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Firings of Black NFL head coaches spark diversity debate

Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans
David Culley was fired by the Houston Texans after leading them to a surprisingly impressive season given the disastrous circumstances he faced.

The NFL is an incredibly popular sport in the U.S., but the league’s so-called strive for diversity hasn’t impressed most fans. The league’s stance against former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in particular, essentially shutting him out of the league for kneeling during the national anthem, has been scrutinized, while their hiring practices have also come under pressure following the dual firings of Brian Flores from the Miami Dolphins and David Culley from the Houston Texans.

 These two coaches were two of only three Black head coaches in the NFL 2021-22 season, per TIDES. The only other is Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most accomplished coaches of his generation. He has led his team to a winning record for each of his 15 seasons as head coach.

Flores and Culley led their teams to respectable finishes compared to what most analysts expected of them prior to the 2021-22 season. Per ESPN, the Texans were the most likely team to end up with the worst record in the NFL, while CBS had the Dolphins at 8-9, two wins fewer than they actually achieved. Flores, after a difficult first year, rebounded in 2020, leading the Dolphins to an improved 10-6 record, then finishing at 10-7 and just outside of the playoffs in 2021.

On the other hand, Culley was put in a different situation. He was hired ahead of the 2021 NFL season and was immediately thrown into a dumpster fire. The Texans were in complete and utter disarray, despite being a playoff team in 2019. Their star quarterback, Deshaun Watson, reportedly asked to be traded on January 28, 2021, to which the team did not agree, per ESPN

The situation worsened when the first of an eventual 22 sexual assault lawsuits was filed against Watson March 16, according to an article by The Athletic. He was not officially punished by the NFL, but the team decided not to play him. Trade rumors surrounding Watson swirled all season, but no trade officially happened.

However, the Texans overcame this obstacle and fifth-round draft pick Davis Mills stepped up as a shining star on a weak team. Culley unexpectedly led the team to four wins without their preferred quarterback. 

Jan. 13, four days after the season ended, Culley was fired, leading to outrage from Texans fans and NFL fans alike. Coupled with the firing of Flores on Jan. 10, there is now only one Black head coach in the NFL: Mike Tomlin. 

The Rooney Rule shouldn’t be about checking boxes. Instead, it should ensure the situation Flores was put into doesn’t happen.

The Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview people of color for their coaching and front office openings, is now coming into question as Flores says he was only interviewed to check the New York Giants’ box.

According to Bleacher Report, Flores said he received texts from Bill Belichick congratulating him on being hired, despite not interviewing with the Giants yet. It was revealed that Belichick thought he was texting Brian Daboll, who was eventually hired instead of Flores. 

In light of this and other examples across the league, Flores has sued the NFL and all 32 franchises for racial discrimination in their hiring practices. The Rooney Rule is created to prevent issues like this from happening, but in practice, it just exacerbates these additional problems.

The Rooney Rule shouldn’t be about checking boxes. Instead, it should ensure the situation Flores was put into doesn’t happen. In their hiring practices, teams should treat every candidate the same, which is obviously not happening, as in Flores’ case.

The trend that Black head coaches are not given the same chance as their white counterparts is horrific for the sport. In a sport that relies heavily on coaches to call and create plays for players that are 58% Black or African-American, per TIDES, the league is too hesitant to break its self-created color barrier. They are afraid to admit that coaches of color can do just as well, if not better.

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About the Contributor
Benjamin Mills-Knutsen ('25) is a Reporter for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.

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