History made, History denied

By Gary Norris Gray, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: December 1, 2010

Leslie Frazier

Leslie Frazier

CALIFORNIA (BASN) — Remember the old CBS TV show, “The Jeffersons?” Remember their theme song?

“We’re moving on up, to the east side with a deluxe apartment in the sky, yea, moving on up to the East Side, We finally got a piece of the pie”

Well, we are not quite there yet when we are still discussing African American accomplishments on the NFL’s coaching fields.

Back on Sunday, November 21st at Monster Park (aka Candlestick Park) another Black sports milestone was reached. Two African American head coaches — San Francisco’s Mike Singletary and Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris — both started an African-American quarterback (Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and Josh Freeman) for the first time in NFL history.

The Buccaneers would defeat the 49ers 21-0 in the actual game, but the sad part is not a single sports news agency published or aired this event. The Mouse (aka ESPN) totally ignored it.

So, the question should be asked, have African Americans become part of the landscape of the NFL. Not yet if writers have to continue to write about their wonderful accomplishments as being the first. African American football players, coaches, and owners are still trying to “move on up to the East Side and get a piece of that pie”.

Let’s look at the beginning of the first Black coaching accomplishments in the NFL.

In 1904, Charles Follis (The Black Cyclone) played his first game for a professional team with the Shelby Blues of the Ohio League. Follis played for the undefeated Wooster University as a fullback. His teammates made him captain because of his great communication skills on the playing field of battle.

Follis was the only African American on the team.

It was truly HISTORY MADE.

The first African American players in the NFL were the speedy Fritz Pollard — the first pro black quarterback with the Akron Pros — and Bobby Marshall of the Rock Island Independents. Historians still can’t agree which player came first so this writer will give both credit.

Either way it was truly HISTORY MADE.

Pollard continued his historic path becoming the first Black head coach and playing quarterback at the same time. It would be another 50 years before another Black man would stand on the sideline directing any professional football team.

Again it was HISTORY MADE.

Later on Michigan wideout Lowell W. Perry would be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the eighth round of the 1953 NFL Draft. In 1957, Pittsburgh hired Perry as an assistant coach becoming the NFL’s first black assistant coach.

Perry would continue his historic football journey in 1966 when he being the first Black TV analyst for CBS Sports. He also earned his law degree during that period of time as well.

Perry’s entire life was HISTORY MADE

In 1989, Hall of Fame tackle Art Shell became the NFL’s first modern day African American head coach taking over for Mike Shanahan at Oakland. A year later, he would lead the Raiders to the AFC Championship game against the Buffalo Bills.

Shell is also the first Black coach to win a playoff game.

Also during 1990, Dennis Green became the second African American head coach to direct a playoff game with the Minnesota Vikings in the 1990’s. The next decade would open the door to many other talented African American head coaches.

It would lead to more HISTORY MADE

Eventually, Tony Dungy would become the gold standard for African Americans to follow. Several other African American coaches (former and active) would come out of his coaching staffs.

The Tony Dungy coaching tree has produced plentiful fruit.

Dungy was the first African American to lead a team into the playoffs 10 straight seasons. The former University of Minnesota QB led both the Tampa Bay Bucs and Indianpolis Colts to conference games.

In 2007, he and one of his former assistants — Lovie Smith — became the first two Black head coaches to reach the Super Bowl. Dungy would prevail 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI to becaome the first Black head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Smith and another Dungy protegy — Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin — are part of the four active head coaches that are part of the Dungy tree. The others are Jim Caldwell of Indianapolis and Leslie Frazier of Minnesota.

In fact, back in 2002, Dungy and one of his former assistants — Herman Edwards — coached the first playoff game between two Black head coaches. Edwards’ Jets defeated Dungy’s Colts 41-0 an an AFC wildcard game.

Four years later, Dungy and Edwards would meet again in the postseason. This time, Dungy got the upperhand over Edwards’ Kansas City Chiefs squad in another wildcard matchup

Dungy’s signature defense — the cover 2 style — has become prevalent all around the NFL today. He perfected this style while playing and coaching for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Needless to say, but Dungy’s career also was HISTORY MADE

In 2004, Terry Robiskie was the first African American to hold the interim head coaching position for the Cleveland Browns after Butch Davis was fired. The job would eventually go to Romeo Crennel, another African American coach a year later.

A former Oakland Raider, Robiskie has previously served as an interim head coach for the Washington pro football team after Norv Turner was let go. He’s currently with the Atlanta Falcons as a wide receivers coach.

Two weeks ago when Leslie Frazier was hired by the Vikings, he became the seventh active Black head coach currently in the league. This ties the highest employment rate of Black head coaches in the NFL since 2006.

The next step would be to see two African American team owners standing side by side on the podium after their teams have battled for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February.

While that event would complete the circle, currently there is not a single Black owner in the NFL. Back in 2005, businessman Reggie Fowler attempted to become the league’s first minority owner when he and Zygy Wolf sought to purchase the Minnesota Vikings.

Many football fans are still waiting for the day when being African American will not matter in the hiring and firing of head coaches and that color will no longer be an issue.