CNN

When Lovie Smith was hired by the Houston Texans in February 2022 as the team’s new head coach, he said the NFL had “a problem” with hiring black coaches and diversity.

“I realize how many black head coaches there are in the National Football League,” Smith told reporters just under a year ago.

“There’s Mike Tomlin and I think there’s me, I don’t know many others. So there’s a problem, and that’s obvious to us. And after that there’s a problem, what are you going to do about it?”

Smith was fired Monday at the end of his one and only season in charge of the Texans, finishing with a 3-13-1 record.

Smith is the second black coach in two years to be relieved of his duties by the Texans, who fired David Culley at the end of the 2021 season.

Smith’s time in charge has not been full of wins and highlights – although his parting gift to the organization was a last-minute win by Hail Mary over the Indianapolis Colts, which saw them seen giving up the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Chicago Bear. But his Texas team showed unity and skill, traits often sought by outfits being rebuilt.

Houston general manager Nick Caserio said firing Smith was the best move for the team right now.

“On behalf of the entire organization, I want to thank Lovie Smith for all he has brought to our team over the past two seasons as a coach and leader,” Caserio said in a statement.

“I am constantly evaluating our football operation and I believe this is the best decision for us at this time. It is my responsibility to build a comprehensive and competitive program that can sustain success over a long period of time. We We are not there yet, however, with the support of the McNair family and the resources available to us, I am confident in the direction of our football program moving forward.

But the firing of the 64-year-old coach, the Texas organization as a whole, and the measures the league has put in place to promote diversity have been heavily criticized by former players and TV pundits.

“Houston Texans fired Lovie Smith after 1 year. Using 2 black head coaches to tank and then firing them after 1 year shouldn’t suit anyone,” said former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III. tweeted sundaywhen news of Smith’s dismissal broke.

On ESPN, Stephen A. Smith and NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin also condemned the decision. Smith called the Texans’ organization an “atrocity.”

“They are a disgrace. And as far as I’m concerned, if you’re an African American and aspire to be a head coach in the National Football League, there are 31 teams you should hope for. You should hope beyond God that the Houston Texans never call you,” Smith said.

Irvin said black coaches are being used as “scapegoats” by Texans.

“It’s a mess in Houston and they’re bringing these guys in and they’re scapegoating them. And that’s what African American coaches have been screaming for a while and it’s blatant, right in our face,” did he declare.

When CNN reached out to the Texans for comment, the team pointed to the moment from Monday’s press conference when Caserio was asked why a black coach would consider working for the team, and his response was that individual candidates should make their own choices.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about race. It’s about finding quality coaches,” the general manager said. “There are a lot of quality coaches. David (Culley) is a quality coach. Lovie (Smith) is a quality trainer.

“At the end of the day, every coach has their own beliefs. Each coach has their own philosophy. Every coach has their comfort level with what we do. That’s all I can do is just be honest and upfront, which I’ve done since the day I took this job, and I’m going to continue to do that and try to find a coach who , in our view, makes the most sense for this organization. That’s the easiest way to answer it, and that’s my commitment.

“That’s what I was hired to do and that’s what I’m able to do. At some point, if someone thinks it’s not the right decision for this organization, then I have to respect that and I have to accept it.

CNN has reached out to Lovie Smith for comment.

At the start of the 2022 season, NFL.com reported that Smith was one of six minority NFL head coaches, a low number in a league where nearly 70% of players are black.

Since Art Shell was hired by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989 as the first black head coach in modern history, 191 people have been hired as head coaches, but only 24 have been black.

However, the NFL has taken steps to increase diversity in the coaching ranks.

Notably, in 2003, the NFL introduced the Rooney Rule to improve hiring practices with the goal of “increasing the number of minorities hired into head coaching, general manager, and management positions.”

But the Rooney Rule was not an unqualified success.

In 2003, the Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 for failing to interview a minority coach before hiring Steve Mariucci as their new head coach.

In response to the criticism, the NFL announced it was setting up a diversity advisory board made up of outside experts to review its hiring practices last March. Teams would also be required to hire minority coaches as offensive assistants.

Despite changes to the rule implemented in recent years to strengthen it, a 2022 lawsuit alleges that some teams implemented “mock” interviews to meet league diversity requirements.

Last February, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a federal civil lawsuit against the NFL, New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins organizations, alleging racial discrimination. .

Flores, who is black, testified in his lawsuit that the Giants interviewed him for their vacancy as head coach under dishonest circumstances.

Two months after filing the original lawsuit, Flores added the Texans to it, alleging the organization refused to hire him this offseason as head coach “because of his decision to bring this action and talk publicly of systemic discrimination in the NFL”.

In response to the lawsuit, the Texans said their “search for our head coach was very thorough and inclusive.”

The NFL called Flores’ allegations baseless.

“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring fair employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities across all of our organizations,” the league said in response to the lawsuit.

“Diversity is at the heart of everything we do, and there are few issues that our clubs and internal management team spend more time on. We will defend ourselves against these claims, which are baseless.

But 12 months after firing their last black head coach, the Texans fired another.

“How do you hire two African Americans, leave them for a year and then get rid of them?” asked NFL Hall of Famer Irvin.

“You know how messy Houston is,” Irvin added. “We get the worst jobs and we don’t get to fix the worst jobs, just like that.

“I don’t know of any great white coaches who would take the job (from the Texans) unless you gave them guarantees. “You’re going to have to guarantee me four years to straighten this place out.” But African American coaches can’t come with that power because Lovie wouldn’t have had any other job.

“It was his last chance to come back to the NFL and you have to take what’s on the table to try to change that.”

The Texans are now looking for a new head coach under general manager Caserio. The new appointment will be Caserio’s third coach in the role: it is almost unprecedented for a general manager to have the opportunity to hire a third head coach with the same team.

Texans president and CEO Cal McNair said he would take a more active role in the hiring process. The next head coach will be the organization’s fourth in three years.

According to the NFL, the Texans have already asked to speak to five candidates to fill Smith’s position, a list that includes two black coaches.

After Smith’s hiring in March 2021, McNair said, “I’ve never seen a more thorough, inclusive and thorough process than what Nick (Caserio) just went through with our coaching search.”

During that introductory press conference, Smith spoke candidly about bringing greater diversity to the NFL coaching ranks.

“People in positions of authority throughout – head coaches, general managers – you have to be deliberate about trying to have more black athletes in some of the quality control positions throughout your program. If you get this they can rank up, that’s one way to get more.

Smith continued, “It’s not just an interview, if you’re interviewing a black guy. It’s about having a bunch of guys to choose from who look like me. And it’s not about talking. You look at my staff, that’s what I believe in. And let these guys show you who they are. That’s how we can increase it, after that it’s up to people to choose. We all have the ability to choose, and that’s how I think we’ll get there.



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