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Faith Helps Edwards, Black Coaches Realize Dream As NFL Field Generals
The promise land to head coaching jobs for African Americans is still a ways off for many.
Guys like Herman Edwards are doing what they can to knock down the obstacles that still stay intact.
On Monday, Edwards became the 10th head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. The former New York Jets coach is one of six African American coaches — Edwards, Cleveland’s Romeo Crennel, Indianapolis’ Tony Dungy, Arizona’s Dennis Green, Chicago’s Lovie Smith, and Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis — currently holding head jobs in the National Football League. That number is small crackers considering 25 of the NFL’s head jobs are run by white coaches.
Edwards is Kansas City’s first African American NFL coach. The Chiefs have had a number of black assistants, but only Edwards and Dungy, both of whom once served as Chiefs’ assistants, left Kansas City to become head coaches.
Thanks to the NFL’s Minority Coaching Fellowship, since its inception in 1987, Edwards along with over 1,100 black coaches are closer to the promise land, although, many still haven’t crossed over.
Kansas City is getting more than just its first African American NFL coach. Carey Casey, Foundation President for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, knows Edwards so well that he says Kansas Citians have little to worry. Excitement, says Casey, is what should be the focus of those who have watched Edwards grow as a player and a coach.
The former 10-year NFL player and twice head coach, with his former employer, the New York Jets, and now, the Chiefs, is a man Casey says Kansas City will be glad to have under contract for four years and $12 million.
“Herman Edwards is a very intensed man. He was a student of the game and was hungry for learning how to coach in the NFL. In watching him at Training Camp and n other settings, he was very teachable,” said Casey, who once served as National Urban Director for the FCA. Casey knew Edwards and Dungy both when they served as assistants on former Chiefs Coach Marty Schottenheimer’s staff. “You very seldom meet a person with (Edwards) leadership qualities. He’s the kind of man whose natural personality demands respect and attention.” It was “brother helping another brother”, as Dungy is the guy, according to many, credited with getting Edwards interested in becoming a head coach.
“Tony Dungy began to be a mentor for him, although I believe Herman is a year older,” Casey said. “Tony went into coaching right after playing professionally, so he had been at it for a few years.” Getting minorities into head coaching jobs in major sports is still a task needing work. But, Casey believes hirings like Edwards only helps eliminate the idea that minority coaches aren’t capable of leading winning programs.
Far from the truth. The 2005 World Series Champions are the Chicago White Sox, managed by Hispanic Ozzie Guillen and put together by African American General Manager, Ken Williams.
There was also Don Baylor’s San Francisco Giants team, which almost won the World Series a few years before that. And, there has been an African American coach who has won an NBA crown (Lenny Wilkens), with the Seattle Supersonics, in the early ‘80s.
Casey says its time people start respecting the abilities of minority coaches and believe they can get the job done.
“You have to give people, regardless of their color, who have respect, ability and competence, the opportunity,” Casey said. “We’re living in a society today where although race does matter, it doesn’t matter because the NFL is a business, and they’re in the business to win. They’re not just in the business to look good. They want to put people in positions who will help them achieve their goals.” Said Casey: “Though we have African American coaches now, every one of them are very competent and deserving to be in the roles they are in. One has to look at the landscape and the culture of the NFL and begin to realize and recognize that it helps to have leadership that reflects that culture.” Edwards is a guy that knows football. Along with five years as an NFL head coach, Edwards is a man that has experienced success. It’s the reason why the Chiefs went after him. It’s also the reason why Edwards is glad to be home. His NFL coaching career started in Kansas City. He courted his wife, Lia, a former NCAA employee, in Kansas City. And yes, it was Kansas City that gave him the opportunity that many black coaches desire. A chance to belong in a fraternity few get the shot of making.
Edwards credits God for his chances to participate in “the game”.
“As I always said, I put faith in God’s hands. But if you believe in faith, one thing about faith, you can’t see it you just got to trust it and I trust in faith and faith has brought me back here,” Edwards said.
“It is a unique situation for me and my family and I am going to take an opportunity obviously to do the best thing I can do and follow Vermeil’s footsteps and win football games because that is what it is about,” Edwards stated. “It’s about winning and winning championships. That is what it’s all about at the end of the day. you have to win games and the players understand that and the coaches understand that it’s about winning and that is what this team is going to do.” Winning is something Edwards knows and it is what the Chiefs’ newest leader must do regularly, says Casey, a good friend of Edwards and Dungy, not to mention, countless other black coaches and athletes he has encountered himself as a spokesperson for the FCA.
“Although I believe Kansas City is proud, thankful and excited about having its first minority NFL head coach in Herman Edwards, when it gets down to crunch time, people are not going to spare (Edwards) grace because he’s African American. I don’t believe minorities or any other ethnic group will patronize him because of his race,” said Casey. “Nor, do I believe that Coach Edwards would accept or expect any grace or mercy because of his ethnicity.” Casey says Kansas Citians will expect Edwards to do what they expected Schottenheimer, Vermeil, and the other former head coaches to do: get the Chiefs back into Super Bowl contention. And, that’s been a long time coming.
“Although I know him in the arena of professional sports, I would not allow him any grace other than winning the Super Bowl,” chuckled Casey. “Because when was the last one we won? (For the record: 1970 against the Minnesota Vikings). “We gotta get someone in here to put us over the top. And I believe that’s Coach Edwards.”