The NFL has a problem with its head coaches; the solution is Herm Edwards.
Well, not the Herm Edwards, but a Herm Edwards.
For the record, Coach Herm has no desire to return to the NFL, where two floundering white coaches already have been fired (Dan Quinn and Bill O’Brien) and a slew of others (Adam Gase, Matt Patricia, Doug Marrone, Vic Fangio and Zac Taylor) are struggling badly enough that they could be next in a league that has only three Black leaders on the sideline (Mike Tomlin, Anthony Lynn and Brian Flores)).
“This will be my last hurrah,” the Arizona State University coach said. “I’ve had opportunities. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here.”
The ‘Herm Edwards effect’
But let’s examine the effect Edwards has had in his career.
He came to ASU in 2017, sparking a wave of Black hires across the Pac-12.
Arizona picked up Kevin Sumlin.
Washington replaced Chris Petersen, who is white, with Jimmy Lake.
And Colorado hired Mel Tucker — then when he bolted after one season, replaced him with Karl Dorrell.
It’s similar to what happened with Edwards in the NFL.
When he took over the Jets in 2001, he was one of three Black coaches.
Tony Dungy (Tampa Bay) and Dennis Green (Minnesota) were fired before the 2002 season.
Edwards was off to a rough start that year, then he dropped the famous rant, “You play to win the game!” It inspired the Jets to win seven of their next nine and beat Dungy’s Colts in the playoffs.
It was fate that put the league’s only two Black coaches against each other, but it highlighted a real problem.
Why should the only two Black coaches be two of the best coaches in the sport? It had to mean that there were plenty of unqualified white coaches on the sidelines disappointing fanbases with their ineptitude.
The next year, Marvin Lewis joined Edwards and Dungy. Lewis, architect of one of the greatest defenses in the history of football, instantly took Cincinnati from two wins to respectability.
In 2004, Green took over the Cardinals, Lovie Smith got the Bears job and Terry Robiskie got an interim position with Cleveland.
From 2005 to 2008, Edwards’ last season in the NFL, Romeo Crennel, Art Shell, Emmitt Thomas, Mike Tomlin and Mike Singletary all would get jobs.
Dungy, Tomlin and Smith would guide their teams to the Super Bowl. Edwards and Lewis would take perpetually hapless franchises to the playoffs. And in 2007, Crennel somehow squeezed 10 wins out of the dry sponge of a franchise that is the Cleveland Browns.
‘Hire a coach who’s qualified’
Skeptics could make the case that Edwards was simply in the right place at the right time. It would be a valid counterpoint, except that Coach Herm has been at the front of two separate waves, nearly 20 years apart.
There’s something to be said for a Black man who walks into a job amid an avalanche of unfair criticism only to shut doubters up with sustained excellence.
It’s one thing to know the old stereotype that a Black man has to be twice as good to get half the chance. It’s another thing to carry that burden so easily that people forget it’s there.
For Edwards, there are plenty of potential solutions — none of which involve him leaving Tempe.
“Giving (Black candidates) the opportunity to interview,” Edwards said. “But also not being so (much) in a hurry to hire a guy that comes out of a system, and that’s the system that you think works.”
To me, that means the Lions and Bengals shouldn’t have fired winning coaches like Jim Caldwell and Lewis (now ASU’s co-defensive coordinator) and replaced them with losing coaches like Patricia and Taylor.
It also means a guy like Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is long overdue for a shot, regardless of whether he calls plays.
“Whether you’re an offensive coordinator or a defensive coordinator, remember when you’re a head coach, you have to coach everybody,” Edwards said. “I think sometimes that gets kinda lost in the conversation.”
Looking for the right system is a fool’s errand anyway. Smart people know that in any sport the system is dictated by the players. Team presidents and general managers would do well to consider that.
“It’s like you know, ‘I want this system,’” Edwards said. “And it’s kinda funny, because I say, you can have the system on paper, but do you have the players? Sometimes, I want the system, but do you have that quarterback? Do you have this guy? Do you have that guy?
“Well, if you don’t, you’ve got to get a guy who can come in there and say, ‘OK, these are the players we have, and this is what I’m willing to do to adjust my system.’”
There’s a huge opportunity this offseason to get closer equality on the sidelines for a league that’s nearly 70 percent Black on the field.
“I think the NFL understands that, there’s been a lot of talk about that,” Edwards said. “Going forward, I hope these owners and GMs don’t rush and just get the quick fix and say, ‘I want this guy; he’s the hot guy.’
“Really do your diligence to make sure you hire a coach that’s qualified.”
Herm Edwards might not be the solution, but he clearly has the solutions.
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