Column: I’m so sick of NFL owners discriminating against Black coaches

February 16, 2023

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy leads one of the most explosive offenses in a league that covets offensive coaches for its head coaching vacancies. Why does he keep getting passed over for a well-earned promotion? (AP Photo/Jeff Lewis)

I’ve written this column before. Many times. And I’m sick of it.

Last year after the Brian Flores lawsuit. Again with a disturbing trend in the NFL’s hiring. The flaw in owners’ never-ending quest for Sean McVay 2.0.

The hoops Black coaches have to jump through just to get a whiff of a chance — something that still hasn’t truly come Eric Bieniemy’s way five years after I wrote about the double standard regarding his success in Kansas City. How the Bucs’ win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV two years ago should have changed things for the better but has not.

This year, the last seat in the NFL’s annual game of musical chairs was in Arizona, where Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon landed the Cardinals head coaching job immediately after his unit got carved up by Bieniemy’s offense on the very same (slippery) field Gannon’s new team plays its home games.

That means Houston, of all places, is the only one of the five vacancies to be filled by a minority head coach in this hiring cycle. And DeMeco Ryans should definitely rent and not buy because each of the last two years, the Texans have fired a Black coach after only one season.

The NFL’s hiring practices are problematic, at best. At worst, these owners are downright racist.

It appears the only hole in Bieniemy’s incredible resume is that he lives in Andy Reid’s rather large shadow. Reid gets all the credit for developing Patrick Mahomes into the league’s most prolific player and has historically called his own plays. That never stopped former Reid assistants Doug Pederson, Matt Nagy and Brad Childress from becoming head coaches.

And yet, Bieniemy not having play-calling on his docket somehow prohibits him from earning a position for which that skill is largely irrelevant.

After all, Jeff Saturday didn’t have play-calling experience — or any pro coaching experience, for that matter — when he was called away from literally flipping pancakes on ESPN to be the interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts. But that didn’t stop Jim Irsay (the same idiot owner who basically just told the world who he’s planning to draft in April) from hiring him over the two former head coaches on staff (Gus Bradley and two-time Super Bowl coach John Fox), or if you’re hellbent on hiring an inexperienced former Colts great, Reggie Wayne (who was already in-house as Indy’s receivers coach).

Then there’s Carolina, where Steve Wilks did one of the most impressive interim coaching jobs we’ve ever seen. Following the Panthers’ 1-4 start that got Matt Rhule fired, Wilks galvanized a team without its best player (Christian McCaffrey was traded away in a near-certain attempt to tank) and went 6-6 to come within a game of winning the NFC South.

So rather than giving him the job he objectively earned, Wilks — who did his best work taking over for a failed coach fired in-season — was passed over for a different failed coach fired in-season.

That’s not to say former Terp Frank Reich was a bad hire in Carolina. Aside from the obvious nostalgia of being the first-ever quarterback of the Panthers, he left Indianapolis with an overall winning record and has an offensive background desirable for a franchise still searching for a long-term answer at quarterback.

But that same resume hasn’t landed Jim Caldwell another opportunity after he led the Colts to a Super Bowl before twice taking the woebegone Detroit Lions to the playoffs. Yet Dan Campbell — one of Caldwell’s white successors who hasn’t come close to his .563 win percentage that’s still Motown’s best in the Super Bowl era — is widely lauded for almost getting the Lions to the postseason in 2022.

Caldwell is now an assistant in Carolina under Reich despite having better head coaching credentials. Flores and Wilks — both of whom are plaintiffs in the discrimination lawsuit against the NFL — got what were likely sham head coaching interviews before ultimately taking defensive coordinator jobs this offseason. Marvin Lewis has inexplicably been out of the NFL since 2018 despite a resume better than nearly half the coaches currently in the league.

At this point, no rational human being can say it’s a coincidence that predominantly white owners are giving these jobs to other white men almost exclusively. Not when there’s CVS-length receipts from the Washington Post’s incredible blackout series. Anyone who can’t see what’s happening simply doesn’t want to.

The only way to get a billionaire to do something he doesn’t want to do is to trick him into thinking it benefits him. The NFL did that in 2020 with its diverse rewards policy that incentivizes teams to hire minorities to leadership positions (which the San Francisco 49ers have used to gather a ton of extra draft picks thanks to their development of diverse coaching and front office talent), yet the majority of these owners are still just doing whatever they want.

If incentives aren’t working, maybe it’s time to start trying to issue penalties.

But commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t have the spine for that. Every year, someone asks him about the lack of diversity in the NFL’s coaching ranks, and every time, he pretends something meaningful is being done to fix the problem.

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of NFL owners, with their actions, saying they’d rather have Black men breaking their brains on the field than using them on the sidelines. I’m sick of Goodell covering for these cowards.

I’m sick of having to write this column.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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