Earlier this week Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell was fired as team owner Jim Irsay has been making rain out of pink slips in the two weeks since the NFL regular season ended.
On the surface, Caldwell’s firing should not be that surprising, given the ‘win now’ mentality in the NFL. The Colts were in the Super Bowl just two years ago under Caldwell, made the playoffs last year, then went 2-14 this season in large part due to a season ending neck surgery for hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning. So taken on it’s own merits Caldwell’s firing makes sense.
But, in the larger scheme of things in the NFL he is the most recent addition to the largest wave of African American head coach firings in the history of the National Football League.
Since the implementation of the Rooney Rule in 2003, a rule that required NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for the head coaching position opening, the number of African American head coaches in the league has skyrocketed. There were only three Black head coaches in the league in 2003, and heading into the 2011-2012 season there were 8, the highest number in the league’s history. (Unfortunately the rule does not apply to assistant coaches and coordinators. At this point there is only one African American offensive coordinatorin the entire league.) Within that group, three coaches – Lovie Smith, Jim Caldwell and Mike Tomlin – had taken their teams to the Superbowl, and in Tomlin’s case two Super Bowl appearances with one championship over the Cardinals in 2009. However, at the end of this season almost half the Black Coaches have been fired (Hue Jackson / Oakland Raiders; Raheem Morris / Tampa Bay Bucanneers; Jim Caldwell / Indianapolis Colts).
African American or Minority Head Coaching Records in the NFL 2011-2012 season
|Mike Tomlin||Pittsburgh Steelers||12-4|
|Marvin Lewis||Cinncinnati Bengals||9-7|
|Lovie Smith||Chicago Bears||8-8|
|Hue Jackson **||Oakland Raiders||8-8|
|Ron Rivera *||Carolina Panthers||6-10|
|Raheem Morris **||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||4-12|
|Leslie Frazier||Minnesota Vikings||3-13|
|Jim Caldwell **||Indianapolis Colts||2-14|
*Ron Rivera is the only non-African American minority head coach in the league
The issue here is not to suggest that there is some league wide conspiracy to fire Black head coaches. The firing of NFL head coaches can often seem arbitrary and capricious if you aren’t intimately following the ins and outs of a particular team and organization. The larger issue is whether or not the collective opportunity for African American head coaches in the NFL has taken a step back after this season. Of the teams that have fired coaches and hired coaches, Jacksonville Jaguars, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, one new African American coach has been brought in. Romeo Crennel was promoted from interim to permanent head coach in Kansas City.
However, there are still a lot of gaps to fill, and given the penchant for NFL owners to recycle old names 5 times before looking at the new conscious sports fans should keep an eye out for who gets hired and where over the next few weeks. It would be a shame to think that that after fighting tooth and nail for fair labor practices and rights for a majority African American group of players last summer that the following year the rights and opportunities of Black coaches slips between the cracks.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.