The ones who made it

For decades, Black coaches have been disproportionately excluded from the NFL’s top jobs. These are the voices of the coaches who broke through.

In the NFL’s 102-year history, 26 Black men have served as head coaches. Two have died. Twenty-four remain.

This summer, 16 of those 24 sat down with The Washington Post to tell their stories and share their perspective on why the NFL’s inclusion problem persists. They have grounds for grievance, but their stories reflect the pride in the paths they took, the pressure they felt, the value of their contributions and the legacy they leave behind.

Black Out

This football season, The Washington Post is examining the NFL’s decades-long failure to equitably promote Black coaches to top jobs, despite the multibillion-dollar league being fueled by Black players.

There was hesitance, even fatigue, among those who spoke with The Post — and some who didn’t — about why Black coaches are deserving of more opportunities in the NFL. Most had to be convinced to participate, expressing doubt that this time their words would be heeded.

“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Just how much progress have we made?’ ” asked Anthony Lynn, the former Los Angeles Chargers coach.

Those who spoke did so, they said, mostly for those who never got the chance and for those who continue to be ignored. There is a determination among the ones who made it that they are no longer anomalies — and that this small fraternity of Black coaches no longer remains so exclusive.

We interviewed 16 current and former Black head coaches. These are their stories.

Todd Bowles

Todd Bowles

Jim Caldwell

Jim Caldwell

Romeo Crennel

Romeo Crennel

David Culley

David Culley

Tony Dungy

Tony Dungy

Herm Edwards

Herm Edwards

Leslie Frazier

Leslie Frazier

Hue Jackson

Hue Jackson

Vance Joseph

Vance Joseph

Marvin Lewis

Marvin Lewis

Anthony Lynn

Anthony Lynn

Raheem Morris

Raheem Morris

Terry Robiskie

Terry Robiskie

Mike Singletary

Mike Singletary

Lovie Smith

Lovie Smith

Mel Tucker

Mel Tucker

THE PATH

How Black coaches worked their way to the top — and what they endured along the way.

THE PRESSURE

Getting there is hard. For Black coaches, staying there is even harder.

THE VALUE

The Rooney Rule isn’t working. Here’s what Black coaches say needs to happen for team owners to see them as leaders.

THE LEGACY

For all the pain they’ve endured, Black coaches — even those who never got a fair shake — take pride in making it to the mountaintop.

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Todd Bowles

Miami Dolphins (interim), 2011

New York Jets, 2015-18

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2022-

Bowles, 58, was promoted to head coach of the Buccaneers in March after Bruce Arians shifted to a consulting role. In his previous job as defensive coordinator, Bowles devised a scheme that held the high-scoring Kansas City Chiefs without a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. He also led the Jets to their only winning season in the past decade.

Jim Caldwell

Indianapolis Colts, 2009-11

Detroit Lions, 2014-17

Caldwell, 67, is one of four Black coaches to reach the Super Bowl, doing so in his first season leading the Colts. Under Caldwell’s tutelage, Peyton Manning had the best seasons of his career, Joe Flacco won the Super Bowl, and Matthew Stafford made his lone Pro Bowl appearance. Caldwell also was the first Black coach in ACC history at Wake Forest University.

Romeo Crennel

Cleveland Browns, 2005-08

Kansas City Chiefs, 2011 (interim), 2012

Houston Texans (interim), 2020

Crennel, 75, retired from coaching in June after 52 years, including 39 in the NFL. After serving on staffs that reached six Super Bowls (and won five), Crennel landed in Cleveland, where he led the Browns to one of their three winning seasons since they were revived in 1999. When he took over the Texans in 2020, he became the oldest head coach in NFL history.

David Culley

Houston Texans, 2021

The first African American to play quarterback at Vanderbilt, Culley, 67, took the longest pathway to an NFL head coaching job at 43 years — with 27 of those spent as an NFL position coach. Culley was 65 when the Texans hired him. The long wait ended with a short sip: He was fired after going 4-13 in his lone season.

Tony Dungy

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1996-2001

Indianapolis Colts, 2002-08

Dungy, 66, became the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl when the Colts prevailed in February 2007. A Hall of Famer, he made the playoffs in each of his last 10 seasons. Since Dungy debuted, half of the 16 Black full-time coaches hired in the NFL coached under him or coached under someone from his coaching tree.

Herm Edwards

New York Jets, 2001-05

Kansas City Chiefs, 2006-08

Edwards, 68, was the head coach at Arizona State University from 2018 until he was let go this September. He spent nearly 30 years in the NFL as a player and coach. “You play to win the game,” he once famously quipped, and he often did, reaching the playoffs in half of his eight seasons as an NFL head coach.

