Lack of minority coaches highlights an alarming issue

With college football finally reaching its offseason, players and coaches across the country are finding new programs to call home. One hire that caught the eye of many college football fans was Deion Sanders’ move from Jackson State University to the University of Colorado.

The legendary NFL Hall of Fame cornerback became the first head coach to move from a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to a Power 5 school. Sanders’ decision caused some uproar in the college football community, as some felt that Sanders abandoned Jackson State and the mission to grow HBCU football programs. 

But again, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sanders is paving the way for Black coaches to get high profile, well-paying jobs, the kind which are rarely available to the nation’s thousands of football coaches. Sanders joins a very small list of Black head coaches in Division I football, bringing the total to 15 out of 131 head coaches.

Among the NFL’s 32 teams, there are currently four Black head coaches: Todd Bowles, Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin and Mike McDaniel. Back in 2021, the sacking of then Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores brought attention to the treatment of and hiring process for Black coaches in the NFL. After being shunned by the other teams in the league, Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos and the Dolphins. Flores stated that the Giants interviewed him simply to bypass the Rooney Rule, which requires organizations to interview minority candidates for available head coaching positions, and never genuinely considered him for the job.

The same disparity plagues Major League Baseball. There are only 2 Black managers currently active: Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dusty Baker of this season’s World Series champions, the Houston Astros. Roberts and Baker are two of only three Black managers to ever lead their teams to a World Series triumph, with Roberts doing so in 2020 and Cito Gaston being the first in 1992 and 1993.

Looking overseas, Arsenal legend and French manager Patrick Vieira is the only Black manager in the Premier League out of 20 current managers. To make matters worse, he is one of just two Black managers coaching in the top five leagues — encompassing 98 teams — the other being his French compatriot Antoine Kombouaré. 

“Overall I believe that the doors are not open for us to do what we can do and to go into management. When I talk about management I’m talking about the team, but I’m also talking about the higher level as well,” Vieira said to BBC Sport in October.

In the NBA, there has actually been some amazing progress. Household names like Doc Rivers and Tyronn Lue have had lengthy coaching careers in the association for the 76ers and Clippers respectively, but there are a lot of fresh faces now. This season, 15 of the 30 NBA teams are led by Black head coaches, a record-high for the Association and a stark increase from the measly two Black head coaches in the league for the 1991-92 season.

“When my son, and my oldest son’s about to have his first son, when they turn on the TV and they see people that look like them leading an NBA team on the sidelines, it can be inspiring. For me, carrying the torch and then passing it to the next generation is something that I think about often — not just for my family, but for others out there,” said Mike Brown, the Sacramento Kings’ head coach, to Tim Reynolds, an NBA writer for the Associated Press. 

The NBA has been the most diversely staffed of all the world’s major sports, currently seeing its most diverse era. However, one of the issues Black NBA coaches have faced is that, while they have finally been given opportunities to coach teams, they haven’t necessarily lasted long in their roles and often haven’t been given second chances, instead reverting back to assistant coaching positions or other roles. According to Reynolds, most Black coaches “either lasted in their first job no more than three years or [didn’t get] a second chance at leading a team.”

Many coaches and players have been vocal about addressing that pattern; the NBA Coaches Equality Initiative, which aims to develop diverse talent in the league’s coaching staffs, was launched after a meeting between Commissioner Adam Silver and the National Basketball Coaches Association.

It’s clear to see that progress is being made, however more efforts need to be made to give minority coaches opportunities and make these positions sustainable. Many new Black coaches are not just leaders for their respective teams, but also examples for aspiring coaches to take charge without fear of discrimination. 

Jason Lopez Lopez is a senior writing about the intersection of sports and sociopolitical issues in his column “Line of Scrimmage.” He is also the Daily Trojan’s sports editor.