Black coordinators shine in NFL playoffs – The Undefeated

In the first round of the NFL playoffs, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier made all the right choices. Not to be outdone, Los Angeles Rams defensive end Raheem Morris has crafted an equally impressive game plan. Then there’s the young San Francisco 49ers defensive prodigy DeMeco Ryans, who has clearly kept pace with his more experienced counterparts.

The first week of the playoffs featured so many fabulous performances from black coordinators that it was hard to determine who shone brighter.

And they are not finished.

As the march continues towards the league’s flagship event (Super Bowl LVI), nine African-American coordinators will once again be in the spotlight in the divisional round. They lead offense, defense and special teams units – including all three phases of play for the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The past eight NFL teams have benefited immensely from the empowerment of these talented and proven coaches.

But here’s the question: will any of these smart, accomplished, and dedicated black men be presented with opportunities to advance their careers in this hiring cycle, as some of their white counterparts are sure to be?

Based on recent and long-term NFL history, that’s a fair question.


“These coordinators’ units dominate the playing field, but the lack of fair live exposure [to interview for head-coaching positions] is noticeable in relation to their [white] counterparts”.

Troy Vincent

The most powerful league in professional sports has an abysmal record of inclusive hiring at the club level, and the NFL’s frustrated African-American assistant coaches have taken several punches early this cycle. After the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans fired Brian Flores and David Culley respectively, the NFL has only one more black head coach in its 102nd season than in its first: one. Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is alone in a 32-team league with a majority black roster.

With eight clubs looking for head coaches, officials from the commissioner’s office and the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the independent group that advises the league on diversity and inclusion issues, have been working behind the scenes to ensuring qualified color candidates will be strongly in the mix for all openings. If franchise owners are interested, there are many options to choose from.

They need look no further than the teams that are still playing, said Troy Vincent, executive vice president of NFL football operations. Vincent, Commissioner Roger Goodell’s top lieutenant in the ongoing fight to level the playing field, thinks all the coordinators still working are head coaches.

“These coordinators’ units dominate the playing field, but the lack of fair live exposure [to interview for head-coaching positions] is noticeable in relation to their [white] counterparts,” Vincent wrote in a text message to The Undefeated. “These coordinators have proven enduring success as their units continue to rank among the best in the league in performance. They have demonstrated over the long term their wisdom, genius and ability to innovate creatively both strategically and tactically.

“A fundamental requirement in hiring a head coach comes down to trust. A great indicator of trust is the integrity of enduring success, which this class of coordinators has exemplified season after season. This group of coordinators… [has consistently proven] they can… direct various personalities. They have very sharp relationship management skills and possess incredible situational awareness and clock management in high pressure environments.

In short, these brothas do.


Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a former Minnesota Vikings head coach, would be considered for the Chicago Bears head coach job.

Timothy T. Ludwig/Getty Images

Let’s start with Frazier.

After a regular season in which he led a defense that limited Buffalo opponents to averages of 272.8 total yards, 163.0 passing yards and 17.0 points, Frazier played a key role in Team New England’s 47-17 blowout in the AFC Wilderness. – card trick. The game was almost over at halftime, with the Bills, who were clearly several steps ahead of the Patriots from the opening kick, holding a 27-3 lead.

In five seasons under head coach Sean McDermott, Frazier helped the Bills earn four playoff berths and back-to-back AFC East Division titles. Widely considered one of the best defensive strategists in the game, Frazier led the Minnesota Vikings to a playoff appearance while serving as that organization’s head coach for three seasons, starting in 2011. Apparently, the Bears of Chicago should interview Frazier, who played cornerback for them. for five seasons in the 1980s, starting on Friday for their first opening.

In the NFC, Morris, the defensive coordinator for the Rams, was also in trouble.

The Rams routed the Arizona Cardinals 34-11 in the last wild card game. The Rams held a 21-0 halftime lead while making life miserable for remarkable Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray in his first playoff game. In Morris’ first season in charge of the team’s defense, the unit gave up 103.2 rushing yards per game to rank sixth overall.

