Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Super Bowl XLIII and Mike Tomlin
On Sunday, February 1, 2009, Mike Tomlin became the youngest head coach in the history of the National Football League to lead a team to the Super Bowl title. Tomlin also became the second African American head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl win. In watching the often times overbearing buildup to the Super Bowl, I paid particular attention to the "attention" that would be shined on Tomlin by virtue of his being a black head coach leading his team to the Super Bowl. Unlike the news coverage that accompanied Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith's coaching in the Super Bowl as the first African American head coaches two years ago, very little, if any, attention was paid to Tomlin on account of his race. Rather, much attention was given his age.
In addition, two weeks before Super Bowl 43, the young (32 years old) and hot new defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raheem Morris, was announced as the new head coach of the Bucs after the surprising (to some) dismissal of Jon Gruden. Raheem Morris is African American and had never been a coordinator in the NFL receiving his promotions (first to defensive coordinator at the end of this season and then to head coach) from his job under Gruden as the defensive backs coach.
Both the Tomlin story (youth emphasized, not race) and the Morris story (young, up-and-coming coach elevated early to a head coach position) demonstrate marked progress in the African American head coaching struggle that has been ongoing for decades in the NFL. That Tomlin won the Super Bowl at age 36, where his race was rarely mentioned, and that Raheem Morris received the same acceleration previously reserved for the Andy Reid's (elevated as a young quarterbacks coach) and John Harbaugh's (elevated as a young special team's coach) of the world is truly remarkable. The Rooney Rule has proven its effectiveness through real world change in a formerly abysmal racial exclusion cycle.
In addition, new African American head coaches Mike Singletary (San Francisco 49ers) and Jim Caldwell (Indianapolis Colts) have taken over with very little controversy or Rooney Rule discussion. This feels like progress.
With success on racial equality and equal opportunity being shown on the professional side of football in connection with head coaches, what is it going to take for the NCAA and the collegiate ranks to realize that their dinosaur head coach hiring models continue to perpetuate racial discrimination in the head coach hiring ranks?
Time has come for modernization, and the NFL has shown the way (although some argue that the pipeline (i.e., offensive and defensive coordinators) is depleted without much effort to improve).