Duce Staley wants to be a head coach, and the good news is that these days NFL owners generally like their head coaches to be offensive.
The bad news is, they still like them to be white.
In the last three hiring seasons, 16 of the 20 available head-coaching jobs, or 80 percent, went to whites. That put the number of black coaches at seven, the same as in 2006 when Roger Goodell became commissioner, which was three years after guidelines were imposed to improve the teams’ atrocious record of minority hiring.
“The Rooney Rule really works,” Goodell insisted Wednesday.
No, it does not. This is not progress.
The prerequisites might be changing, at least. Twelve of those 20 head-coaching jobs not only went to coaches who coached offense but who also have coached quarterbacks. The overall profile, then, favored white quarterback coaches, which did not portend well for black assistants. There have been only two black NFL quarterback coaches since 2016, both hired in 2017: the Cardinals’ Byron Leftwich and the Bills’ David Culley, a longtime Andy Reid staffer.
Then, last month, Reid promoted running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator position. Staley, who also coaches running backs, is a candidate for the Giants’ OC job, a league source said.
“In my mind, it’s a watershed moment. Eric being hired is huge,” said Tony Dungy, the first black coach to win a Super Bowl and the most eloquent voice of NFL diversity hiring. “Think back. When is the last time an offensive minority coordinator was hired? And let’s face it. That’s where these head coaches are coming from now. If we can make inroads there, that’s going to be huge down the road.”
Two steps forward, right?
Sort of. There have been just four black offensive coordinators in the last two seasons. Anthony Lynn, who stumbled into his OC job, was hired to be the Chargers’ head coach last year. The other three, Edgar Bennett, Harold Goodwin, and Terry Robiskie, lost their jobs last month. Which means that, today, Bieniemy is the only black OC.
Two steps back.
So, while there might be as many black head coaches as there ever were, there isn’t a ready supply of black offensive coordinators if those coaches get fired anytime soon. Even Goodell recognizes that problem.
“The trend now is offensive coaches, and we need to work to get more offensive coaches in a position and African-Americans that have offensive coordinator, quarterback coach experience that will see them as the right kind of candidates,” Goodell said. “They’re there.”
They always have been.
On Sunday, Ivan Fears will coach in his eighth Super Bowl with the Patriots. He’ll try to win his sixth ring. He was the Pats’ receivers coach from 1999 to 2001 and has been the running backs coach since. That’s 19 years as an offensive coach in the greatest dynasty of the Super Bowl era.
Offensive coordinator interviews: Zero.
“There was a chance, when I came here, to pursue that,” said Fears, 63. By 1999, Fears had moved four times. “I wanted stability for me and my family.”
He should have been in demand. Fears had coached receivers and quarterbacks in college and coached receivers and running backs in the NFL. When he joined Pete Carroll in New England, then stayed when Bill Belichick landed in 2000, he seems to have been resigned to the pre-Rooney Rule reality: Owners might hire a black defensive coach, like Dungy, or the Eagles’ Ray Rhodes, but not a black offensive coach. In fact, after the Vikings hired Dennis Green in 1992, the next eight first-time, non-interim black hires were defensive coaches. Thirteen of the 18 black non-interim head coaches in NFL history have been defensive coaches, but only five of the last eight, so that reality that seems to be changing for Bieniemy and Staley.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Fears said. “It’s exciting.”
It is, if it’s real. Black OCs seem to be held to a different standard in this moment. Bennett lost Aaron Rodgers for nine games to a broken collarbone. Goodwin lost Carson Palmer for nine games to a broken arm. Robiskie was fired after the Titans won a playoff game.
Well, the NFL always has been a cruel and unfair business. Coaches and general managers used to get five years to develop a team. Lately, they seem to get five minutes, regardless of race. Still, things don’t seem quite equitable.
Seven years after Reid hired Doug Pederson as an offensive quality-control coach, Pederson got his first head-coaching job. Seven years after Reid hired Staley as quality-control coach, Staley is getting his first coordinator’s interview. Meanwhile, incredibly, Staley has had an interview as a head coach. This came with the Eagles, in 2016, when they hired Pederson. It smelled like a sham interview by owner Jeffrey Lurie intended only to fulfill the Rooney Rule requirement.
“No. No. I don’t think there was any BS behind that,” Staley said Thursday. “I understand the perception, but I can tell you, it was real.”
This moment seems a lot more real.
“No doubt, like Coach Dungy said, it is a watershed moment,” Staley said. “With Eric, we know how hard it is to get a chance like that. We all know the road is a little harder, coming from being a running backs coach.”
Maybe, in the future, it won’t be as hard as it used to be. If Bieniemy succeeds, and if Staley gets hired and succeeds, perhaps the latest stigma will evaporate, too. After all, Lynn and Doug Marrone didn’t coach quarterbacks. But they did work like fiends.
“We all know that it’s how people look at you. I can’t try to control the outside forces. You put your head down, and you go to work,” Staley said. He added, hopefully: “Times are changing.”
It’s taken long enough; too long to benefit Ted Williams, the most influential man in Staley’s career.
Like Pederson, Williams got his start as a high school head coach, in 1968. That’s the year Pederson was born. In 1980, Williams was hired to coach linebackers and running backs at UCLA; was Drew Bledsoe’s offensive coordinator at Washington State; then coached defensive backs at the University of Arizona in 1994, the year before Rhodes hired him to coach tight ends in Philly. Williams switched to running backs coach in 1997, when he persuaded the Eagles to draft Staley in the third round, then turned Staley into a first-rate starter. He later made another third-round pick, Brian Westbrook, a star, then helped LeSean McCoy, a second-rounder, become the best back in team history. In 2013 and ’14, coaching tight ends again, he started Zach Ertz on a path to the Pro Bowl.
Williams then spent two years as a scout before he assumed administrative duties. He’s 74. He earned two science degrees and a master’s degree, but he never “earned” a chance to be an offensive coordinator in the NFL.
A person close to Staley wondered whether Staley thought he might become the next Ivan Fears.
“Wrong question,” was the reply. “Right question: Does he fear becoming the next Ted Williams?”
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