Lovie & Dungy Make NFL and Black History
There was an old proverb that I once saw on a wall at one of my local bakeries that read, “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right.” Now of course they were referring to bread, but that really struck a nerve with me. One, because I was there to buy a loaf of rye, and two, it made me think about the number of African-American coaches in the NFL. I have been watching NFL football for a substantial amount of years and that statement really hit home and made me rethink my views about the coaching position in the NFL. Now with the success of Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears, both Black men and head coaches, leading their teams to the Super Bowl; maybe its time to say “If it ain’t white, that’s alright.”
Before the 1964 season, there had not even been an African-American offensive or defensive coordinator; let alone a head coach. Which wasn’t too strange I guess, since the league didn’t have an African-American QB until 1953 (Willie Thrower). The general consensus around the league during that time was, if you will, “If it ain’t White, it ain’t right.” Owners and general managers shied away from hiring Black coaches because of ignorant stigmas that labeled them as incompetent and unable to successfully lead a team. Which was vastly contradictive of the fact that the most successful and talented players were Black men which led their teams to championships. Two men were the trailblazers for the minority coaches’ movement, Frederick “Fritz” Pollard and Emlen Tunnell. Pollard was named co-head coach of the Akron Pros in 1921, but was still listed on the team’s roster as a tailback. While it wasn’t until 1965 that Emlen Tunnell made history and became the league’s first Black assistant coach, finally cracking the door of NFL coaching opportunity.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I do not feel that just because a Black man is a coach he should automatically be given a head coaching job. I only ask that they receive a fair shake at it. Many have made strides to ensure that franchises give minority race coaches a fair shot at attaining an open coaching position; most recognizably Pittsburgh Steelers owner Mickey Rooney. The aptly named “Rooney Rule”, warrants front office officials to interview a certain number minority candidates before they make a final decision.
After finally being accepted enough to maintain and succeed as assistants and coordinators, the Black coaches fraternity took one of its biggest leaps forward in 1989; when Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis hired former Raider offensive lineman Art Shell, a Black man, to be head coach. Shell, a hall of fame left tackle, became the first African-American head coach in modern NFL history. Art had above average success during his first six seasons leading the Raiders. He posted a .586 winning percentage (54 – 38) and had two playoff appearances, showing that a person from a race other than Caucasian could have NFL coaching success.
Shell’s success and exposure really opened the door for a new, young crop of Black coaches that would indefinitely rewrite the idea of the Black head coach. Ray Rhodes, another Black man, challenged the obstinate views of the league in 1999 when he was hired to be the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Though it wasn’t Rhodes’ first gig, as he coached the Eagles from 1995 to 1998, his hiring still turned Wisconsin upside down. Others such as Dennis “They are who we thought they were!” Green once led the Minnesota Vikings to a 15 – 1 regular season and Herman “You play to win the game!” Edwards has led his teams into the playoffs four out the six years of his coaching career.
But even with that, many would still say that true NFL coaching success is measured in winning Super Bowls. Well, it has all come to a head now. Tony Dungy, who also came close to Super Sunday while coaching Tampa Bay, and Lovie Smith have guaranteed to make Super Bowl XLI a truly historic event. The first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. But because of their classy and meek nature, Smith and Dungy will deflect all the attention away from themselves and talk about how that shouldn’t be important. But it truly is, it’s important for the NFL, for the Black community, and most importantly for future minority coaching candidates.
So I guess guys like Mike Tomlin (Steelers Head Coach, Black), Ron Rivera (Bears coordinator, Latino), Norm Chow (Titans coordinator, Asian) and Ron Meeks (Colts coordinator, Black) would agree that…”If it ain’t White, that’s alright”.