As we begin 2024, there are now six Black head coaches in the NFL— Atlanta’s Raheem Morris, New England’s Jerod Mayo, and Las Vegas’ Antonio Pierce have been appointed to join the short but impactful list of Black coaches across the League. Doubling the number of Black head coaches is a monumental step that not only marks a personal success for each coach, but could signifies a pivotal shift in individual teams’ commitments to fostering diversity and inclusion in coaching leadership—a change that has been long overdue in the league’s history.
Barriers to Progress and Unsuccessful Policy Efforts
The journey for Black coaches in the NFL has been fraught with systemic challenges, especially in securing coveted head coaching positions. The lack of diversity in coaching leadership has often been attributed to longstanding biases and discriminatory practices. Without intentional action, these biases will continue to perpetuate a cycle of underrepresentation in prominent leadership roles.
The decades-old lack of diversity among coaching ranks in the NFL has prompted many league-wide initiatives encouraging teams to make their coaching staff mirror the diverse talents and experiences of their players. In 2003, the NFL implemented the well-known Rooney Rule mandating that teams with head coaching vacancies interview one or more diverse candidates before finalizing a new hire.
According to the NFL’s website, The Rooney Rule is one of several league-wide efforts to promote diversity and inclusion on and off the field. The site provides a list of other initiatives:
- Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship
- Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship
- The NFL and HBCUs
- Coaching and Playing Opportunities
- NFL-NCAA Coaches Academy
- NFL Career Development Symposium
- NFL Women’s Forum
- The Coach and Front Office Accelerator Program
A History of Passing on Black Head Coach Candidates
Preceding years have reflected a challenging landscape for Black coaches in the NFL. During the last five hiring cycles leading up to the current season, only five of the 33 non-interim head coaching positions were filled by Black coaches. This stark discrepancy underscores the limited upward mobility that Black coaches have faced in securing prominent roles within the League.
The Atlantic asks, “Has the NFL started trusting Black coaches?” As a sports diversity research institution, The Doug Williams Center is inclined respond with this chronological examination of Black head coaching appointments throughout the NFL’s history to demonstrate slow evolution that’s lead to this season’s subtle progress:
Fritz Pollard (1923-1924) Fritz Pollard made history as the first Black head coach in the NFL, leading the Akron Pros in 1921. Despite this groundbreaking achievement, the NFL subsequently faced a prolonged period without Black head coaches. Pollard, along with all nine of the Black players in the NFL at the time, were removed from the league at the end of the 1926 season, never to return again.
Art Shell (1989-1994) Art Shell broke the 68-year hiatus of Black coaching leadership in the NFL when he was hired by the Los Angeles Raiders. Shell’s appointment marked a significant step, showcasing the league’s acknowledgment of the need for diversity.
Dennis Green (1992-2001) Dennis Green became the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, further contributing to the slow diversification of coaching staff.
Ray Rhodes (1995-1998) Ray Rhodes took on the role of head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, emphasizing the incremental changes occurring within the league.
Tony Dungy (1996-2002) The legendary Tony Dungy was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, becoming the first Black head coach in the modern NFL era to secure a playoff victory. Dungy’s success added momentum to the push for increased coaching diversity, but progress remained gradual.
Herman Edwards (2001-2005) Herman Edwards became the head coach of the New York Jets from 2001-2005, and served as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs from 2006-2008.
Marvin Lewis (2003-2018) Marvin Lewis served as the head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003 to 2018, leaving an indelible mark on the league.
Mike Tomlin (2007-Present) Mike Tomlin assumed the head coaching position for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007. Tomlin’s success, including a Super Bowl victory and remaining the longest running Black coach in NFL history to date, demonstrates invaluable contributions to team performance. His career arguably paves a very different path of trust for underrepresented leadership across the league.
Mike Singletary (2009-2010) In 2008, Mike Singletary took charge as the head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, the first Black coach to take the role in the team’s history.
Jim Caldwell (2009-2011) Jim Caldwell entered the coaching realm as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from 2009 to 2011 and Detroit Lions from 2014 to 2017.
Leslie Frazier (2010-2013) Leslie Frazier made a significant impact when he assumed the role of head coach for the Minnesota Vikings in 2010.
Hue Jackson (2011-2012) Hue Jackson’s appointment as the head coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2011 marked another stride towards increased representation. From January 2016 through October 2018, Jackson served as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Todd Bowles (2015-Present) Todd Bowles, the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, transitioned to the role of interim head coach in 2019 and has since continued to guide the team, showcasing his resilience and strategic prowess.
Anthony Lynn (2017-2020) Anthony Lynn took on the role of head coach for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017.
Brian Flores (2019-2021) Brian Flores, as the head coach for the Miami Dolphins from 2019 to 2021.
