Lynn Pierce, Howard University News Service
If you weren’t watching the Super Bowl closely a week ago, a couple of the game’s heroes who defined the game probably went unsung and unnoticed. These two coaches are Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles, who are also a fresh breath for Black coaches in the NFL.
One of America’s most celebrated modern traditions, the Super Bowl, took place February on 7th. The Kansas City Chiefs squared off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This gladiatorial duel is what many experts predicted as an instant classic. Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, two generational talents from two different generations, leading their teams in what could determine who is the ‘Greatest of All Time’.
Unless you were a die-hard Buccaneers’ fan, the kind of loyal fan who would test his 40-yard dash during the actual game, the bout failed to deliver the competitive hype between two great teams and two great players.
In a total team effort, the Buccaneers dominated. This sort of dominance is normally credited to the players and, indeed, the players deserve immense credit. Their execution was nearly flawless, but what’s execution without a gameplan and preparation? This is where coaching is key.
Leftwich, offensive coordinator of the Buccaneers, had a gameplan which was to use the Chiefs’ defensive physical nature against them while dialing up calculated risk for big plays and minimizing unnecessary gambles.
More impressively, Bowles’, defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers, decoded the Andy Reid and Mahomes’ matrix. His defense held one of the most talented offenses to nine points and no touchdowns. By far, the worst performance by a Mahomes-led offense.
“They were the better team today, they beat us pretty good, the worst I think I’ve been beaten in a long time,” Mahomes said.
“They took away the sidelines and they did a good job of rallying to the football and making tackles. We weren’t executing early, had a few miscues. Guys weren’t on the same page. Credit to them. They played a heck of a game defensively and offensively to beat us,” he continued.
In the NFL, where black coaches, especially, could be perceived as an afterthought, more spotlight should radiate on Leftwich and Bowles. Instead, in an after game interview, Leftwich is introduced as “Brian” not Bryon, then mistaken as Bowles aka the other Black coach.
When responding to a question about the defense shutting down the Chiefs’ offense Leftwich responded, “Shut Mahomes down?” I think you got the wrong guy. I got nothing to do with that. That was Todd [Bowles].”
Leftwich handled the moment gracefully. His humor made the interaction laughable, but this is an example why Tampa Bay’s win means much more than a trophy hoist, celebration and a parade. It could be positive momentum for Black coaches moving forward.
To write it gently, the NFL hires black head coaches slowly, but fires them quickly. Furthermore, black coaches are also overlooked during the hiring process for head coaching positions. Historically, this inability to provide opportunities to qualified black and minority coaches has been one of the NFL’s Achilles heels, thus the Rooney Rule.
Art Rooney II, team president of Pittsburgh Steelers and the son of Dan Rooney, addressed the hiring of black head coaches late January.
“We didn’t make as much progress on the head-coaching side as we would have liked,” Rooney said. “But I would say we did make some progress on the general manager side, which is encouraging. And then we’ll have to look on the coordinator side to see how much progress we make on that front.”
Of the 32 NFL teams, three head coaches are black and two are minorities. This is despite nearly 70 percent of the league’s players being minorities.
Since 2017, seven Black head coaches have been fired while five Black head coaches have been fired. Almost a 1:1 ratio for hiring and firing. However, there’s been 26 NFL head coach openings during the same period. Why are the hiring statistics skewed against potential Blacks coaches?
There’s no one definite answer.
The Super Bowl having three Black coordinators in one Super Bowl was the needed eye opener for NFL executives, media members and fans.
“To have this opportunity, to have three African-American coordinators on the same team and find a way to win the Super Bowl, obviously it will open people’s eyes,” Leftwich said.
Tampa Bay’s win builds a lot closer towards that change.