Quarterback play largely dictates NFL games. As such, teams are looking for people who can build and sustain a positive culture, especially at that position.
That’s why there has been such a recent rush to hire offensive coordinators and assistants for head coaching jobs. Since 2016, 32 men have been hired as head coaches. Of those 32, 24 were offensive coordinators at some point in their careers. And of those 24, 19 were once quarterbacks coaches.
The NFL’s failure to successfully cultivate and hire Black men for offensive coordinator positions is well known. Only two Black men — Eric Bieniemy of Kansas City and Byron Leftwich of Tampa Bay — currently hold those roles. As for quarterbacks coaches, the NFL also falls woefully short in diversity. Only two Black men — Marcus Brady of the Indianapolis Colts and Pep Hamilton of the Los Angeles Chargers — currently hold that position in the NFL, a reality that both men were aware of when I spoke to them shortly before the season.
“No doubt, you would like to see a lot more diversity at that position,” Brady told Yahoo Sports.
“It's OK for there to be conversations about what was obvious to us for many years,” Hamilton told Yahoo Sports.
How does the NFL get there?
Black coaches make most of early chances, network way into NFL
The responsibility falls on the people in charge of these teams, from the franchise owners, to the general managers, to the head coaches themselves, especially since there are more Black quarterbacks than ever before in the league and in the collegiate ranks.
This has long been an important qualification for coaching the QB position, and to that end, it’s no coincidence that Brady, 41, and Hamilton, 46, played quarterback in college, with Brady at Cal State Northridge and Hamilton at Howard.
“When I sit back in the offseason, I'm thinking about the big picture of being one of the few Black quarterback coaches in the NFL or even across the NCAA,” Brady said, “and I’m representing, you know, a race. I’ve been given this opportunity, and I need to have success so that others can get these same opportunities.”
When Brady retired from the CFL in 2009, he immediately jumped into coaching with his team, the Montreal Alouettes. He quickly rose up the ranks to become the offensive coordinator in 2012 under coach Marc Trestman, then Toronto’s OC from 2013-2017 under head coach Scott Milanovich.
Yet, it was head coach Frank Reich’s relationships with Trestman and Milanovich that laid the groundwork for Brady to join Reich’s Indianapolis Colts staff in 2018.
“When Frank got the job here in Indianapolis, he asked Scott if he had any recommendations and obviously, Scott recommended me,” Brady said. “He was also close to Marc Trestman and Marc Trestman recommended me as well. I got the opportunity to be interviewed, and Frank hired me right away.”
Brady quickly earned rave reviews, from Reich and now retired quarterback Andrew Luck.
“Look, he’s sharp,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said of Brady, who has been responsible for game planning Indy’s pass protection. “I remember Year 1, Frank kept telling me, Andrew told me, how much Marcus helped with protections and getting them ready on third down.
“He’s got a very sharp mind, the quarterback room respects him, he works and he’s got a great demeanor in terms of calmness. There’s never any panic with Marcus. He’s always the same; even though the heart may be beating harder underneath, he never shows it.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, went straight from playing to coaching at Howard. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1997-2001, when the success of Howard’s quarterback, Ted White, caught the eye of Jimmy Raye, a former NFL coordinator.
Raye helped Hamilton get a coaching internship with the Chiefs in 2000, and Hamilton has been climbing ever since, helping to cultivate offenses over the past 10 years at multiple stops, including Stanford, Michigan, the Cleveland Browns and the D.C. Defenders of the XFL.
“I met coaches that went on to coach at other teams in the NFL over the years, and they pulled me along,” Hamilton said. “It’s a hard job to obtain, but it’s also a job that is very demanding, and it starts with your ability to do the job. So you’ve got to be prepared.”
Hamilton shares that “be prepared” message with younger minority coaches who ask for advice.
“Just do the best job in the job you have,” Hamilton said. “Because the game of football is pure in my opinion; it's a great meritocracy. You’ve got to be able to do the job to keep your job, and our job is to put our players in a position to be successful and also to win games. There's a lot of qualified candidates of all ethnicities that can do the job; now, it's just a matter of having that platform to present yourself.”
Colts, Chargers show QB success in 2020
At the time Hamilton and I spoke in August, he had just met the Chargers’ quarterbacks and the majority of the coaching staff as the team was preparing for the 2020 season under the specter of COVID-19. Hamilton was optimistic about the group he’d be working with, which included steady veteran Tyrod Taylor and gifted No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert.
The Chargers’ season hasn’t gone as well as the Colts’. L.A. is 5-9, while Philip Rivers, at age 39, has turned back the clock enough to put Indianapolis (9-4) in pole position to win the AFC South. Rivers has been sacked the third-fewest times in the NFL, no doubt thanks in part to Brady’s help with pass protections.
Despite the poor record, Herbert has emerged as one of the game’s most promising young quarterbacks under Hamilton’s watch, and the 22-year-old is currently the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
“It would have been tough to imagine that early on, especially not knowing when or if I’d play this year,” Herbert recently told reporters. “That’s one of those things that Coach Hamilton and I talked about and he said, ‘You know, you need to be ready, because if and when it does happen, you’re gonna have to go out there and you’re gonna need to be ready.’ ”
And when Week 2 came around and Herbert was called on to start at a moment’s notice, he was ready, thanks in large part to Hamilton’s help,
“We meet everyday and we talk about practice, we talk about the games and protections, so I feel really comfortable going into the game knowing the protection plan and our strategy behind it, because [Hamilton’s] got such a great feel for the game,” Herbert said. “I know that I can go to him for anything, and if I do something wrong or I do something well, he’s gonna let me know and we’re gonna get better because of it.”
There remains a hope among Hamilton and Brady that the ongoing push for diversity at the head coaching position in the NFL will also extend to quarterbacks coaches, too. If so, perhaps in 2021 there will be more than two Black quarterbacks coaches across the entire league.
“It’s such an important position, and there’s obviously been an increase in Black quarterbacks as well,” Brady said. “It would be nice if you can get an increase in the quarterback coaches in that room coaching those guys.”
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