It’s opening weekend for the NFL playoffs, and the Cardinals-Rams game in Hollywood on Martin Luther King Day will be an audition for a couple of Black coaches who deserve a bigger stage.
Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will be trying to dial up the pressure on an LA offense with more stars than the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
LA defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will try to keep Arizona in the throes of its second-half drought.
And each of them should enjoy this opportunity to spotlight solutions to an ongoing problem for the NFL: The league hasn’t been able to figure out how to hire, develop or retain Black coaches.
It’s not about a lack of ability.
Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl last season with a staff that featured African Americans at offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coordinator and associate head coach. Plus, about a half dozen Buccaneers position coaches were Black.
It’s not about a lack of qualified Black candidates.
Aside from Joseph and Morris and any of a number of the Tampa assistants, Marvin Lewis, Jim Caldwell and Eric Bieniemy all are available.
But then, so is Brian Flores.
‘There is a double standard’
Flores was let go in Miami after finishing the season on an 8-1 tear that included an exclamation point win over Bill Belichick, a white coach, and the New England Patriots.
That firing prompted the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent to say this to the Washington Post: “There is a double standard, and we’ve seen that. … Let’s just go back to Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame, (he) was fired after a winning season. Coach (Tony) Dungy was let go in Tampa Bay after a winning season. … Coach (Steve) Wilks, just a few years prior, was let go after one year.”
Wilks was fired after a three-win season in Arizona.
But Lions coach Dan Campbell seems just fine after a three-win season in Detroit.
Flores was fired after narrowly missing the playoffs behind a hot streak that was like taking a blow torch to the second half of the season.
Would Kliff Kingsbury, a white coach, be fired after putting the second half of his season on ice and slipping into the playoffs on a 1-4 skid?
Who’s to say?
The factors that go into any individual decision will vary. Even comparing apples to apples might involve the differences between a Granny Smith and a honey crisp.
Vincent, for his part, said something that should keep the focus on the big picture.
“There is a double standard,” he said. “I don’t think that that is something that we should shy away from. But that is all part of some of the things that we need to fix in the system. … why does one (coach) get the benefit of the doubt to be able to build or take bumps and bruises in this process of getting a franchise turned around when others are not afforded that latitude?”
‘I know how great of a coach he is’
The show on Monday night features Joseph directing a defense against Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr. and Cooper Kupp, all of whom are capable leading men.
Morris, meanwhile, will be going against the NFL’s brat pack of Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds.
Each coordinator has gotten rave reviews from his supporting cast.
“Vance is a great leader,” Cardinals defensive lineman JJ Watt said. “I think Vance will be a great head coach if he gets another opportunity. … He has great interpersonal skills. He does a great job of leading his coaches of leading his players of being able to resolve conflicts of being able to motivate. He does a great job of all those things. I think he definitely will get another opportunity, and I think he’ll be deserving of it.”
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, meanwhile, said late in the season that criticism of Morris during a three-game losing streak was unfair.
“I know how great of a coach he is, honestly,” Ramsey said. “I know our game plans, and I know what we come into the game hoping is going to happen, and I know the adjustments that we make at half.”
After those comments, which were posted to Twitter by a reporter from The Athletic on Nov. 26, the Rams went on a 5-2 streak. In those five wins, the Rams were holding opponents to an average of just 15 points per game.
It’s opening weekend for the NFL playoffs, and a pair of deserving Black coaches will have a Hollywood audition on Martin Luther King Day.
They’ll be able to show a massive audience that they deserve a chance on a bigger stage, spotlighting the solution to the NFL’s head coaching diversity problem: Put the names of Black men on the marquee, and leave them there.
Reach Moore at email@example.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.
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