In February 2022, Lovie Smith was appointed as the new head coach of the Houston Texans. He expressed concern about the lack of diversity and representation among Black coaches in the NFL.
“I am aware of the number of Black head coaches currently in the National Football League,” Smith stated during a press conference almost a year ago.
“There is Mike Tomlin, and I believe I am one of the few others. This presents an issue that is clear to us. Once the issue is identified, how do we address it?”
On Monday, Smith was terminated after his sole season as the leader of the Texans, with a final record of 3-13-1.
Smith is the second African American coach in the past two years to be dismissed from his role with the Texans. This comes after the team let go of David Culley at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
Smith’s tenure as the leader was not marked by many victories or successes. However, his final contribution to the organization was a thrilling last-minute win against the Indianapolis Colts, resulting in the Chicago Bears receiving the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft instead. Despite the challenges, Smith’s Texans team displayed unity and skill, qualities that are often sought after during a rebuilding process.
According to Houston GM Nick Caserio, the firing of Smith was the most beneficial choice for the team at this time.
Caserio expressed gratitude on behalf of the organization to Lovie Smith for his valuable contributions as both a coach and a leader during the past two seasons.
“I am continually assessing our football operations and have determined that this is the optimal choice for us currently. It is my duty to establish a thorough and competitive program that can maintain success for an extended period. We are not currently at that level, but with the backing of the McNair family and the resources at our disposal, I have faith in the future direction of our football program.”
However, the dismissal of the coach who is 64 years old, the entire Texans organization, and the steps taken by the league to encourage diversity have received significant backlash from former players and television commentators.
Former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III tweeted on Sunday that the Houston Texans’ decision to fire Lovie Smith after only one year is unacceptable. He also expressed his disapproval of the team using two Black Head Coaches to intentionally perform poorly and then letting them go after such a short time.
ESPN commentators Stephen A. Smith and Michael Irvin expressed their disapproval of the decision, with Smith describing the Texans organization as an “atrocity.”
“They are a disgrace. In my opinion, if you are an African American seeking to become a head coach in the NFL, there are 31 teams that would be preferable. You should pray to God that the Houston Texans never offer you a position,” stated Smith.
Irvin claimed that the Texans are making Black coaches the scapegoats.
“He stated that the situation in Houston is chaotic and the individuals brought in are being unfairly blamed. This is something that African American coaches have been vocal about for some time and it is blatantly obvious to us.”
When CNN reached out to the Texans for a statement, the team emphasized a specific instance during Monday’s press conference where Caserio was questioned about why a Black coach would want to join the team. His response was that each candidate would have to make their own decision.
The general manager stated that race is not the main factor, but rather the search for skilled coaches. He acknowledged the presence of numerous quality coaches, including David Culley and Lovie Smith.
Ultimately, every coach has their own set of beliefs, philosophy, and level of comfort with our approach. My approach has always been to be open and direct, as it was when I first started this job, and I will continue to do so as we search for the best coach for our organization. That is the most straightforward way I can respond and it is my commitment.
“I have been tasked with this responsibility and I am in a position to fulfill it. However, if at any point someone believes that this decision is not in the best interest of the organization, I will respect and accept their viewpoint.”
CNN has contacted Lovie Smith for a statement.
Enhancing the variety of coaches in leadership positions
At the start of the 2022 season, NFL.com stated that Smith was among only six minority head coaches in the NFL, which is a small percentage considering that almost 70% of the players are Black.
After being hired in 1989, Art Shell became the first Black head coach in modern history for the Los Angeles Raiders. Since then, a total of 191 head coaches have been hired, but only 24 of them were Black.
The NFL has implemented measures to promote diversity within its coaching staff.
In 2003, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule as an effort to enhance hiring practices and increase diversity in head coach, general manager, and executive positions.
However, the Rooney Rule has not been a complete success.
In 2003, the Detroit Lions were penalized $200,000 for failing to consider any minority coaches during their hiring process for head coach, ultimately choosing Steve Mariucci.
After facing backlash, the NFL declared that it would establish a diversity advisory committee consisting of external specialists to examine its employment policies in March of last year. Additionally, teams would be obligated to hire minority coaches in offensive assistant positions.
Although the rule has been modified in recent years to make it more robust, a lawsuit filed in 2022 claims that certain teams are conducting “fake” interviews in order to meet the league’s diversity standards.
In February of last year, ex-Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores brought a legal case against the NFL, the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, and the Miami Dolphins for alleged racial bias.
According to Flores, an individual of Black race, the Giants dishonestly conducted an interview with him for their available head coaching position.
Flores included the Texans in his lawsuit two months after he initially submitted it. He claimed that the organization refused to hire him as head coach during the offseason because he took legal action and spoke out about the NFL’s systemic discrimination.
The Texans stated that they conducted a comprehensive and inclusive search for their head coach in response to the lawsuit.
The NFL dismissed Flores’ accusations as unfounded.
The NFL and its teams are strongly dedicated to promoting fair employment practices and are continuously working towards creating equal opportunities within our organizations. The league released this statement in response to the lawsuit.
“We prioritize diversity in all aspects of our work, and our clubs and internal leadership team dedicate significant effort towards this. We will refute these baseless allegations.”
After 12 months of dismissing their previous Black head coach, the Texans have terminated another one.
Irvin, a NFL Hall of Famer, raised the question of how it is possible to hire two African Americans, only to let them go after one year.
Irvin expressed frustration with the current state of Houston, stating that they are often given difficult tasks without the chance to improve them.
“I don’t know any great White coach that would take the (Texans) job unless you give them some guarantees. ‘You’re going to have to guarantee me four years to turn this place around.’ But the African American coaches can’t come in with that power because Lovie wouldn’t have got another job.
“This was his final opportunity to return to the NFL and he must accept the available options in order to make a change.”
The Texans are currently on the lookout for a new head coach, with general manager Caserio leading the search. This will be Caserio’s third time selecting a coach for the team, which is a rare occurrence for a general manager to have the chance to do so.
The chairman and CEO of the Texans, Cal McNair, announced his intention to become more involved in the hiring process. The upcoming head coach will be the fourth to lead the organization in the past three years.
The NFL has reported that the Texans have expressed interest in speaking with five potential candidates for Smith’s role, including two coaches who are Black.
In March 2021, Smith was hired and McNair stated, “I have never witnessed a more comprehensive, all-encompassing process than what Nick Caserio just conducted during our search for a coach.”
During the press conference, Smith openly discussed strategies for increasing diversity among NFL coaches.
“Individuals in influential roles, such as head coaches and general managers, must actively strive to increase the representation of Black athletes in quality control positions within their respective programs. This can serve as a pathway for advancement and ultimately lead to greater diversity.”
Smith stated, “When interviewing a Black individual, it’s not just a simple conversation. It’s important to have a diverse pool of candidates who resemble me. It’s not just about words, my team reflects my beliefs and I allow them to showcase their abilities. By increasing diversity in the selection process, it ultimately comes down to individuals making their own choices. We all have the power to choose, and that is how I believe change can be achieved.”