Think about a scenario where you are being tasked with a household chore such as taking out the garbage. What do you believe would be viewed favorably by a parent or significant other as it relates to that task: taking out the garbage because you see its full and needs to go out or only taking it out after you’ve been commanded to do so?

That is where we are with Black matters as it pertains to the National Football League. Hire Black GMs and coaches in recognition and acknowledgement of their talents, not because you’re told to do so via the NFL’s Rooney Rule. The irony behind the Rooney Rule is it’s existence came about because the NFL was told to do so. In fact, rather sternly so being threatened of an impending lawsuit due to none other than the legendary Johnnie Cochran having enough receipts to point to what could only be perceived as a blatant passing over of Black candidates for NFL head coaching positions.

Those receipts were damning enough to create change. A 78-page, present-day CVS receipt entitled Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities laid bare a study conducted over the past 15 years encompassing the tenures of Art Shell, Dennis Green, Tony Dungy, Ray Rhodes and Herman Edwards. The report found that:

  • Black coaches averaged 1.1 more wins than their White counterparts

  • Black coaches led their teams to a playoff berth at a 67% clip versus 39% for White coaches

  • Black coaches averaged 2.7 more wins in a comparison of debut seasons as head coach

  • In final seasons that culminated in termination, Black coaches averaged 1.3 more wins

Yet two elements of Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities that stung the most, in that these matters worsened over the course of the Rooney Rule, were the story of Sherman Lewis, and the concept of Black coaches being “last hired, fast fired”.


Think of Sherman Lewis as a placeholder for any Black coach that had long proven his worth yet never got the opportunity. The bronze medalist of the 1963 Heisman Trophy had a sip of coffee as a professional before jumping into the coaching ranks. Lewis’ first stop was in San Francisco as the running backs coach for the Bill Walsh and George Seifert-led 49ers. From 1983-1990, Lewis coached seven top-10 rushing attacks helping the team earn a playoff berth in every year of his tenure including the team’s three Super Bowl victories in 1985, 1988 and 1989. From there Lewis would spend a season as the receivers coach leading the team to only its second posting of two-1,000 yard receivers in the span.

When given the opportunity to do more, Lewis did just that as the architect behind the 1990s Green Bay Packers teams. For three-consecutive years Lewis’ teams led the NFL in touchdowns thrown; posting a 37-11 regular season record, and back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 1997 and 1998—a win and a loss. After reprising his offensive coordinator role in 2000 for the division-rival Vikings, Lewis helped a young Daunte Culpepper to an 11-5 record with the team finishing top-10 in points scored, passing yards and touchdowns before losing in the NFC Championship to the New York Giants. A down year in Minnesota the following year, a sabbatical year in 2002 and two sub-par seasons in Detroit would spell the end of Sherman Lewis’ time as an offensive guru in the league.

His resume was more than decorated enough yet he was passed over in 2000 and 2001 in favor of many questionable hires. After the Belichick fiasco, the Jets promoted then linebackers coach Al Groh to the position—an experience that only lasted one season. Gregg Williams had only been a defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans for four seasons before getting the Bills job in 2001. The Browns plucked Butch Davis from the college ranks where he spent six seasons at the University of Miami.

Yet the two biggest head-scratchers are Detroit’s hiring of Marty Mornhinweg—the offensive coordinator of the Niners—and Minnesota’s nabbing of their veteran offensive-line coach Mike Tice. Both teams had a front row seat, Minnesota especially given that he was the offensive coordinator there, to Lewis’ abilities given the Packers’ dominance in the division for the majority of the previous decade. As Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities would illuminate Black candidates would eventually turn into spoiled milk after countless times being glanced over. Sherman Lewis wasn’t the first and the current offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, Eric Bieniemy, won’t be the last.

Last Hired, Fast Fired

The phrase was born of the quick trigger most franchises had with their Black head coach despite enjoying success by-and-large. Dennis Green’s tenure in Minnesota is perhaps the most egregious example where he was fired—in-season—in his first losing season as the head coach. Art Shell, who not only engineered a 7-5 record as the interim head coach for the 1989 Los Angeles Raiders, was fired after a winning season in 1994 and left the team with a 54-38 record. A similar story follows former Buccaneer head coach Tony Dungy. Despite the team winning the Super Bowl the year after his firing, Gruden’s tenure paled in comparison to his predecessor.

What landed us back in the conversation about the Rooney Rule was this “last hired, fast fired” trend growing. Sure, Black coaches were getting more interviews and, by extension, more opportunities but with a notably ‘shorter leash’.