In 2009, Morris was the league’s youngest head coach when the Buccaneers hired him to coach them at just 32 years old. The Vikings have reportedly requested permission to interview Morris, who served as interim head coach of the Atlanta Falcons last season. Morris could be in competition with Ryans and other African-American assistants for Minnesota’s No. 1 job.

Divisional Round Black Coordinators
Keith Armstrong Buccaneers, special teams
Eric Bieniemy Counts, offense
Todd Bowles Buccaneers, defense
Maurice Drayton Packers, special teams
Leslie Frazier Bills, defense
Richard High Tower 49ers, special teams
Byron Leftwich Buccaneers, offense
Rahim Morris rams, defense
DeMeco Ryans 49ers defense

On Wednesday, Minnesota reportedly interviewed the rising Ryans, who at 37 is the league’s second-youngest defensive coordinator. For the Vikings, after watching visiting San Francisco defeat Dallas in an NFC Opener, interviewing Ryans was a no-brainer. Against the Cowboys, the 49ers defense was outstanding from start to finish. The freshman defensive coordinator leads a unit that ranked in the top 10 during the regular season in total yards, passing yards, rushing yards and points. About a year ago, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan moved quickly to replace defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, hired as head coach of the New York Jets, promoting Ryans from his position as coach of the linebackers.

Ryans has been a rock star throughout his football career. With the first pick in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, the Texans selected Ryans from the University of Alabama, where he was the 2005 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American linebacker. . He didn’t disappoint as an NFL player either.

A season after being named the 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press, Ryans was a first-team All-Pro. As a coach, Ryans quickly rose through the ranks under Shanahan, starting as a defensive quality control assistant in 2017. Now he’s interviewing to become a head coach.

That’s what Rod Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, likes to see.

“The encouraging thing that we’re seeing this cycle is that … there have been requests made to speak with a fair amount of candidates of color,” he said. “Hopefully, with the number of applications we have received so far, this will result in more applicants of color for interviews, which is what we want. It was troubling when we saw a number of coordinators go far in the playoffs last season and not get the kind of attention they deserved.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy can attest to that.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy (right) talks to quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left) during a game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field in Mile High on January 8.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Despite all of Kansas City’s success over the past four seasons with Bieniemy as the team’s offensive coordinator (the two-time defending AFC champion hosts Buffalo on Sunday in the Divisional Round), Bieniemy hasn’t reached the next level as did his two white predecessors in the role – Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy – under the guidance of head coach Andy Reid.

Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich can relate.

As Tampa Bay’s offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, under head coach Bruce Arians, Bowles and Leftwich helped the franchise defeat Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. Yet with seven head coaching openings in the previous cycle – and Bieniemy, Bowles and Leftwich having delivered in the best possible way – only one black assistant has been hired (Culley, whom Houston fired after just one season ).

While preparing to help the Buccaneers host the Rams in an NFC Divisional game on Sunday, Bowles – who served as the Jets’ head coach for four seasons, starting in 2015 – reportedly took the time to interview the Vikings on Friday and the Bears on Saturday. Leftwich is also expected to interview the Bears before the Buccaneers face the Rams.

Like Graves, N. American University law professor Jeremi Duru, a longtime observer of NFL hiring practices, is glad that black coordinators whose teams are still in the playoffs are getting more attention. than previous seasons of franchises looking for new head coaches. But like in any competition, what matters most is who finishes first, Duru said.

“No matter what you’re looking for to create your team’s identity under a new head coach, there are coordinators in the playoffs that fit the bill,” said Duru, author of the definitive book on wrestling that led to the creation of Rooney’s rule, Advancing the Ball: Racing, Reform, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL.

“These tacticians, these designers of offense, defense and special teams… they are there. They wait.

Many have been for far too long, as owners continue to view hiring in black and white.

Jason Reid is the Senior NFL Writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially games involving his son and daughter.

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