At a time when there are only five minority head coaches in the NFL, several extremely qualified candidates appear to be ready to take the reins when they're given the chance. Just on Sunday, Eric Bieniemy of the Chiefs and Byron Leftwich of the Buccaneers led two of the league's top offenses as their respective teams' coordinators in the Super Bowl.
It may feel like the expectation is that they'll be next when another opportunity arises, but as the headline for Louis Moore's feature story on Lionel Taylor's coaching career says, "For Many Black NFL Coaches, Sometimes Next Is Never".
What follows is a deeply researched examination of the Ring of Fame receiver's rise in the coaching ranks in the '70s and '80s and why he didn't get a head coaching opportunity in the years that followed. As Moore writes, Taylor should have been the first Black offensive coordinator-turned-head coach.
Before becoming a coordinator, the former star receiver coached up the likes of future Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth during seven seasons with the Steelers as their wide receivers coach. Swann earned his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors during Taylor's coaching stint in Pittsburgh. In 2020, Taylor revealed that he called the play that became known as the "Immaculate Reception."
Taylor then joined the Los Angeles Rams as their receivers coach in 1977, and by 1980, he added offensive coordinator duties. The results came swiftly; the Rams, previously ranked 15th out of 28 in scoring offense, upped their output by 31 percent in his first year as OC. Los Angeles had the top-ranked rushing attack and tied for the most passing touchdowns that year.
"As an offensive coordinator, he was Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich before Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich," Moore wrote. "He pushed the ball with the passing game, emphasizing spreading the ball out to whoever was open."
Taylor always wanted to be an NFL head coach, but he wouldn't get that chance, even though he should have been a top candidate. The Rams fell to 6-10 the next year and head coach Ray Malavasi replaced his entire staff. Taylor wouldn't be back in the NFL until almost a decade later.
There is no happy ending to this story. Taylor's NFL coaching dream went unfulfilled, even if he got the chance to be a head coach at the collegiate level or in NFL Europe. Instead, his story, as Moore writes, is a reminder that great Black coaches like Taylor have been shut out from these opportunities before; his legacy is to see that the men that follow in his footsteps don't have to face the same obstacles.
Below the Fold
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