BASN’s 2008-09 Report Cards (Part One)

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: December 30, 2008

CALIFORNIA — African American head coaches in the National Football League have come a very long long way, but there is still room for improvement.

The first modern day African American head coach was Art Shell for the Oakland (then L.A.) Raiders in 1990. He was also the First Black coach to win a playoff game.

Then came Dennis Green for the Minnesota Vikings in 1992 and Ray Rhodes for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995. Both would get second chances as head coaches — Rhodes at Green Bay and Green at Arizona.

These three men led the way for others who followed. These three men took it from the ‘school of hard knocks’ and ‘your time will come’. All three were successful and they opened the door for the current seven Black head football coaches.

This is the first part in a series of report cards of professional sports in the United States. First, we will look at the National Football League, upper management, the head coaching positions, and the quarterback position.


(GRADE C +, B -)

Depending on the hirings and firings at the end of this season this grade will go either up or down.

Tony Dungy – The 2008 Colts will give Dungy his eighth year of winning 11 games or more per season, one year behind the record set by Hall of Famer Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He proved that he’s a true Hall of Fame coach this year. After Indy’s slow start (1-3) in the tough AFC South — where the home team seldom loses — Dungy is guiding them to another playoff season. He should have two Lombardi Trophies with the team he left in Tampa Bay, a team that won Super Bowl XXXVII.

Mike Tomlin – After taking over the reigns from Bill Cowher a year ago, the Steelers never missed a beat. The former Viking and Buccaneer defensive coordinator has guided the new and improved Steel Curtain to two straight playoff appearances.

Mike Singletary – The Hall of Famer assumed the responsibilities of a blundering and flailing team in San Francisco (2-6). He was responsible for the 49ers respectable ending with a 7-9 record. San Francisco got blown out in only one game under Singletary. Under former head coach Mike Nolan, they were getting blown out almost every game. Singletary gained the respect of the players in a very unorthodox way, but he garnered the positive results needed.

The sad thing is that the number of Black head coaches could be cut in half. Romeo Crennel was fired earlier this week at Cleveland. As of press time, the status of Kansas City’s Herman Edwards and Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis is still up in the air.

These three teams have not produced anything. Instead of improving with each passing year, they seem to be moving backwards. Of the two remaining coaches, Edwards will most likely receive another job because of his leadership abilities and skills.

Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears could be on the proverbial hot seat for the 2009 season if the Monsters of the Midway do not preform up to standards. What has happened to this Bear team that is just two years removed from playing in the Super Bowl?

The firings of Mangini, Shanahan, and Marinelli are just a part of the expected massive turnovers in head coaching positions at the end of this football season.

How wonderful that we can write about the future of African American head coaches when 25 years ago this was certainly not possible. The major question is how many teams will honestly use the Rooney Rule?

Next: We will look at the NFL’s executive positions over the past 30 years.