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 a little less than a year ago.
“There’s Mike Tomlin and I think there’s me, I don’t know many others. So there is a problem and it is obvious to us. And when a problem arises, what are you going to do about it?
Smith was fired Monday at the end of his only season leading 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 was not filled with victories and high points, although his parting gift to the organization was a last-minute Hail Mary victory over the Indianapolis Colts, which saw them give up the number one pick in the NFL draft. from 2023 to the Chicago Bears. But his Texans team showed togetherness and competition, characteristics often desired by rebuilding teams.
Houston general manager Nick Caserio said firing Smith was the best decision for the team at this time.
“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Lovie Smith for everything he has contributed 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 believe this is the best decision for us at this time. It is my responsibility to create a comprehensive and competitive program that can maintain success over a long period of time. We are not there at this point, however, with the support of the McNair family and the resources available to us, I am confident in the direction our football program will go.”
But the firing of the 64-year-old coach, the Texans organization as a whole and measures implemented by the league to promote diversity have been heavily criticized by former players and television commentators.
“The Houston Texans have fired Lovie Smith after 1 year. Using two Black head coaches to go under and then firing them after one year shouldn’t sit well with anyone,” said former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III. he tweeted on Sundaywhen the news of Smith’s firing 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 shame. And as far as I’m concerned, if you’re an African-American and you aspire to be a head coach in the National Football League, there are 31 teams you should aspire to. You should hope beyond God that the Houston Texans never call you,” Smith said.
Irvin said the Texans are using black coaches as “scapegoats.”
“It’s a disaster in Houston and they bring these guys in and use them as scapegoats. And this is what African American coaches have been yelling for a while and it’s blatant, right in our face,” he said.
When CNN contacted the Texans for comment, the team highlighted the moment in Monday’s press conference when Caserio was asked why any Black coach would consider working for the team, and his response was that individual candidates would have to take their own decisions.
“In the end it’s not about race. “It’s about finding quality coaches,” said the general director. “There are many quality coaches. David (Culley) is a quality coach. Lovie (Smith) is a quality coach.
“In the end, every coach has his own beliefs. Each coach has his own philosophy. Each coach has their comfort level with what we are doing. The only thing I can do is be honest and direct, which I have done since the day I took this job, and I will continue to do so and try to find a coach that we feel makes the most sense for him. this organization. That’s the simplest way I can answer it and that’s my commitment.
“That’s what they hired me for and that’s what I’m in a position to do. At some point, if someone feels that that is not the right decision for this organization, then I have to respect that and accept that.”
CNN has contacted Lovie Smith for comment.
At the start of the 2022 season, NFL.com reported that Smith was one of six minority head coaches in the NFL, 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, there have been 191 people 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 in an attempt to “increase the number of minorities hired in head coach, general manager and executive positions.”
But the Rooney Rule has not been a resounding success.
In 2003, the Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 for not interviewing any minority coaches before hiring Steve Mariucci as their new head coach.
In response to criticism, the NFL announced it was creating a diversity advisory committee of outside experts to review its hiring practices last March. Teams would also be required to hire minority coaches as offensive assistants.
Despite rule changes implemented in recent years to strengthen it, a 2022 lawsuit alleges that some teams have implemented “fake” interviews to comply with the league’s diversity requirements.
Last February, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a federal civil lawsuit against the NFL organizations the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins alleging racial discrimination.
Flores, who is black, said in his lawsuit that the Giants interviewed him for their vacant head coaching position under false circumstances.
Two months after filing the initial lawsuit, Flores added the Texans, alleging that the organization refused to hire him this offseason as head coach “due to his decision to file this action and speak publicly about 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’ accusations baseless.
“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable labor practices and continue to make progress to provide equal opportunities across our organizations,” the league said in response to the lawsuit.
“Diversity is fundamental to everything we do and there are few topics that our clubs and internal leadership 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?” questioned NFL Hall of Famer Irvin.
“You know what a disaster Houston is,” Irvin added. “We get the worst jobs and we don’t have the opportunity to fix the worst jobs, just like that.
“I don’t know any great white coach who will take the (Texans) job unless you give them some guarantees. “You’re going to have to guarantee me four years to turn this place around.” But African-American coaches can’t come with that power because Lovie wouldn’t have gotten another job.
“This was his last chance to return to the NFL and we have to take advantage of what’s on the table to try to change that.”
The Texans are now searching for a new head coach under general manager Caserio. The new appointment will be Caserio’s third coach on the job – 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 recruiting process. The next head coach will be the organization’s fourth in three years.
According to the NFL, the Texans have already requested to speak with five candidates to fill Smith’s position, a list that includes two Black coaches.
After Smith was hired in March 2021, McNair said, “I have never seen a more comprehensive, inclusive and in-depth process than what Nick (Caserio) just went through with our coaching search.”
In that introductory press conference, Smith spoke candidly about bringing greater diversity to the ranks of NFL coaches.
“People who are in positions of authority at all times (head coaches, general managers) need to be intentional about trying to get more Black athletes in some of the quality control positions throughout their program. If you achieve that, they can be promoted, that is a way to achieve more.”
Smith continued: “It’s not just an interview, if you’re interviewing a black man. It’s about having a lot of guys to choose from who look like me. And it’s not just about talking. If you look at my staff, that’s what I believe in. And let those guys show you who they are. This is how we can increase it, then people choose. “We all have the opportunity to choose and this is how I think we will do it.”