David Culley (2021-2022) David Culley became the head coach for the Houston Texans in 2021.
DeMeco Ryans (2023-Present) DeMeco Ryans, serving as the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, exemplifies the progression of Black coaches into key leadership positions. Ryans continues to contribute to the success and development of his team’s defensive unit.
Jerod Mayo (2024-Present) In 2023, Jerod Mayo became the head coach for the New England Patriots, breaking ground as the youngest head coach in NFL history and the first Black head coach for the Patriots. Mayo’s appointment signifies a paradigm shift in coaching demographics and sets a precedent for future generations.
Raheem Morris (2024-Present) Raheem Morris assumed the role of head coach for the Atlanta Falcons in 2021, making significant strides in his coaching journey. Morris contributes to the narrative of Black coaches shaping the future of NFL franchises.
Antonio Pierce (2024-Present) Antonio Pierce’s elevation to the position of head coach for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2024 adds to the growing list of accomplished Black coaches. His appointment reflects the league’s continuous commitment to embracing diverse leadership in the pursuit of excellence.
The Dawn of an Inclusive Era?
The appointments of three well-qualified Black head coaches with storied career trajectories in one season is a bold demonstration that there is no lack of diverse talent in the head coach hiring pool. There is undoubtedly increased attention on hiring selection across the league with raised expectations for more inclusion and equity in the highest levels of the game.
About Jerod Mayo
Jerod Mayo, is the most recently named head coach in the NFL, as well as the youngest in history and the first Black coach to lead the New England Patriots. stands as a transformative figure in the team’s storied history. His remarkable journey from being a standout linebacker for the Patriots to becoming the youngest head coach in NFL history and the first Black head coach of the Patriots. Mayo’s eight-season tenure as a player was marked by stellar performances, earning him multiple Pro Bowl selections and establishing him as a revered figure in Patriots history. His ascent to the position of head coach not only reflects his passion for the game but also represents a significant breakthrough in NFL history, marking a generational shift and breaking barriers as he assumes the mantle.
Mayo stands out because of his unique, strategic coaching philosophy which hinges on his unique ability to connect with players. This personal touch is a crucial aspect of his leadership style – it’s the reason he’s been known to foster an environment of trust and collaboration. Mayo’s understanding of the intricacies of football, gained through years of on-field experience, positions him as a coach capable of imparting invaluable insights to the Patriots’ roster. As he takes on the role of head coach, Jerod Mayo’s leadership is poised to not only build on the team’s storied legacy but also inject a fresh perspective, ensuring the Patriots remain a formidable force in the NFL landscape.
About Raheem Morris
Raheem Morris’s ascension to the role of head coach for the Atlanta Falcons represents the culmination of a career marked by significant achievements and leadership acumen. Morris, who has steadily climbed the coaching ranks, demonstrated his prowess as the interim head coach for the Falcons during the 2020 season, steering the team to notable improvements.
Prior to his tenure with the Falcons, his stint as the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Morris played a pivotal role in transforming their defense. Additionally, Morris’s leadership as the head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009 to 2011 underscored his commitment to player development and organizational success.
As Morris takes on the mantle of head coach, his career achievements serve as a strong foundation for the Falcons’ aspirations under his leadership.His ability to foster a positive team culture and elicit enhanced performance from the players served as a testament to his coaching capabilities. Arthur Blank’s acknowledgment of Morris’s capabilities is rooted not only in his recent interim role but also in a broader context of impactful coaching contributions throughout his career.
About Antonio Pierce
Antonio Pierce’s remarkable career journey attests to his impact as a standout linebacker and later as a trailblazing head coach. Pierce initially gained recognition for his exceptional performance in college football, earning him a spot in the NFL Draft. Drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2001, Pierce quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the field. His tenacity and skill as a linebacker earned him Pro Bowl honors during his time with the New York Giants, where he played a pivotal role in their triumph at Super Bowl XLII. This significant achievement solidified Pierce’s legacy as a key contributor to the Giants’ success and showcased his leadership abilities within the team.
Post his illustrious playing career, Antonio Pierce seamlessly transitioned into coaching beginning with his role as the linebackers coach at Arizona State University. His analytical skills and strategic mindset, honed over years on the field, positioned him as a formidable candidate for leadership roles within the coaching realm. Beyond his on-field prowess, Pierce ventured into sports broadcasting for a short time. As he embarks on a new chapter as the head coach for the Las Vegas Raiders, the collective narrative of Antonio Pierce’s career underscores not only his playing achievements but also his evolving role as a mentor, leader, and influencer in the realm of football.
In 2024 and beyond, these coaches’ historic appointments have added a profound layer to the NFL’s narrative, showcasing a growing commitment to fairness within the coaching ranks.