Opinion: How Bruce Arians' Super Bowl victory may convince owners to hire diverse coaches

Nancy Armour
USA TODAY

By winning the Super Bowl title he’s wanted so long, Bruce Arians might finally get Black and brown coaches the jobs they deserve, too.

Imagine being an NFL owner next January and ignoring Byron Leftwich, architect of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense that beat the Kansas City Chiefs on the ground and in the air. Or taking a pass on Todd Bowles, whose defense harassed Patrick Mahomes into the worst performance of his professional career.

If they do, then they deserve every loss they get.

“Probably not,” Leftwich said, when asked if the Buccaneers’ 31-9 thrashing of the Chiefs will level the playing field for coaches of color.

“Obviously it’ll open peoples’ eyes,” he said, when asked why not. “But I can’t speak on if it changes anybody’s minds. All we can do is coach good football.”

Head coach Bruce Arians, left, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich helped the Buccaneers to a convincing victory in Super Bowl 55.

The nearly-all-white, all-boys club of NFL coaches and coordinators has been nearly impossible to crack. In a league where two-thirds of the players are Black or brown, only five head coaches are. There are five Black offensive coordinators, a job considered a stepping stone to a head coaching position. 

Public shaming hasn’t improved diversity. Neither have the suggestions and incentives from Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league office.

So maybe what owners need is some good, old-fashioned envy.

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The NFL is an imitation game. Owners and general managers always want their own version of the hottest thing. It’s why anyone who’s had a conversation with Sean McVay, the youngest coach in the NFL’s modern era and youngest to reach the Super Bowl, was automatically short-listed for any opening the past few years. It’s why Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels got jobs after working for Bill Belichick.

Success by association hasn’t worked for Eric Bieniemy, who, despite being instrumental in Mahomes’ development as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, was snubbed for a third consecutive hiring cycle. But the owners whose only commitment to diversity seems to be avoiding it have been able to fall back on that tired, “He doesn’t call plays” excuse – a stigma that only ever applies to coaches of color, mind you.

Not so Bowles, Leftwich and Keith Armstrong, Tampa Bay’s special teams coordinator.

“I don’t do anything,” Arians said after the game, sounding somewhat proud of that. “I just try to get out of the way and not screw it up.”

Arians has said that his own struggles to get a head coaching job make him more willing to look at people who would otherwise be ignored. Despite being Peyton Manning’s first quarterbacks coach in the NFL, and being offensive coordinator for a Super Bowl champion in Pittsburgh, Arians didn’t get a shot as a head coach until he was 60.

And even then, it was only because Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano had to step away after being diagnosed with leukemia.

“The lack of opportunities has made me want to give more opportunities to more people,” Arians said last week.

Arians doesn’t go out of his way to hire minorities for his staff. But he doesn’t go out of his way to not hire them, either.

His philosophy is that coaches are, at their core, teachers. And the most effective ones he’s known offer different perspectives based off their own, unique experiences, rather than being slightly different versions of the same thing.

His staff reflects that. All three of his coordinators are Black, as is Harold Godwin, Tampa Bay’s run-game coordinator. He also has two women on his staff.

“The best school teachers I ever had were all different races, all different ethnic groups, male and female,” Arians said last week. 

It is impossible to argue with the results.

Yes, the Buccaneers picked up Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski last offseason. But Tampa Bay’s offense is well-rounded, with Leonard Fournette rushing for 89 yards and a score, Ronald Jones running for 61 yards and five players having multiple receptions. (Mike Evans was not among them, by the way.)

And it was the Buccaneers defense that was decisive, keeping the Chiefs out of the end zone, picking Mahomes off twice and allowing just three third-down conversions.

“When you look at them from top to bottom, they’re most complete team in the National Football League,” Bill Cowher, who hired Arians in Pittsburgh and is now an analyst with CBS, said after the Super Bowl. “And they showed that tonight.” 

In doing so, maybe they showed some owners a thing or two, too.