Late last week Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin appeared on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in an effort to draw attention to a longstanding issue: the lack of minority head coaches in the NFL.
“I normally don’t talk publicly during the offseason, but this is a critical issue for us,” Tomlin later explained to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “As important as this is for us in the NFL, it’s also important for us as a society.”
During his appearance on Real Sports, Tomlin took issue with the fact that several former Black head coaches—Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals), for example—haven’t been able to land second head-coaching jobs. Then, during his discussion with Cook, Tomlin highlighted Eric Bieniemy’s inability to secure a head-coaching job, despite interviewing with six teams earlier this offseason.
“Bieniemy is a real head-scratcher for me,” Tomlin told Cook, referring to the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs. “Every offensive coordinator Andy Reid has had in the last 20 years got a head job. One of those guys, Brad Childress, hired me in Minnesota in 2006. Now Andy has the best offense he’s ever had and [Bieniemy] can’t get a job?”
Shannon Sharpe Blasts Mike Tomlin
Mike Tomlin’s recent statements didn’t sit well with Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, who co-hosts FS1’s Undisputed. He took Pittsburgh’s head coach to task during a segment on Monday.
“Mike Tomlin has been a head coach for 14 years. Mike Tomlin has not hired a Black offensive or Black defensive coordinator,” began Sharpe, before getting really animated and accusing Tomlin of “doing exactly what you say other teams should not do.”
“I’m not letting you off the hook with this Mike Tomlin. You are in a position to hire Black people and you have not done that, so I’m not going to let you throw stones at everyone else.”
As for that avenue of criticism, Tomlin told the Post-Gazette: “I always do what is best for our organization. I believe in hiring from within in most cases. … I’m highly sensitive to [the issue], but I don’t regret [not having a Black coordinator]. I’ve had some good [Black] coaches leave for other jobs.”
Mike Tomlin: ‘All We Have Is Hope’
Tomlin went on to admit that he doesn’t have a solution to the problem.
“The optimist in me says things will get better, but there’s been no evidence in the recent cycles to back that up. Without evidence, all we have is hope. We just haven’t been able to move the needle,” he concluded.
Indeed there are currently just three Black head coaches in the NFL, including Tomlin. The other two are Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins and David Culley of the Houston Texans, the latter of whom was hired in January. Moreover, only three of the 27 head-coaching vacancies in the past four years have gone to Black head coaches.
By way of comparison, there were four other Black head coaches in the NFL in 2007 when Tomlin was hired by the Steelers, whose late owner Dan Rooney helped pioneer the Rooney Rule, which at inception required every NFL team to interview a minority candidate for its head coaching opening.
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