TIME OUT: National Football League coaching diversity

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The first African-American head coach to lead a National Football League team to a Super Bowl championship has finally come to fruition. I’d like to say it’s been 41 years in the making, in terms of a black coach having the opportunity, but the first African-American head coach didn’t officially arrive in the NFL until the Super Bowl was 23 years old.

Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts, as you already know, are the Super Bowl XLI champs. Dungy, who has laid a foundation for all coaches to pattern, got his first head coaching job at Tampa Bay in 1996 and went to Indianapolis in January of 2002. His coaching record is impeccable; guiding his teams to the playoffs in nine of the 11 years he has been coaching. He is also just the sixth coach to win 100 plus games in the first 10 years as head coach.

Dungy has now earned eight consecutive playoff appearances (1999-01 at Tampa Bay; 2002-06 with Colts), which ties him with Chuck Noll, who has eight with Pittsburgh. They are ranked only behind Tom Landry, who has nine with Dallas.

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Dungy was not the first African-American to head a football team in the NFL, of course, but he has created a track record that can be admired by any head coach.

Though, Fritz Pollard coached in the NFL from 1921-1937, as I mentioned, last week. The NFL Encyclopedia credits Pollard with coaching the Hammond Pros in 1921, but Pollard himself contended his coaching career was much deeper. What is known about the earliest days of the league is that bench coaching was not allowed. Therefore, players served in that capacity. Because Pollard played in a sophisticated offense at Brown, he was often relied upon for his expertise.

Pollard’s contention was that he was the coach at Akron beginning in1919 and through 1921. He also claimed that he coached the Milwaukee Badgers in 1922 and the Hammond Pros from 1923 to 1925. The NFL Encyclopedia lists no coach of those teams, so Pollard could have been the leader without a title.

There are numerous qualified coaches of African-American decent that can head and lead an NFL team.

Since the NFL began in 1920, over 400 head coaches have been hired, but only seven, through the 2006 football season, were African-Americans, since 1989.

Art Shell was the first, being hired in 1989, followed by Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes, Tony Dungy, Herman Edwards, Marvin Lewis, and Terry Robiskie. That is a remarkable statistic when you consider that the league is made up of 70 percent black players.

It is my hope that the NFL has begun to lean toward hiring more black coaches. It is also my hope that the coaches that are hired would not be held to a &8216;higher standard’ than any other coach.