From a pair of Bucs assistants to the surprisingly available Brian Flores to the great Eric Bieniemy, keeping track of the top Black head coaching candidates in the NFL
With “Black Monday” having come and gone, to say nothing of guys like Jon Gruden and Urban Meyer who didn’t make it to the end of the NFL regular season, football’s coaching carousel is officially powering on.
Speculation about big moves always starts early, but as much as you’ll read about the big decision Jim Harbaugh has to make at Michigan, there’s an uncomfortable truth to confront this week:
After the Dolphins fired Brian Flores and the Texans let David Culley go, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin is officially the only Black head coach in the NFL as of this writing.
Whether you’re interested in an established name or a young gun looking for his first top job, let’s identify the top Black head coaching candidates around the NFL.
Candidates Awaiting First NFL Head Coaching Job
Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs
The man pulling the offensive strings for KC is arguably the single most prominent poster boy for the NFL’s lack of diversity in coaching and front office positions of the last few years.
Bieniemy, a former All-American running back at Colorado, has been at the helm of the Chiefs offense since 2018 when Matt Nagy departed to take the top job in Chicago. Under his leadership, Kansas City has never been ranked lower than No. 7 in the NFL in total offense. Despite this, he has interviewed for no fewer than 10 head coaching jobs to date without being hired.
Aside from just Nagy, Doug Pederson used the Chiefs offensive coordinator gig as a springboard to the head coach club, too, and went on to win a Super Bowl leading the Eagles. How much longer does this stampeding Buffalo have to wait his turn?
The same year Bieniemy took the helm of the Chiefs’ offense, Patrick Mahomes also became Kansas City’s starting quarterback. And while Mahomes is a transcendent talent at the position, he hasn’t shied away from giving Bieniemy his credit in aiding his development. “He gives me every single tool,” said Mahomes in his Super Bowl press conference last season. “Even if I get an unscouted look or blitz, he helps me go out there and be comfortable in the pocket and get us to the right play. That comes straight from him and his film study.”
So far, the Denver Broncos have requested to interview.
It’s only a matter of time.
Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The latest of the Tom Brady whisperers? Byron Leftwich, a former quarterback himself.
Leftwich joined Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019 the same day head coach Bruce Arians was hired, reuniting the pair that previously worked together as player and assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers and as offensive coordinator and head coach with the Arizona Cardinals. In his first year on the Bucs’ sideline, Leftwich presided over the No. 3-ranked offense in the NFL — this fact goes unbeknownst to most because that same season, starting QB Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions.
The following season, TB12 showed up. And while the 2020 Bucs ended up posting the league’s No. 7 offense, they ended the season as Super Bowl champions.
This year, Leftwich has been in top form, leading the Bucs to the NFL’s No. 2 offense and another NFC South title. As a mainstay for the Jacksonville Jaguars at QB for several seasons, the Jags could tag Leftwich to hit the reset button following the failed Urban Meyer experiment and help lead Trevor Lawrence to the promised land.
Houston Texans QB Coach & Passing Game Coordinator
Alfonza “Pep” Hamilton is a name who has flown under the radar as it relates to offensive coordinator opportunities. His last legit shot came in 2013 when he coached Andrew Luck in Indianapolis; since then, Hamilton has jumped around, going from the Browns to the University of Michigan to the XFL’s DC Defenders before landing back in the NFL as quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Chargers for the 2020 season.
Enter Justin Herbert, a young franchise QB any offensive mind would be crazy not to want to work with.
Hamilton would help Herbert win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award last season, break the league’s rookie passing TD record, and finish No. 2 in passing yards by a rookie in NFL history. After the 2020 campaign, Pep left Los Angeles for Houston to serve in the same position.
The Texans infamously dealt with multiple levels of turmoil dating back to last offseason and face ongoing questions at quarterback. Hamilton did manage to coach Davis Mills to the second-best completion percentage among rookie quarterbacks, the second-most passing touchdowns, and tied for the fewest interceptions among rookie QBs with a minimum of 12 starts, however.
One could argue that Hamilton needs proper offensive coordinator experience before he becomes a head coach, but it must be noted that similar barriers don’t always exist for white candidates with weaker resumes by comparison.
Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
Inside Linebackers Coach
Another member of the ever-growing Bill Belichick coaching tree? Jerod Mayo, who played eight seasons in Foxborough before announcing his retirement. As a player, Mayo won Defensive Rookie of the Year and Super Bowl XLIX with the Patriots, adding two Pro Bowl nods and an All-Pro selection.
He was hired as the Patriots’ inside linebackers coach in 2019, and the Patriots’ defense has finished in the top five in the league twice since then. It’s unforeseen that a position coach would skip the line and go straight to the head coaching ranks, but an endorsement from BIll Belichick goes a hell of a long way in the game of football.
Candidates with NFL Head Coach Experience
Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If Todd Bowles had a nickname right now it may be “The Prototype.” (It might also be “Bunny Colvin” due to his resemblance to Robert Wisdom from The Wire.) Why? After constructing the strategy to shut down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ prolific offense, it appears that Bowles gave the league a blueprint on how to frustrate the all-world quarterback.
From 2018-2020, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense rarely ever had any hiccups, dominating opponent after opponent. When they did lose, they never did so by more than one score — until last year’s Super Bowl against Bowles’ Bucs, that is. He designed a defense that forced Mahomes and the Chiefs to throw underneath, robbing them of the typical explosive plays that they used to torch teams in the past.
If there ever was a roadmap for slowing down KC, Bowles has drawn it.
He previously had a head coaching opportunity with the New York Jets, going an impressive 10-6 in his first season (a record Gang Green haven’t been able to surpass since then). Bowles finished 5-11, 5-11, and 4-12 in the next three seasons respectively efore the Jets parted ways with him. But amid his ongoing resurgence in Tampa Bay, it’s time for the league to give The Prototype another chance.
Former Miami Dolphins Head Coach
To most, the biggest shock of the current coaching carousel was seeing the Miami Dolphins move on from Brian Flores, who comes off back-to-back winning seasons despite missing out on the playoffs. Still, in six games against his former boss in New England, Bill Belichick, Flores actually has the upper hand at 4-2.
The Dolphins began the current season 1-7, but finished the season 9-8, winning seven straight and eight of their last nine, capping things off with an upset win over those very same Patriots. Flores has already begun interviewing with multiple teams for their head coaching vacancies — don’t expect him to remain unemployed for long.
Leslie Frazier, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has over 30 years of coaching experience, but just one stint as a head coach that stretched from 2010 through 2013 with the Minnesota Vikings.
In his first year in the big chair, the Vikings went through growing pains, going 3-13. The following year, Frazier led them to a playoff berth before losing to the rival Packers in the Wild Card Round. The next season, the team took a dip, going 5-10-1.
After the Vikings ultimately fired Frazier, he coached for the Ravens before getting the call to serve as the Bills’ defensive coordinator in 2017. Under Frazier, the Bills’ unit has ranked top three in total defense in three of his five years, and is ranked No. 1 this year. The Dolphins and Bears are already among the teams to request interviews with Frazier this week, and there could be more to come.
Lovie Smith, Houston Texans
Former Bears and Bucs head coach Lovie Smith returned to NFL sidelines this season after five years at the University of Illinois, settling in as the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator. The Texans unfortunately ranked 32nd (dead last) in total offense and No. 31 in total defense, but Smith did lead the Bears to winning seasons in five of his nine years at Soldier Field, including three playoff berths and one Super Bowl appearance.
He was less successful as the head coach down in Tampa Bay, though he wasn’t given much of a chance — in his first year, the Bucs went 2-14, and Smith was fired after going 6-10 in year two.
Raheem Morris, Los Angeles Rams
Raheem Morris is yet another example of a Black head coach who’s gotten a short leash. Morris was given the opportunity to coach the Buccaneers in 2009, going 3-13. The following year, the team improved to 10-6, and in what turned out to be his final year, they were 4-12. Morris didn’t get another head coaching opportunity until 2020 when former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was fired and top assistant Morris stepped in as the team’s interim head coach.
Atlanta chose not to remove the interim tag, so Morris departed before the current season to become the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams are ranked 17th in total defense, but it must be noted that their offense is tied for the seventh-most giveaways in the NFL. Should the Rams defense show out in the playoffs, Morris deserves to be on the radar for top jobs.
NFL Teams with Head Coaching Vacancies
New York Giants