten jobs because of Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and, recently, Patrick Mahomes. But Eric Bieniemy doesn’t, and he followed the same path,” Redskins assistant coach Ray Horton told The Washington Post. {snip}

“Pederson didn’t call plays; Nagy didn’t call plays. But they’re both good enough,” added a prominent black offensive coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing his own career trajectory. “Andy Reid, one of the winningest coaches in the NFL, gives E.B. his full endorsement, and you’re telling me that’s not good enough?”

“Watching E.B. get passed over has a big ripple effect,” a black position coach said, “because now you have guys who are questioning if there is even a chance to elevate in the NFL. You want the best coaching candidates, regardless of race. And if you’re biased against black coaches, you’re overlooking a lot of talent.”

As jobs got filled this week, viral clips of ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Clark excoriating NFL owners found an audience in group texts and email chains across the fraternity of black coaches. One prominent agent told The Post that a handful of coaching clients have even inquired about opportunities in college football, where the minority coaching numbers are similarly bleak but more jobs are available.

Two of the three assistant coaches who spoke to The Post — Horton and the offensive assistant — said they have been through a process familiar to Bieniemy and others: sitting through interviews and wondering whether the people sitting across from them were actually interested in their services or merely checking a box.

“Mike Tomlin wasn’t supposed to get the Pittsburgh job, but he got it in the interview,” the offensive coach said. “So there’s hope you can go in and win the room. At the same time, there comes a point when they start to think you’re a dumb n—– just for going. I’ve felt that, being there as a token, where you know you have no shot.”

“These owners want to win,” Horton said.


“But for us, the red line in the sand keeps moving,” Horton said. “First they said, ‘Well, you have to be a coordinator.’ Then you had to be a coordinator who actually calls the plays. Well, now that line moved, and they want an offensive coach.”