The NFL’s 2021 regular season is finally wrapped up. Several coaches and team execs were canned on Black Monday (Jan. 10), the annual practice where organizations usually clean house after disappointing records.
Football fans weren’t surprised by most of the personnel that was let go; however, one particular coach’s firing has the public wondering if certain people are granted more room for error than others and why.
Let’s review the following list of coaches axed through the season, up to Black Monday, and see what else may lie ahead.
- Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos (2021-2022 season record: 7-10)
“For the last three seasons, Vic put his heart and soul into coaching the Broncos,” said team president and CEO Joe Ellis in a statement. “I want to thank Coach Fangio for giving his maximum effort to our organization since the day he was hired.”Fangio was appreciative of the Broncos and the fans in his own reply, but rumors were that he was on the hot seat after missing the postseason in his first two years there. After the Broncos lost to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday evening and not making the postseason for the third year in a row, Fangio woke up to the news that he was officially out. In his three seasons as head coach, Fangio had with a record of 19-30.
- Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins (2021-2022 season record: 9-8)
“I made a decision today to part ways with Brian Flores,” tweeted Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. “After evaluating where we are as an organization and what we need going forward to improve, I determined that key dynamics of our football organization weren’t functioning at a level I want it to be and felt that this decision was in the best interest of the Miami Dolphins.”The 40-year-old Flores was one of three Black coaches left in the league, and he took a franchise that had a 5-11 record in his first year there (2019) and finished with an overall record of 19-14 in his last two seasons. But there were hints that Ross wanted Flores out because of alleged team tension, despite his upward trend. Watch the video below to see what ESPN had to say about Flores’ surprise dismissal.
- Urban Meyer, Jacksonville Jaguars (2021-2022 season record: 2-11 under Meyer, finished with 3-14 record)
Meyer may be a legendary college football coach, but his transition to the pros has been disappointing, to say the least. In fact, Meyer lost more games in one season with the Jags (11) than he did in his whole seven years coaching the Ohio State Buckeyes from 2012-2018 (9).During his tenure in Jacksonville, Meyer also had problematic interactions with his players and women who weren’t his wife. In October 2021, a video surfaced of him questionably touching an unnamed woman at his restaurant Urban Meyer’s Pint House. Meyer apologized to his wife and the organization for the distraction. Two months later, however, Jags kicker Josh Lambo claimed that Meyer kicked him in the leg over and over before a preseason game. Lambo said that he protested Meyer’s behavior at the time, to which the Sports Illustrated Coach of Decade replied, “I’m the head ball coach. I’ll kick you whenever the fuck I want.” A few days later, after Lambo’s statement and a December 15, 2021 shutout at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, Jags owner Shahid Khan sent Meyer packing.
- Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears (2021-2022 season record: 6-11)
It wasn’t much of a secret that Nagy might not be around at the end of this year. Although this happened to be his first losing season with the Bears, it also was the second time during his four-year tour in Chicago that the team didn’t make the postseason.Reportedly, the organization couldn’t understand why Nagy struggled to make the Bears’ first round QBs any better after they were drafted. Mike Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, never blossomed into the play caller that the team expected. And this year’s losing record with all-around threat Justin Fields at the helm did not help Nagy’s case. In the end, both Nagy and team general manager Ryan Pace got the boot.
- Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings (2021-2022 season record: 8-9)
Zimmer and Rick Spielman, who’d been together in Minnesota since 2014, were the second coach-and-GM duo to be given the pink slip this year. “We appreciate Rick and Mike’s commitment to the team’s on-field success, their passion for making a positive impact in our community and their dedication to players, coaches and staff,” said Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf in a statement. “While these decisions are not easy, we believe it is time for new leadership to elevate our team so we can consistently contend for championships.”The Vikings enjoyed three playoff appearances under Zimmer’s leadership, highlighted by a visit to the 2017 NFC Championship Game. However, this year was unfortunately the team’s second consecutive sub-.500 season, after a 7-9 record last year. Furthermore, the Vikings rated as one of the worst defensive squads in the NFL during Zimmer’s final season: the team landed amongst the bottom eight in nearly every category and was dead last when it came to allowing opposing teams to score in the final two minutes of a half.
- Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders (resigned, 2021-2022 season record: 3-2 record under Gruden, finished with 10-7 record)
Gruden’s second stint with the Raiders couldn’t have been a messier situation. In early 2018, Gruden signed the most lucrative contract for a coach in NFL history: a 10-year, $100 million deal with “The Silver and Black” that prevented the team from involving him in any future trade talks. “If I can’t get it done, I’m not going to take their money,” Gruden said some months later in a USA Today interview.But everything came apart for the 58-year-old coach after the New York Times released a series of emails in which Gruden made racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments over the years. In a 2011 correspondence, he wrote that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith (who is Black) had “lips the size of a michellin tires” and referred to him as “Dumboriss Smith.” Gruden apologized and said the remark about Smith’s lips was in regard to his lying but taken out of context. However, other leaked emails revealed Gruden called league commissioner Roger Goodell a homophobic slur, disagreed with gay people being involved at all with football, exchanged NSFW pics of random women, and much more.
On October 11, 2011 (ironically Indigenous Peoples’ Day), Gruden issued the following brief statement to announce he was stepping down from his role: “I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
Interestingly enough, Giants coach Joe Judge remains employed with Big Blue despite a 4-13 record. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter also reported that Jon Gruden’s brother Jay is on the shortlist of interviewees for the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator position. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts coaching staff currently remains intact, despite being the main culprit in their own loss to the league-worst Jaguars and prematurely ending their own playoff hopes.
Right now, the only other Black head coach in the NFL is 66-year-old David Culley of the Houston Texans. (New York Jets coach Robert Saleh is of Lebanese descent and rounds out the current list of non-white head coaches in the National Football League.) After nearly three decades as an assistant coach, Culley’s first year in the position came with an organization in disarray and the Deshaun Watson saga all year. But there Culley’s been rumored to be on the chopping block, too.
“If [Culley] gets fired, the NFL would be left with one Black coach: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin,” wrote John Feinstein of the Washington Post. “All [Tomlin] has had to do to keep his job secure over 15 seasons is put together a Hall of Fame résumé: a Super Bowl victory, another Super Bowl trip, 10 playoff appearances, and zero losing seasons.”
We shall see if any Black NFL head coaching candidates get a fair shot at any of these vacancies.
Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty