At the end of the 2019 NFL season, there were five coaches fired. Of those five open positions, only one was filled by a minority coach. The lone minority hire was Ron Rivera, who is a retread fired from the Carolina Panthers job the same week.
Whenever the subject comes up there’s an outcry for minority hires. This season the most commonly mentioned coach being overlooked is Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator, Eric Bieniemy. Qualified as he may be to be a head coach, are there others that deserve serious consideration? Yes.
While there are minority candidates qualified it’s important to also consider the credentials they bring in comparison to those hired for the open positions. After all, the best coach should get hired right? In this article, I will look at some of the top minority coaches and compare them to the five coaches already hired.
Eric Bieniemy, Kanas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator
Bieniemy is the current coaching rising star, not challenged by anyone. Bieniemy has among the most NFL experience of anyone on this list with 10 years experience. In his two seasons as OC with the Chiefs, they’ve been among the top offensive teams in the league, explosive and innovative.
The two things that may be drawing away from Bieniemy are that Andy Reid is the head coach and his rise to OC and that of the Kansas City offense coincided with Patrick Mahomes joining the team. Reid is an offensive-minded head coach and doesn’t typically give up play-calling duties. One criticism of Bieniemy is that he’s never called plays. Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy, two of Reid’s previous assistants had little experience calling plays and that didn’t stop them from getting hired.
While Bieniemy may not call plays he has a major role in the game-planning week to week. He’s also responsible for finding what their quarterback does well and feed into that. Some will say Pat Mahomes is the biggest change to the offense in Bieniemy’s time as OC but perhaps the OC is helping make the quarterback look good too.
Robert Selah, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator
Selah has eight years of NFL coaching experience and has lead one of the top defenses in the league in 2019. Saleh was a defensive quality control coach under Pete Carroll during the 2013 championship season with the Seahawks. Next, he spent three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars as the linebackers coach. In his final season with Jacksonville, they went 3–13 but the defense was ranked in the top 10.
In 2017 the 49ers hired Selah to helm the defense, no doubt based largely on the successful 2016 season with the Jaguars. In his three seasons as DC Saleh’s defenses have improved each year. They ranked 24th in 2017, 13th in 2018, and 2nd in 2019. The demonstrable improvement each year culminating in a top unit in 2019 and the 49ers looking like a Super Bowl contender make Saleh the top young coach.
The possible criticisms of Saleh are that he’s a defensive coach in an offensive league. The league has been trending toward hiring offensive masterminds like Sean McVay as the most recent example. NFL teams, in general, don’t seem to value NFL coaching experience over college either judging by the hiring of former Baylor coach Matt Rhule and Kliff Kingsbury.
George Edwards, Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator
Edwards is the most experienced coach on the list, he has been in the league since starting out in 1998 as linebackers coach with the Dallas Cowboys. Edwards coached under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and hired by Zimmer to lead the Vikings defense in 2014. In the years between his two stints under Zimmer, he was DC for the Buffalo Bills and Washington and linebackers coach for the Browns and Dolphins.
Edwards boasts seven years under one of the top defensive minds in the NFL. Edwards took over a defense that was among the worst in 2013 and in one season they were a middle of the pack unit. By 2016 they became a top-five defense and in 2017 they were arguably the top defense in the league. In 2018–2019, they’ve remained one of the best defenses in the league.
It would seem that given his longevity and success in the NFL that George Edwards might be the most overlooked coach on this list. If “paying your dues” gets you credit toward a head coaching job, George Edwards has paid the most dues. However, some might see that he’s had mostly unsuccessful runs as DC in the NFL until he was paired with one of the top defensive coaches in the league.
Like Eric Bieniemy, Edwards never called plays under Mike Zimmer and that’s playing against him. As mentioned above, Edwards didn’t have that much success prior to joining Zimmer. Between Zimmer calling the plays and his resume before the Vikings, Edwards may make NFL owners nervous. There’s also speculation that the Vikings won’t renew his contract with the defense taking a step back in 2019.
Other names to watch
Before I go on to discuss the above three top minority coaches, I just wanted to mention others who may soon be deserving of a head coaching job.
Raheem Morris was recently promoted to defensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons. Yes, Morris had a crack at a head coaching job but it was when he was just 33 years old and taking over a terrible situation with the Tamp Bay Buccaneers. The unique thing about Morris does not only do he have head coaching experience but he has experience on both sides of the ball.
John Embree is currently the Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends for the 49ers but he has a dozen years NFL experience. The 49ers' success should make his stock rise even more but having never held a coordinator level position may be holding him back.
Byron Leftwich currently the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is another rising star in the coaching field. He only has three years coaching experience in total but it’s impressive that NFL teams were willing to hand over the keys to their offense to someone so inexperienced.
Other names to watch are Kris Richard, Cowboys Defensive Backs and passing game coordinator and Joe Woods, 49ers Defensive Backs and passing game coordinator.
How do they compare?
The question will always be if they are as qualified for the job as the ones hired for the jobs. The 2020 crop of newly hired coaches includes Rivera who is an established, successful head coach and Mike McCarthy who has won a Super Bowl. It’s fair to say it’s hard to argue any of the above coaches are better hires than these two, so we’ll exclude them from this comparison.
Kevin Stefanski was hired to be the Cleveland Browns head coach. Stefanski is very comparable to many of the coaches on this list. He has a 13 years of coaching experience and parts of two seasons as an Offensive Coordinator. Stefanski has survived multiple head coach changes over his years with the Vikings, showing how much the organization has valued him over the years. He’s also been barred from interviewing for jobs in previous seasons. Unlike some of the coaches on the list, Stefanski called plays. It’s fair to say that Stefanski is as deserving as most, if not all, of the other coaches on this list.
Matt Rhule was hired as the Carolina Panthers head coach out of Baylor. There’s no denying that Rhule is an excellent coach taking Temple from one of the worst programs in college football to ranked in the top 25 and Baylor from a single win in year one to nearly making the College Football Playoffs. However, it’s college and NFL and college are very different things. Recent coaches that have made the leap from college to the NFL with little or no NFL experience haven’t worked out. It’s puzzling why NFL teams keep taking these sorts of risks when there are established NFL caliber coaches available.
Joe Judge, yet another Bill Belichick assistant hired as head coach for the New York Giants. Judge’s only experience is as a special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach, neither two positions highly sought after for head coaching positions. Practically every Belichick assistant to become a head coach has been a disaster, outside of Mike Vrabel with the Tennessee Titans. The Judge hire is the one so far in 2020 that makes you wonder how coaching hires work in the NFL. Certainly, every coach on the above list is more qualified than Judge to be a head coach.
Wrapping it up
There may be more head coaching positions open in 2020. Of the hires so far Rhule may be a risk but also has shown the ability to turn around a program. Judge, on the other hand, is a complete and incomprehensible hire when there are so many established minority coaches that are more qualified on their own merits. It may be a case of incompetence in the Giants' front office. Dave Gettleman may be among the worst general managers in the league having traded away Odell Beckham Jr., over drafting David Jones and sending of several picks and an Olivier Vernon for relatively scant return.