As the 2020 NFL regular season draws closer to a conclusion, some teams begin the process of looking towards 2021. With that said, Black Monday looks like both a sad day for some and the start of opportunity for others. Yet, that searing twinge in my side isn’t the double bratwurst with kraut I consumed for lunch. That sinking feeling is the fear of the same postseason dance, known as the Rooney Rule. While I unequivocally support the concept, the execution of the rule remains perennially flawed. As a result, below you wil see, in my estimation, two perfect fits for first-time head coaches of color.
Robert Saleh, Detroit Lions
For so many reasons, Saleh in Motown makes the most sense. First, he grew up in nearby Dearborn. He knows the fanbase and area. Next, he will give the Lions something they have not enjoyed in my lifetime: an identity. In your mind, think of the Detroit franchise, what jumps to mind? Barry? Megatron? I know what doesn’t immediately surface: winning. This perennial moribund organization needs an identity. Think about it, Sparky, Bowman, and Chuck Daly won titles for that city with an identity. You knew the players on their squads.
The Lions never really enjoyed that defining trait throughout the last half-century or so. Hosting Thanksgiving games should not stay at the top of the season highlights. Saleh, according to Richard Sherman is, ” a leader of men”. If the most opinionated defender in the league sings your praises, eyes begin to open. Granted, with a Super Bowl appearance to his credit, Saleh’s 2020 shows his true skill. With Dee Ford and Nick Bosa sidelined for the year, Saleh managed to cobble together a decent. Add in the injury to Dre Greenlaw and the trade of Kwon Alexander and the Niners should not be 5-6. Yet, their defense remains stingy.
Through eleven games, San Francisco surrendered only one 300-yard passing game. In addition, they rank in the Top 10 in ten different defensive categories. Lastly, by hiring Saleh, the Lions would send a message to their community. Saleh’s hometown of Dearborn boasts the largest percentage of Arab Americans in the US. Talent plays in the NFL, but representation matters. On resume alone, Robert Saleh should be the next Lions head coach.
Eric Bieniemy, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, New York Jets
Can anyone tell me why Eric Bieniemy did not land a coaching gig in 2020? If you know, please share. How many times does a Super Bowl-winning coordinator not receive a job offer? Numbskulled critics want to cite the specter of Andy Reid as the main reason for the Chiefs’ dominance. Yet, Reid will gladly tell anyone will listen how much that Bieniemy impacted the overall success. In the above-listed cities, those franchises need a keen offensive mind at the top. Bill O’Brien hamstrung the team before his firing. Vic Fangio is saddled with Drew Lock and his passes to no one in particular. Meanwhile, Adam Gase looks lost in the Big Apple. With sound picks, Bieniemy will immediately upgrade the position.
Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville Jaguars
Raise your hand, if you think Doug Marrone deserves another season. Now, picture Byron Leftwich leading the Jaguars in 2020. With four picks in the first four rounds, the Jags could spend one of those on a draft pick. In fact, they need to. Jake Luton and Gardner Minshew are not long-term solutions. To his credit, Leftwich excels in play design. While he does enjoy the luxury of a veteran mentor and all-time great quarterback, those plays do not draw themselves up.
As a former quarterback, Leftwich can sit with quarterbacks in different places in their careers. He was the young, first-rounder, entrusted to guide a franchise. Also, he finished up as the steady-handed veteran, providing injury insurance. Plus, in Jacksonville, Leftwich gets to help wash away the stench of Blake Bortles. Remember folks, with a lead versus the Patriots, the Jags did not trust Blake Bortles in a championship game. Leftwich knows the organization, from history to the present day.
In all honesty, the NFL needs to scuttle the Rooney Rule, in favor of something stronger, without loopholes. Minority clients receive perfunctory interviews that feel insulting. Until then, these three coaches could provide a glimpse into what the NFL could resemble in coming years..