TIME OUT: Super Bowl coaches make sports history

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It is so befitting that the largest sporting event of the year, Super Bowl 41, will be a history-making event, which will celebrate the National Football League’s first African-American head coach of the Super Bowl Champions. For the first time in NFL history that each team participating will be led by an African American.

It is also befitting that this occurs during the celebration of Black History Month.

I join many sports fans in applauding the &8216;doing it the right way’ attitudes that both Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears employ. It has helped them and their teams to reach the levels of coaching that they truly deserve. It is a significant moment for all of us.

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The historic feat also marks the second time that two African-Americans, coaching major sports franchises, have led their teams to the championship. Alvin Attles, head coach of the Golden State Warriors defeated K.C. Jones of the Washington Bullets in the 1975 NBA Finals.

Smith became the first African-American head coach to reach the NFL’s marquee game. He was joined by his good friend and mentor, Dungy, about four hours later.

Smith was one of Dungy’s assistants at Tampa Bay from 1996 to 2000, and they established a growing friendship ever since.

There were just three black head coaches in the league when Dungy started in Tampa. There were seven that coached this past season.

NFL’s first black head coach was Frederick Douglass &8216;Fritz’ Pollard, who coached Akron, Ohio from 1921-1937. It took the NFL 52 years to hire its next black coach, who was Art Shell in 1989 by the Oakland Raiders.

Dungy has always acknowledged his Creator as the source of his strength and it has gotten him through some hardships over the years, including the loss of his son in the later part of 2005 football season. He has endured the odds of being a successful black coach when you could count them on one hand. He guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to four playoff appearances in his six years there. The Indianapolis Colts hired him to rebuild a struggling franchise in 2000.

Smith, who is Dungy’s most successful protg, edged Dungy by a few votes to win the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year in 2005, was a game away from being the first black coach in the Super Bowl that season, but he lost to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC championship game.

I think that the greatest highlight of the game will come at the end of the game, when Smith and Dungy embrace in the middle of the field once the game is over, congratulating each other for standing up to the press, conquering their adversities and jointly becoming the first African-American head coaches in the Super Bowl during Black History Month.

It is my prayer that after Sunday we will no longer have to talk about black head coaches and their ability to coach in the NFL.

See you on the hardwood.