When it comes to hiring head coaches, there’s clearly something the Glazer family has learned that the NFL’s other oligarchs have not, or perhaps will not: Hiring a Black man for the job isn’t scary.
On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially handed over the team’s reins to Todd Bowles, who was Tampa’s defensive coordinator for the previous three seasons. This is Bowles’ second chance to be a head coach after getting his first shot with the New York Jets.
Bruce Arians, who is retiring from coaching and moving into a front-office role, recommended Bowles for the job, but Joel Glazer, the co-chairman of the franchise and family spokesman, said it didn’t take much convincing.
“Getting to know Todd over the last three years, what’s become clear to us is his leadership ability, the way he brings along young players, the respect our team and our players have for him, his mind, his creativity, his work ethic, the person he is, the family he has, for us it was really an easy choice,” Glazer said.
See how easy that is, NFL team owners and decision-makers?
Respect from peers and players, leadership, creativity — they’re not exclusively white traits. They’re the characteristics of a good coach, and they’re found in Black coaches, coaches from other ethnic minorities, female coaches, just as much as they can be found in white male coaches.
We’d be given if we didn’t offer a tip of the Kangol cap to Arians, too. He intentionally built a coaching staff with Tampa Bay that comes as close as we’ve ever seen to reflecting the composition of the players in the locker room, and added two women to boot. Arians has a long history of hiring and promoting non-white coaches because he sees them as fully formed human beings capable of leadership and innovation at all levels.
Based on the staffs of many of his peers, that’s not a widely held sentiment.
As Bowles said during his news conference, he and Arians don’t have a lot of the same interests. Arians drinks, Bowles doesn’t. Arians enjoys cigars, Bowles doesn’t. Arians’ personality fills the room as soon as he enters, and Bowles is more low-key. But they still built a bond that has endured, and as Arians got chances to go higher in the coaching ranks, he made sure to bring Bowles and other coaches who look like him and gave them the opportunities others hadn’t.
The late Malcolm Glazer purchased the Buccaneers in 1995, and in that time, his family’s team has had eight head coaches — four of them Black, starting with the hiring of Tony Dungy in 1996.
No other NFL team has ever had more than two.
At the risk of applauding the Glazers too forcefully, you can quibble with how some of those Black coaches were treated. Dungy was let go after the 2001 season despite getting usually terrible Tampa Bay into the playoffs in four of his six seasons. They were getting so close to breaking through that in his first season Jon Gruden took a team that was largely Dungy’s roster to a Super Bowl title.
Many of Raheem Morris’ issues were self-inflicted, but he isn’t any different than a lot of his newbie peers. Being an NFL head coach is a lot like being a new parent: You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into until you get the gig.
But it’s Lovie Smith who has the biggest gripe. Hired in 2014 and with Josh McCown as his starting quarterback, the Bucs had two wins in his first season but six in his second. Despite the improvement, Smith was fired to promote Dirk Koetter — who was Smith’s offensive coordinator — to be head coach. Koetter had a 9-7 season in his first year leading the team, then his record regressed.
(And while the Glazers don’t have a problem with Black head coaches, looking at the highest levels of their organization on the business side, where the true power is, shows a group that’s … let’s say pretty homogeneous.)
Teams hire and fire head coaches all the time. We see that every January. It’s an exceedingly low bar relative to their peers, but at least the Glazers have shown that they’re more than willing to give non-white coaches a chance to succeed or fail.
Other teams clearly aren’t. No amount of tinkering with the Rooney Rule over nearly 20 years has changed that.