Leslie Frazier

Minnesota Vikings, 2010 (interim), 2011-13

Frazier, 63, is now assistant head coach/defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. A knee injury suffered during the Chicago Bears’ victory in Super Bowl XX ended his career as a defensive back and pushed him into coaching. When he was hired by the Vikings, he became one of only three Black coaches since 1990, out of 14, to be elevated from an interim role to the full-time job.

Hue Jackson

Oakland Raiders, 2011

Cleveland Browns, 2016-18

Jackson, 56, is now the head coach at Grambling. The last coach Raiders owner Al Davis hired before he died, Jackson was fired after his lone season with the franchise that made Art Shell the first Black head coach of the NFL’s modern era. Jackson later took over the rebuilding Browns, whom he would accuse of not prioritizing winning.

Vance Joseph

Denver Broncos, 2017-18

Joseph, 50, is now defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. After spending 12 seasons as a defensive assistant, he became the first full-time Black head coach in the history of the Broncos. He was fired after two years and is among three Black coaches (out of five) hired since 2017 who were given two or fewer seasons.

Marvin Lewis

Cincinnati Bengals, 2003-18

Lewis, 63, is the winningest coach in Bengals history with 131 victories, and he ranks third in wins among Black coaches. He was the coordinator of the dominant Baltimore defense that helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. Five former Lewis assistants have become NFL head coaches, including three Black coaches, giving him the largest coaching tree among Black coaches not named Tony Dungy.

Anthony Lynn

Buffalo Bills (interim), 2016

Los Angeles Chargers, 2017-20

Lynn, 53, is now the assistant head coach and running backs coach for the San Francisco 49ers. A two-time Super Bowl champion as a running back with the Denver Broncos, Lynn was an assistant for 16 years before taking over as an interim in Buffalo. He reached the playoffs once and finished with a winning record over four seasons with the Chargers.

Raheem Morris

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2009-11

Atlanta Falcons (interim), 2020

Morris, 46, is now the defensive coordinator for the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. The Buccaneers made him the youngest Black head coach of the NFL’s modern era when they hired him at 32. His second of three seasons with Tampa Bay resulted in 10 wins and a seven-game turnaround, the largest in franchise history. He also reached the Super Bowl as an assistant with Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

Terry Robiskie

Washington (interim), 2000

Cleveland Browns (interim), 2004

Robiskie, 67, coached in the NFL for nearly 40 years, winning the Super Bowl after the 1983 season as a special teams assistant with the Los Angeles Raiders. He served as head coach for a total of eight games with Washington and Cleveland but retired in 2020 as one of five Black interim coaches who never ascended to the full-time role.

Mike Singletary

San Francisco 49ers, 2008-10

Singletary, 63, helped shatter a long-held myth about Black players’ ability to play middle linebacker when he became the heart and soul of the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl XX-winning defense. Among Black coaches, Singletary is the only Pro Football Hall of Fame player to land a full-time job in the NFL.

Lovie Smith

Chicago Bears, 2004-12

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2014-15

Houston Texans, 2022-

When he took over the Texans in February, Smith became the first Black head coach to be hired for a full-time job by three franchises. Smith, 64, reached the postseason three times with the Bears and became the first Black coach to secure a trip to the Super Bowl before losing to his mentor, Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts. Smith also reached the Super Bowl as defensive coordinator of the 2001 St. Louis Rams.

Mel Tucker

Jacksonville Jaguars (interim), 2011

Tucker, 50, was an assistant for 10 NFL seasons. After his only shot as a head coach came on an interim basis (and lasted five games), he moved on to the college ranks — first at Colorado, then at Michigan State, where he is among the highest-paid coaches in the nation after winning Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 2021.

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About this story

Additional reporting by Jerry Brewer, Candace Buckner and Dave Sheinin. Additional video filming by Erin Patrick O’Connor, Alice Li, Jayne Orenstein, Jorge Ribas, Brandon Watson, Nate Peracciny, Gabrielle Joseph, Max Toomey, Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman, Jack Mayer, Julian Valdivieso, Jeffrey McWhorter, Jamal Martin, Meagan Laboy, Anto Tavitian, Christopher Zuppa and Boyzell Hosey. Research by Alice Crites. Editing by Joe Tone. Copy editing by Michael Petre. Photo editing by Toni L. Sandys. Video editing by Jayne Orenstein, Joshua Carroll, Jorge Ribas and Justin Scuiletti. Design and development by Brianna Schroer and Joe Fox. Design editing by Virginia Singarayar and Matt Callahan. Logo design by Chloe Meister. Project management by Wendy Galietta.