How the Miami Dolphins broke the NFL’s hidden color barrier

The Miami Dolphins are famous for their colors, but they should now be famous for the color they have added to the personnel in their organization.

The Miami Dolphins are famous for a multitude of reasons over their almost 60-year history. They are the only team in the league’s history to have a perfect season. They boast having the winningest coach of all time, as well as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in history. They have appeared in movies such as Ace Ventura and Bad Boys II. Unfortunately, there are also things like the bullying scandal and the ensuing Ted Wells report.

Not least among these reasons, though, is perhaps a far less obvious one. In a league where teams are determined to appear as masculine as possible with uniform colors like the silver and black of the Oakland Raiders, or the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the “Big Blue” of the New York Giants and “Gang Green” of the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins have always stood out with their sunburst orange and sea-foam teal color scheme. It has always been easy to pick out Dolphins fans walking about.

The Miami Dolphins Broke The Glass Ceiling

However, the color the Miami Dolphins should now be famous for is the color they have added to the personnel in their organization:

  • In a league with 76% minority representation among its players, 3% of the teams have a minority executive. That would be one team out of 32. That would be the Miami Dolphins. On December 31st they promoted Chris Grier to lead their football operations, letting go of Mike Tannenbaum.
  • In a league with 76% minority representation among its players, 12% of the teams have a minority head coach. That would be four teams out of 32. One of those teams is the Miami Dolphins when they hired Brian Flores to be the team’s first ever minority head coach (not including Todd Bowles’ interim head coaching gig).
  • In a league with 76% minority representation among its players, 9% of the teams have minority representation among its offensive coordinators. That would be three teams out of 32. One of those teams is the Miami Dolphins when they hired Jim Caldwell to the position.
  • In a league with 76% minority representation among its players, 28% of the teams have a minority defensive coordinator. That would be nine out of 32 teams. One of those teams is the Miami Dolphins when they hired Patrick Grahahm to the position.

In fact, the Miami Dolphins are the only team in NFL history to have an entirely minority leadership structure from the head of football operations to the coordinators.

Put another way, If the Dolphins were the United States federal government and followed the line of succession set forth in the Constitution, you would have to get through the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House AND the President pro tempore of the Senate (be honest, how many of you even know what that is?) before you got to someone who wasn’t a minority for the Miami Dolphins leadership team.

That is unheard of in today’s NFL where we have mechanisms like the “Rooney Rule,” which requires minorities to be considered for certain positions. However, that often leads to symbolic interviews instead of legitimate ones. For example, in this past coaching cycle, there were eight head coaching positions open and only one minority was chosen to fill an open slot, and that was Miami.

This should not be a huge surprise that Miami would be the first. This is an organization led by Steven Ross, who in recent years has founded the Ross Initiative in Sports Equality (RISE). This is an organization founded in response to social injustice that was brought to the forefront of public discourse by Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and Nate Boyer. The Dolphins were the first franchise to take a stand behind the underlying reasons why players kneeling.

Speaking of players kneeling, one of the Dolphins most prominent players, Kenny Stills, remains one of the only players left in the league who still kneels in protest of social injustice. Kenny Stills has since dedicated almost all of his off-field time to improving community relations between police and citizens, raising money for charitable causes and going from city to city to better understand the issues that plague our society.

So, the fact the Miami Dolphins have become the first team to be led by an all minority team should not surprise. If any organization was going to be the first, it would be them.

But, let us be clear. These hirings were not some symbolic occurrence to simply be the first or to send a message. Every one of these men is qualified to be in the positions they were given. Let’s take a look.

Chris Grier, General Manager

Grier has been with Dolphins organization for 20 years where he has served as an area scout, national scout, assistant director of college scouting, director of college scouting and then General Manager. Before that, he was a regional scout for the New England Patriots. He has worked with coaches like Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, and Nick Saban.

For comparison’s sake, John Lynch was named general manager of the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 after doing exactly zero of those jobs. He had been serving as a color analyst for FOX’s “C” team, after having been a player. Mike Mayock was just given the GM job of the Oakland Raiders without ever having worked for an NFL team in any capacity. He has been a TV personality for the NFL Network and ABC since 2001.

