It’s almost a year since former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores dropped a bombshell lawsuit on the NFL and three of its franchises, alleging racist hiring practices that blocked qualified Black candidates from advancing to the highest ranks of the league.
With the 2022 season in the books and the playoffs in full swing, at least five teams are currently searching for a new head coach: Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans.
On the final day of the regular season, the Houston Texans fired coach Lovie Smith after just one season at the helm. That leaves just two confirmed Black head coaches for next season, Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Tomlin and Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Of note, Yahoo Sports reports, via ESPN+, that the Carolina Panthers are leaning toward not hiring interim Black head coach Steve Wilks for the full-time position for 2023. Miami’s head coach, Mike McDaniel, identifies as biracial. His mother is white and father Black.
But will any of the five teams hold meaningful interviews with prospective Black head coaches? According to Flores’ class action suit, filed on Feb. 1, 2022, his job interviews with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos were a “sham” process.
It was meant to satisfy the NFL’s 2003 Rooney Rule, a diversity policy that requires teams to give serious consideration to minority candidates for top on-field and front-office positions.
There may be some validity to Flores’ claim. According to a USA Today analysis, the NFL’s 32 franchises have hired four white coaches for every coach of color over the two decades since adopting the Rooney Rule – in a league where about 70 percent of the players identify as non-white.
As the five franchises with vacancies consider their options, at least one high-profile white head coach candidate competes with them. Local Denver station KUSA reports that former New Orleans Super Bowl-winning coach Sean Payton interviewed on Jan. 17 with the Broncos and “there is sincere mutual interest.” Sports Illustrated had a similar take on the interview, calling the Broncos the “tentative frontrunner” to hire Payton.
If one of the teams hires Payton, that leaves just four openings for a possible Black head coach candidate. Still, here’s an alphabetical list of five well-qualified candidates for the five open positions:
1. Eric Bieniemy
The Colts announced that the team interviewed Eric Bieniemy on Jan. 12 for the head coach position. Bieniemy, 53, is in his fifth year as the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator. His name has popped up often as a prospective head coach in recent years. According to a USA Today report, he interviewed for 15 head coaching positions with 14 different teams over the past four hiring cycles.
2. Jim Caldwell
Veteran coach Jim Caldwell has a chance to rejoin the league. The Carolina Panthers confirmed that the team interviewed this Tony Dungy protégé among several other candidates. He was also slated for an interview with the Denver Broncos.
Caldwell, 68, last coached in 2019 with the Dolphins as an assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. He has a 62-50 career head coaching record with the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions and two Super Bowl rings as an assistant with the Colts and Baltimore Ravens. Caldwell also led the Colts as head coach to Super Bowl XLIV but lost.
3. Ejiro Evero
All five teams want a sit down with the Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, USA Today’s Broncos Wire reports. As of Jan. 18, the Broncos, Texans, Colts and Panthers interviewed Evero, 42, as the Arizona Cardinals made arrangements.
Evero, 42, has 17 years of coaching experience, including 14 of them in the NFL, according to his Broncos bio. He spent the previous five seasons with the L.A. Rams, serving as secondary coach/pass game coordinator (2021) and safeties coach (2017-20).
4. Brian Flores
Despite the legal woes he heaped on the league, Brian Flores’ name has surfaced as a possible head coach. The Cardinals reportedly asked the Steelers for permission to interview Flores, currently Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator, according to Sports Illustrated, citing NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Flores was arguably a success as the Dolphins head coach, where he led the team back from a disastrous 1-7 start in 2021 to finish 9-8. But the team fired him after three seasons with a 24-25 record that included consecutive winning seasons.
5. DeMeco Ryans
NBC News reports that San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, 38, “came up early and often in the current head coach interview cycle.” Four or the teams – Colts, Broncos, Texans and Cardinals – have requested permission from the 49ers to interview him.
Now in his sixth season with the 49ers and second as the team’s defensive coordinator, Ryan spent the previous three seasons (2018-20) as inside linebackers coach.
Ryans, who played for the Texans and Philadelphia Eagles, sits “at the top of the list” of prospective Black head coaching candidates, according to The Washington Post. Many are impressed with his ability to turn the 49ers into one of the league’s top defenses.
At a press conference, Ryans said all the attention is “humbling.”