The Lovie Smith firing has created a lot of buzz around the NFL and most of it isn’t good. Of course, when you fire your coach three years in a row there isn’t going to be a ton of good buzz. However, since the last two coaches (David Culley and Lovie Smith) are black, that brought on familiar charges of racism. In particular, Robert Griffin III and Stephen A. Smith didn’t mince words in their commentary.
African-Americans need not apply.— Stephen A. Smith
The Houston Texans have fired Lovie Smith after 1 year. Using 2 Black Head Coaches to tank and then firing them after 1 year shouldn’t sit right with anyone. — Robert Griffin III
A charge of racism is about as incendiary as it gets in professional sports or life in general. It’s not a charge that can immediately be dismissed. It is one of those rare hot potato topics that literally presents the no win scenario. Victims of racism become angry when they feel their pain and their maltreatment is trivialized. Those accused of it also become angry because it is nearly impossible to completely sluff off that label.
About the fairest way we can do this is to look at the last two coaching hires and look at the reasons why they were one and done. Maybe we will see some patterns and maybe those patterns can give us some answers.
The David Culley Hiring
To understand David Culley you would have to think back to what was going on at the time. Deshaun Watson had just stated he wanted out. So, there were two things immediately in play here. First, they wanted to make a hire that would bring Watson back into the fold. Secondly, they wanted a hire they could move on from if Watson didn’t come back into the fold.
Now, why was Culley the guy to bring Watson back? Well, there were rumors that they had gotten along at the Pro Bowl. Watson is black. Culley is black. Maybe the thought was that they would hit it off. As we know now, that strategy failed before it even got started. I’m sure from there the hope was that Culley would make it two seasons. Anyone paying attention knew that was never a tenable plan.
Now, were racist attitudes at the heart of hiring him? Surely a black quarterback would respond to a black coach. If this was their thinking then it is not only racist, but patently ridiculous. If they were legitimately hoping they would hit it off then they are just guilty of not understanding Watson at all. From there, the mistake was hiring a coach you did not believe in and didn’t have any faith would last.
The Lovie Smith Hiring
Here is where things get really dicey. The Texans had three finalists on their list. They had Brian Flores, Jonathan Gannon, and Josh McCown. Flores sues the NFL and suddenly the Texans are in a bind. They can’t hire Flores and no one knows if he was really a serious candidate. They can’t hire McCown because he would be exhibit A in the Flores trial. Who knows where Gannon was in the pecking order as there have been numerous stories bandied about how that all went down.
So, the Texans pivot to Smith.
Again, he is a guy that they don’t really believe in but they want to stay out of legal hot water. Does this make them racist? Well, that specifically doesn’t but if they were really going to hire Josh McCown there is really no way to successfully fend off charges of racism if you are hiring a white coach with absolutely zero coaching experience over anyone else with coaching experience.
So, two years in a row they hire a coach for a reason other than him being the best person for the job. Is that racism? I suppose one could easily argue that. You were essentially using two men to get through two seasons where you weren’t going to compete. Yet, these are two men that were never going to get that opportunity otherwise. They weren’t in demand. They both will be paid handsomely for their trouble. So, it cuts both ways as these issues usually do.
Breaking It All Down
Nick Caserio spent a lot of time at his press conference telling the press and all of us that the process would be different. We know this. Of course, he can’t say what that really means. He can’t say that this time he will hire someone he actually believes in. That would mean he didn’t believe in Culley or Smith. While we may know that to be true, saying it is an unnecessary insult to them and only opens you up to more incendiary charges.
This year they will hire the coach they hope will lead them back to the playoffs and beyond. I think that could easily be a minority candidate. It could easily be DeMeco Ryans if he agrees to the interview. It could easily be Ejiro Evero if he does well at his interview. In fact, Ryans might actually be the favorite amongst Texans fans and he could fill all the boxes inside the building as well.
Unfortunately, the Texans have buried themselves in this hole. If they hire a white coach then it will prove Smith and Griffin right in some people’s eyes. If they hire a black coach then it will be seen as a transparent effort to deflect from the last two coaching mistakes. Both of those things could be true and both of those things could be absolutely wrong. It is impossible to burrow into the mind of Caserio and Cal McNair.
Either way, the process has to be about getting the best guy. They can’t afford to worry about perception. Worrying about perception will get them right back here next year. It’s time to hire the best coach whether he fits a narrative or not. As someone once said, winning is the best disinfectant.