The following coaches were seen as children of the Rooney Rule—new head coaches after the year 2003:

  • Marvin Lewis

    • Cochran’s report brings up Marvin Lewis in the same light of Sherman Lewis: a coach with the experience and pedigree that had been overlooked. Cincinnati would go on to hire Marvin in 2003. Playoff record notwithstanding, a close examination of the Bengals pre-and-post Lewis makes a case as to why he should still be employed with the team.

  • Lovie Smith

    • Lovie’s track record in Chicago led to him being an obvious target for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vacancy in 2014. His quick yanking from the role despite inheriting a rookie quarterback fits in with the other examples highlighted in Superior Performances, Inferior Opportunities

  • Romeo Crennel

    • There’s no need to unnecessarily drag the Browns here so we’ll skip that but again, his short stint in Kansas City perfectly echoes the sentiment of “fast fired”.

  • Mike Tomlin

    • What’s ironic about this situation is many fans continue to undervalue Mike Tomlin’s importance and abilities as a head coach despite holding the highest winning percentage of any coach in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Which in turn, caused me to clamor for him to go to a team where he’d be more appreciated.

  • Mike Singletary

    • Ah, another example of interim coach making something out of nothing. Getting an opportunity and doing well all for the rug to be snatched from under him. Still hasn’t gotten another crack at being a head coach. Must be a case of spoiled milk.

  • Jim Caldwell

    • I’ll make this short. The Lions had not had a better four year span since 1991-1994 and Jim Caldwell was still fired despite making their former first-overall pick look like a first-overall pick.

  • Raheem Morris

  • Leslie Frazier

    • Stop me if you’ve heard this: interim coach, gets the temporary tag removed. Turns things around and is fired after Year 3. Also, still hasn’t been granted another head coaching opportunity.

  • Todd Bowles

    • It will be interested to see what happens after Todd’s stint as the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator. The Jets fall in the same category as the Browns, so hopefully with a bit of image rehabilitation he can get a second crack but this has a chance to be Romeo Crennel 2.0

  • Hue Jackson

    • Gets fired after going 8-8 in Oakland and then has the dubious distinction of going 1-15 in 2016 and winless in 2017. But hey, true equality is not where every Black coach has to be Bill Belichick. If Doug Marrone is allowed to stick around, average Black NFL head coaches can be a thing too.

  • Vance Joseph

    • Personally, I don’t think John Elway knows what he’s doing. I also don’t have a high—personal—opinion of John Elway as a football player. This is Todd Bowles 2.0 and again, hopefully he gets a chance to impress a second time around heading the Cardinals’ revamped defense

  • Steve Wilks

    • Only given one year, a la Hue in Oakland. Let’s collectively hope Steve’s second chance doesn’t also resemble Jackson’s Cleveland experience

  • Anthony Lynn

    • I don’t like being in a position to trust the Spanos family but here we are. Being given an old man at QB, he’s made a lot with few ingredients which is another pillar of Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities. Anthony Lynn was also cheated out of the 2018 Coach of the Year award.

  • Ron Rivera

    • Riverboat Ron was able to parlay the stalemate in Carolina into a cushy transfer to the Washington football team. Despite Dan Snyder’s presence on the Mount Rushless of Sports Owners, Ron’s hiring may be a sign of the sensible decision-making finally falling upon the nation’s capital


With the Panthers selecting a coach from college to fill their vacancy, the Giants hiring an absolute unknown, the Browns hiring Minnesota’s offensive coordinator and the Cowboys picking Mike McCarthy over Marvin; there had been no new Black hires for the 2020 cycle of the HC carousel. Between this and the constant trend of interviewing a Black candidate early just to satisfy the rule, with no true intention of considering the prospective head coach, finally boiled over.

Alas, the rumblings of changes to the Rooney Rule have surfaced. Ironically, the resolution which drew mixed immediate response from football fans was actually referenced in Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities back in 2002:

An alteration to the rule that does appear already set in motion is an addendum to the original ruling, upping the minimum minority interviewees to two and spreading the measure to coordinators and front-office personnel.

But the issue here isn’t about owners being unaware of talented Black candidates. Since 2003, Black coaches have been interviewed for every head coaching vacancy. Teams simply view it as a formality in most cases. A lily pad to leap over to get to someone more palatable. That’s evidenced in the short stints Black coaches have enjoyed throughout the Rooney Rule’s existence. Does it feel yucky to need to incentivize teams by boosting their third-round picks? Yes. But, like Affirmative Action, the sliminess is merely what the mirror is reflecting of the status of a society that calls for such a measure to ensure qualified people aren’t continuously passed over for opportunities—particularly when their counterparts can get by on a fraction of the credentials.

Thumbnail Photo Credit: Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports