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‘Some Team Has to Want Me’

By Jemele Hill

05 Feb 2021 · 5 min read

In Sunday’s Super Bowl, three of the four offensive and defensive coordinators—the highest-ranking assistant coaches on the field—will be Black. That their teams are competing for a championship isn’t the only thing Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs and Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have in common. They also are striking examples of how the National Football League continues to fail Black coaches. Last May, after George Floyd’s death in police custody, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pledged to use “the power of our platform” to address “systemic issues” of racism—but that commitment doesn’t seem to extend to the league itself.

Bieniemy, 51, the offensive coordinator for the NFL’s defending champions, interviewed unsuccessfully for six head-coaching positions during the current hiring cycle after being passed over for multiple openings in the previous cycle. Leftwich, 41, the Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator, was offered no interviews at all this time—a snub that made the Tampa Bay head coach, Bruce Arians, “very, very pissed.” Bowles, 57, Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator, is a former New York Jets head coach who was fired after overseeing that perennially mediocre team for a few years. Plenty of white coaches have been able to find new opportunities after being fired, but Bowles has had no such luck on the open market.

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