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‘African Americans Need Not Apply’: NFL Affirmative Action Backfires as ESPN Analyst Discourages Black Coaches

For decades, both the National Football League and sports media have been encouraging — in fact, begging — franchises to hire black coaches. In fact, for the past 20 years, the league has gone as far as to force teams to interview minority candidates. The so-called Rooney Rule mandates that, if a team is conducting a head-coaching hiring process, at least one minority candidate must be interviewed. It doesn’t matter if the ghost of Vince Lombardi is in the running for the job: Interview a BIPOC candidate and take them seriously, or else. I don’t know whether to parse it as a positive sign, therefore, when a prominent black sports pundit is begging black coaches not to take a head coaching job — at least with one team. According to Fox News, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith says black candidates need not apply to lead the Houston Texans after the franchise fired head coach Lovie Smith on Monday. The franchise’s last three head coaches have all been black — although one of them, Romeo Crennel, was an interim coach after the firing of Bill O’Brien, who is white, in 2020. Nevertheless, that was enough for Smith to imply the team is unfair to black coaches. “African Americans need not apply,” he said on Monday’s edition of ESPN’s “First Take.” “This is not an organization that has been fair to African Americans as far as I’m concerned. And I have these two as an example. You could use Romeo Crennel and the kind of situation they put him in in the past. I don’t like this organization.” [firefly_poll] After Crennel finished out the season in 2020, the franchise hired David Culley, an assistant head coach with the Baltimore Ravens. A longtime position coach with a number of teams, Culley had never held a head coaching job or been an offensive or defensive coordinator prior to his hiring. While not a rule set in stone, experience in one of those positions is generally considered a prerequisite for a head-coaching hire in the NFL. After a 4-13 season, Culley was fired. “While a change after one season is unusual, we had philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision for our program moving forward,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said in a January 2022 team statement. Lovie Smith, Culley’s replacement, was the team’s defensive coordinator during the 2021 season — not a particularly great augury for future success. Lo and behold, he managed to do an even worse job, going 3-13-1. While Smith enjoyed some success prior to his short tenure in Houston — leading the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl XLI in the 2006 season — he would only compile three winning records in nine seasons coaching the Bears, Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers after his Super Bowl appearance. “We are grateful for [Smith’s] leadership and character, and we wish him the best moving forward,” Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair said in a statement after Smith’s firing on Monday, according to ESPN. “While we understand the results have not been what we had hoped for, we are committed to building a program that produces long-term, sustainable success. Our fans and city deserve a team that they can be proud of.” Better do it with a white coach, though — at least as far as Stephen A. Smith is concerned! Granted, the Texans currently occupy the permanent-loser role in the NFL, a black hole of hopelessness where promising careers go to die. While they’ve only recently taken up this role, after franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson forced his way out of town via a trade request and a series of sexual misconduct allegations, the franchise seems to have embraced perennial awfulness with aplomb. Longtime football fans will remember how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals filled this niche in the 1980s and 90s, respectively. However, it’s also worth noting both of those franchises started clawing their way out of the sewer by hiring competent black head coaches — Tony Dungy for the Buccaneers and Marvin Lewis for the Bengals. Yes, this was a period where a black coach was a rare sight on NFL sidelines, but the point remains. And yet, Dungy echoed similar sentiments to Stephen A. Smith after Lovie Smith was shown the door — although he didn’t accuse the franchise of racism. “What are the Texans doing. What kind of operation is this where you don’t have any convictions about supporting the coaches you hire,” he tweeted. “Who is going to want to coach there if you might only get one year to implement your plans. Two years in a row is ridiculous.” However, he went on to say his grievance wasn’t about race. Yes, but comparing Noll, Walsh and Landry — all Hall of Fame coaches, for the unfamiliar, with nine Super Bowl wins between them — with the three fired Texans coaches is problematic. All three of those men had at least some degree of success as coordinators and assistant coaches before they took over their franchises. More importantly, they also didn’t have a history of failure — and there wasn’t the specter of potential affirmative action hiring hanging over them. Both Crennel and Smith had previously been head coaches; in six full seasons, Crennel had just one winning record, and Smith’s failures have been documented previously. Both already had well-established records of failure. As for Culley, he had the opposite problem: He didn’t have enough experience to turn around a struggling franchise. So, who coaches the Texans next? Well, according to Fox News, at least several candidates are ignoring Stephen A. Smith’s advice. “The Texans have already begun their head coaching search, reportedly requesting interviews with Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans,” the outlet reported. “Ryans and Evero are both black coaches, and the former was a Texans legend during his playing days as a linebacker. Ryans spent six seasons in Houston, reaching two Pro Bowls and being named the 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year.” Perhaps most importantly, none of these men have a history of falling on their respective faces. With the exception of the Broncos, all of the coordinators mentioned coach for teams that have performed spectacularly in 2022. Ryans, in particular, is a hometown favorite and has crafted a dominant defense in San Francisco. In other words, he’d be a hit among Texans fans who have suffered through the three-year trifecta of Crennel, Culley and Smith. Let’s hope he doesn’t listen to Stephen A.’s race-baiting. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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