Two former HBCU football coaches are joining NFL coaching staffs, hires that observers say are a small but significant step toward filling the NFL’s coaching pipelines and bolstering Black colleges’ reputations for preparing pro-level coaching talent.
The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Tuesday that they hired Isaac Williams as assistant offensive line coach. Williams coached North Carolina Central University’s offensive line in the 2021 season, when the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference school went 6-5. From 2018 through 2020, he coached tight ends, offensive linemen and was the run game coordinator for Morgan State University, another MEAC program. Williams played college football at Alcorn State, another HBCU which if famous for producing the late Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair.
The Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams have also hired K.J. Black, former offensive coordinator for the Rattlers of Florida A&M University, to work as an offensive quality control assistant working with quarterbacks. Black also played college football at an HBCU, quarterbacking Prairie View A&M to the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship
Both hires were hailed as important on Monday by Alonzo Carter, an assistant coach at San Jose State and an executive committee member of the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches.
“I’m very excited for Isaac and KJ,” Carter said. “It’s big. There’s a lot of bright young minds in HBCU football and when they get that attention, they deserve it.”
No source tracks the number of former HBCU coaches currently working in the NFL. But while most NFL coaches have at least some college coaching experience, they tend to come from larger institutions, particularly in the so-called Power Five conferences, which are known for pumping out NFL draft picks.
Carter said that for both Black and Williams, networking was key; both participated in weekly Zoom calls that Carter arranged during the pandemic that gave young, Black coaches the chance to network with coaches on the NFL level.
Williams also participated in the NFL’s Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Internship, where he worked on the Kansas City Chiefs’ staff with renowned offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy.
“What I love about Isaac,” Carter says, “He told me when former Steelers offensive line coach Adrian] Klemm left, ‘I want to get that assistant offensive line coach job with the Steelers.’ And he went out and did just that.”
The NFL overall is still mired in controversy over its treatment of Black coaches after former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sued the league and several teams for racial discrimination, alleging a glass ceiling for Black coaches in landing the top job in NFL programs.
Flores, whose lawsuit is still pending, was hired last month by the Steelers as linebackers coach, putting him on the same coaching staff as Williams. The Steelers’ head coach is Mike Tomlin, the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL and who, briefly this offseason, was the only Black head coach in the league.