Predecessors paved way for SB coaches

Shortly after 6 p.m. on Sunday, Lovie Smith officially became the first black head coach to appear in the Super Bowl. After starting the season off with a lot of firepower, Smith’s Bears had a tough time finishing the season with all kinds of critics asking what happened to their defense and more importantly what happened to Rex Grossman. They hushed a few critics Sunday, as they stomped the feel-good Saints 39-14 in the NFC Championship game.

Just a few hundred miles to the southeast, another team that faced a lot of doubters and critics decided to join the Bears in the big game.

About four hours after the Bears won, Joseph Addai barreled into the end zone with a minute left to put the Colts ahead of the Patriots for good, 38-34. Their coach -Tony Dungy.

This means that unless the Super Bowl is canceled, the NFL will have its first championship team that is coached by a black man.

To say that this is an incredible accomplishment would be a tremendous understatement. Fritz Pollard is likely smiling down on the NFL today.

Pollard was the first head coach in NFL history in 1921 when he was co-head coach of the Akron Pros. After him, there was not another African-American head coach until Art Shell was hired as the Los Angeles Raiders’ head coach in 1990. The amount of time in between the coaches speak volumes about the amount of ignorance and the lack of opportunity for minorities in the NFL during that time.

This is a great thing for the African-American sports community. Dungy and Smith can thank people like Shell, Denny Green and Ray Rhodes (and it is likely that they will) for paving the way for them. Green was so close to winning the Super Bowl in 1999 that his team was likely favored before they played the NFC Championship. His team was upset by the Falcons in that game and he missed his chance at holding the great distinction.

Shell also made it to the conference championship game in 1990, his first year. He also won Coach of the Year that season after his Raiders went 12-4. His career record is now 56-52 after the nightmare he endured this season, but Shell will be remembered more for being the first successful African-American head coach as well as the first African-American head coach in the modern era.

Maybe it’s not confidence, or maybe it is, but African-American coaches have been able to succeed because of guys like Art Shell and Dennis Green. The success of Marvin Lewis, Herman Edwards, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith can definitely be credited in part to their predecessors. Obviously these men have great coaching minds, but if it was not for the coaches who blazed the trail in front of them, we may not be seeing this much success out of these coaches.

If African-Amercian athletes thank Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis and every other athlete that fought through racial tension and bigotry, then these coaches ought to be thanking their predecessors 10 times as much. They have been entrusted with one of the hardest jobs in the US and there are still people in the world that do not think they are capable of success.

This year’s Super Bowl is a testament to why equality makes sense – it’s a shame it took this long for it to be realized in the coaching world.