Despite all of the iterations of the Rooney Rule and all of the rhetoric from top officials through the years about the NFL’s supposed commitment to inclusive hiring, here’s the state of things at the outset of the 2022 hiring cycle: Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stands alone as a Black on-field leader in a league whose player workforce is overwhelmingly Black.
David Culley’s ouster (it occurred three days after Miami fired Brian Flores, who is Afro Latino) following his first season in Houston was yet another blow to the NFL’s Black assistant coaches. Many of them no longer believe the hiring landscape will ever change because club owners through their actions have made something resoundingly clear: Only white is right. There’s just no other way to view it.
Each cycle, qualified Black assistants are passed over for top coaching jobs that go to their white counterparts. And on those rare occasions when Black assistants break through the white ceiling, they had better be miracle workers. Or else. Just ask Culley.
The Texans set up Culley to fail like someone paid them to do it. Sonny Corleone had more of a chance at the Jones Beach Causeway in The Godfather than Culley did in his only season working for the franchise run by team chairman and CEO Cal McNair.
From the start, Culley’s hands were tied. He inherited a weak roster turned over by Texans general manager Nick Caserio, and Culley never had the opportunity to work with Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson.
In January 2021, Watson requested a trade after the McNair family hired Caserio. Shortly thereafter, many lawsuits were filed against Watson alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. Reportedly, as many as 22 of the lawsuits are still active. For the entire season, Watson was a healthy scratch.
The Texans this season also were without defensive end J.J. Watt, a five-time first-team All-Pro and three-time Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. After last season, Houston granted Watt’s request to be released. The future Hall of Famer now plays for Arizona.
With Watson and Watt on the roster last season, the Texans had four victories. With neither playing for Houston this season, Culley led the team to four victories as the players, by all accounts, played hard under him until the end. You shouldn’t fire a coach who accomplished that. You know what you should do? You should tell him, “Thank you.”
Look, from the moment Culley was hired, it was clear that the McNair family didn’t view him as the long-term solution to their head-coaching situation. The McNair-Culley pairing seemed more like an arranged marriage than a love connection.
Remember: In the previous hiring cycle that included seven openings for head coaches, no African Americans were among the men who filled the first six jobs. It was a black eye for the NFL, and especially for commissioner Roger Goodell and his top lieutenants, who redoubled their efforts before the process began in an effort to address this blight on professional sports’ most successful league. Surprisingly, the Texans chose Culley to fill the final chair.
Formerly the Baltimore Ravens’ assistant head coach, passing coordinator and wide receivers coach, Culley became the oldest first-time NFL head coach at age 65. Respected by his coaching peers and players alike, the former longtime assistant wasn’t widely viewed as a top head-coaching candidate. The belief among several league officials was that with the clock ticking loudly toward the cycle ending, league office officials strongly encouraged the Texans to take a long look at the amiable, effective teacher.
Culley received a four-year contract that guaranteed him about $22 million, of which the Texans still owe him $17 million. Obviously, that’s spectacular pay for only a year’s work. The problem is, Culley would rather remain on the job.
Black coaches don’t want to be paid to sit at home. They want the same opportunities their white counterparts receive to compete and prove their worth. For the Texans to have provided Culley with so little to build on and then sack him after only one season, well, that’s the definition of doing someone dirty. Former Arizona head coach Steve Wilks can relate.
In 2018, Arizona fired Wilks, who went 3-13 in his only season. Meanwhile, Joe Judge received two seasons to set the New York Giants back a decade. Then there’s Detroit head coach Dan Campbell.
Campbell, who like Culley was hired during the previous cycle, went 3-13-1 this season. He will return next season. The narrative around the Lions is that they’re making strides under Campbell. OK.
That’s not offered to suggest Campbell should be fired. It’s just that in interviews through the years with The Undefeated, many Black coaches have decried the double standard that exists in how they are evaluated compared with white coaches. And they have receipts.
There are now eight head-coaching openings. The NFL has never had more than eight Black head coaches in a single season. With the firing of Culley, the league is speeding in the wrong direction on the matter of diversity and inclusion in football operations at the club level.
On the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the NFL is in a very bad place with its Black coaches. And at this point, the likelihood of anything improving is only a dream.