By Reginald Williams,
Special to the AFRO

The Carolina Panthers filled its head coach vacancy with former Indianapolis Colts Frank Reich Jan.26 in a move viewed as the latest example of Black coaching talent being overlooked in the National Football League. 

The decision to jettison interim head coach Steve Wilks comes in the wake of the failure of the Panthers to reach the playoffs. 

Despite finishing the season with a 6-6 record, elevating Carolina in contention to earn a playoff spot, David Tepper, the Panthers owner, hired Reich, who the Indianapolis Colts fired midseason after winning three of eight games.

The move stirred dismay from Panther supporters. 

“I’ve been a Carolina Panthers fan from the team’s inception in 1995. I’ve watched the team go through many ups, downs and two Super Bowl losses. However, I never felt more disappointed in my franchise than hearing the news that my team did not hire Steve Wilks as the head coach,” explained Malcolm Aaron, a longtime Panthers fan. “The Panthers decided to hire Reich, a capable and qualified candidate; however, Wilks earned the job on merit. Wilks was given lemons and made lemonade.”

The Carolina Panthers recently hired former quarterback Frank Reich to replace interim head coach Steve Wilks. Reich’s hiring has sparked concerns from fans who see this as an example of the National Football League (NFL) owners’ predisposition to choose White head coaches African Americans. (AP Photos)

He is among the growing legion of fans who feel Blacks are often passed over for top coaching positions. 

“Wilks proved he can win without much talent. Reich has shown that he can’t win with talent, which is why the Colts fired him after going three and five. So, let’s call it what it is. It’s not about winning. It’s about Tepper not wanting to give a Black coach the keys to his franchise. Tepper feels more comfortable with someone who looks like him in leadership. And until Black folk can get some ownership, this will be the issue,” explained Howard Lemuel Craft, a North Carolina playwright, poet, essayist, and arts educator.

Several Black football coaches are in litigation with the NFL.

Wilks, fired in 2018 after serving one season as the head coach for the Arizona Cardinals, joined in the class-action lawsuit filed by Brian Flores and Ray Horton against the NFL in 2022 for what they deemed racial discrimination and racist hiring practices. Fraudulent interview practices with no real intentions of hiring Black coaches are the foundational issues driving the lawsuit.

The critics reflect that stubborn belief and persistent speculation that the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires that team owners consider Blacks when filling a head coaching vacancy, results in just a cursory look for Black coaching candidates. 

Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Established in 2002, the rule, crafted by the late Johnnie Cochran, is designed to foster diversity in pro football’s coaching ranks by requiring NFL owners with coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate. The rule, of which Cochran was an architect,  emerged from a Cochran commissioned a study that revealed that Black coaches were less likely to be rehired and more likely to be fired despite having a better winning percentage than White coaches.

Historically, White head coaches have been allowed to hold their jobs for roughly three to five poor seasons before being replaced, usually by another white coach. In contrast, NFL owners customarily swiftly fire Black head coaches if they fail to achieve immediate success. The Houston Texans fired Lovie Smith hours after the team finished the season with a 3-13 record in 2022. Smith replaced David Culley, an African-American coach who was also fired after just one unsuccessful season with the Texans.

Wilks maintains that the Cardinals hired him as a “bridge coach.” He released a statement through his lawyers that read: “This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront. Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality.”

Although Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, led the Chiefs to their third Super Bowl appearance in four years, billionaire NFL owners continue to dismiss Bieniemy’s impressive resume.

Offensive coordinators leading high-powered offensives like Bieniemy are prime candidates to be hired. Four of the five head coaches hired in 2022 were offensive coordinators. Bieniemy’s winning percentage far exceeded each of those coaches, validating Cochran’s discovery that Black coaches with higher winning percentages were less likely to be hired than their white counterparts.

Bryon Leftwich, the former offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 1997 Howard D. Woodson High School football standout, was recently fired two seasons after leading the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory in 2021. During his success, he received no head coaching interviews.

DeMeco Ryans, the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, is believed to be the lead applicant for the Texans’ vacancy. 

Derrick Jones Homesley, a former world-class sprinter and 2018 inductee in N.C. A&T Sports Hall of Fame succinctly summed up his feelings about Reich’s hire and the lack of Black coaches provided with similar opportunities.

“They keep showing us they don’t want us,” Jones Homesley said.  

Reginald Williams, the author of “A Marginalized Voice: Devalued, Dismissed, Disenfranchised & Demonized” writes on Black men and Holistic Health concerns. Please email or visit for more information.

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