Brian Flores, Head Coach

Flores has worked inside of the New England Patriots organization for 15 years holding every position from area scout to defensive play caller. He has worked in every facet of a football team including in all three phases (offense, defense, special teams) of on-field play. He is widely credited with turning around the New England defense this year, turning them into a top 12 unit in major categories.

For comparison’s sake, Zac Taylor is being hired by the Cincinnati Bengals after serving as an assistant at Texas A&M where he was hired by his father in law Mike Sherman. He then followed Mike Sherman to the Miami Dolphins in 2012 where he was the assistant quarterbacks coach. In 2016, he was hired as the offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati in 2016. They went on to have the 123rd (not a typo) ranked offense in the nation. Last year, he was the wide receivers coach for Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams and then quarterbacks coach who didn’t call plays. He is now head coach of an NFL franchise, presumably because he knows who Sean McVay is.

Jim Caldwell

While this hire has not been confirmed, all signs are pointing to him being a part of the staff. No, he is not the offensive coordinator (rumor has it that will be Chad O’Shea, as he defects from New England) but it is widely acknowledged he is here to oversee the offense and groom the OC, as it will be someone young and up and coming.

Let’s be clear – he is the de facto captain of the offense. He has been a head coach in this league for both the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions. He took the Colts to the Super Bowl and the Lions to the playoffs two out of his three seasons. He was fired in favor of Matt Patricia who followed Caldwell’s 9-7 record with a 6-10 record. He has a career head coaching record of 62-50. He was also offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens when they won the Superbowl in 2012 and had Joe Flacco (yes, that Joe Flacco) looking like an elite quarterback.

For comparison’s sake, John DeFilippo served the Oakland Raiders as quarterbacks coach two separate times, under both Dennis Allen and Lane Kiffin. The Raiders combined record during his tenures was 13-43. His lone full season as an offensive coordinator was in 2015 under Mike Pettine. He was fired along with Pettine after the Cleveland Browns went 3-13 and he coordinated the 30th ranked offense out of 32 teams. He then served as quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles where he worked under current Colts head coach Frank Reich. Philly won the Superbowl in 2017 and DeFilippo parlayed that into an offensive coordinator job this past season with the Minnesota Vikings. He did not last the year as he was fired after 14 games. The Vikings offense ranked 19th, down from 10th the year before he got there. He was just hired as the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator.

Patrick Graham, Defensive Coordinator

This is another hire that has not yet been confirmed, but again, all signs point to this happening soon. Patrick Graham has been a defensive assistant in the NFL for multiple teams. He worked with Brian Flores from 2009 to 2015 in New England. Graham’s experience as both a defensive line and linebackers coach at several different spots around the NFL should make him qualified to be a first-time coordinator, especially if Flores calls the defense in Miami. In Green Bay this year, he was the inside linebackers coach and defensive run game coordinator. During his one season in Green Bay, Graham coached Blake Martinez, who led the team in tackles, while also integrating Antonio Morrison into the defense and helping develop rookie Oren Burks. The Packers defense finished 13th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed in 2018.

For comparison’s sake, Ed Donatell just followed Vic Fangio to Denver. His previous experience as a coordinator includes being on the 2008 Washington Huskies team that went winless, and working under Jim Mora in the Falcons where his defense finished 14th, 18th and 15th in three years. Donatell has been given three opportunities as a defensive coordinator over the last 28 years despite failures at all previous stops. This will be Graham’s first opportunity in ten years.

Now, none of the coaches I have listed as comparisons is necessarily “wrong” for the job or undeserving. My point is simply that the men Miami hired are more than qualified and up to the task of the job given to them. This was not a mission by Miami to be the first team to be led by an all minority leadership. The cards were dealt fairly and the best men got the job. No one knows if they will win a Super Bowl, and that is due to the unpredictable nature of the NFL, not race.

But at a time where minority representation is at a low and trending in the wrong direction, Miami has taken a bold step. If these men are successful, it can be the boost this league needs to have its leadership look more like its workforce.

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