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Will We See a Black Head Coach in the NHL Again?

CONTRIBUTOR
News
Modified 08 Feb 2020, 19:23 IST

New Jersey Devils assistant coach Mike Grier (left)
New Jersey Devils assistant coach Mike Grier (left)

Black Monday isn't supposed to be about race. It becomes about race when none of the new head coaches or GMs hired is a person of color, particularly when all black candidates get shut out of the job openings. Again.

This controversy doesn’t happen in the NHL, because representation is very low in the league. Of the four major sports, hockey is the least diverse, and that lack of diversity is visible on an NHL bench as Mike Grier (New Jersey Devlis) is the only black assistant coach on the bench during games.

There are coaches of color in the NHL, but they work behind the scenes as goaltender, player development and video coaches.

Progress for black coaches in the NHL has been slow, but such change won’t happen overnight. Dirk Graham was the first black head coach in the NHL for the 1998-99 season. But when will the second black head coach be hired?

“I don’t know how soon it is but it’s certainly against the culture,” Paul Jerrard said. “But you never know. We never thought we’d see a black President. We saw one, so...”

Jerrard is an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He spent 21 years as an assistant coach for several minor league teams, including five years as an NHL assistant, most recently with the Calgary Flames.

While Jerrard is uncertain when an NHL team will hire a black head coach, when a team does, race won’t be a factor.

“If there is a guy that can do the job I don’t think teams would be averse to putting someone of color on the bench,” Jerrard said.

Hopefully Jerrard is right. The NHL has been getting some bad race-related press recently. Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters resigned after former player Akim Aliu revealed Peters made racist remarks towards Aliu during the 2009-10 season. And the NHL’s two advertisements celebrating Black History Month did not include any black players.

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Despite these blemishes, the NHL is becoming more diverse. There are about 30 black players in the league. And according to the Color of Hockey blog, several black coaches get their foot in the door in the minors, with hopes of moving up to the NHL.

But progress within the coaching ranks is very slow. The number of minority candidates may be low because not every former player decides to pursue coaching after their playing careers. To create more minority ex-players that go into coaching, more minorities have to take up the sport. The more minorities that play hockey, the better chance more of them become NHL players and maybe become coaches after their playing days.

If any do, their journey might follow Jerrard’s path. “I worked my way up the ladder and got my opportunity,” he said. “They didn’t look at me as a black guy or a different colored guy. They looked at me as a guy that could get the job done.”

That’s how it should be for now. The NHL doesn’t have enough minorities in the league to create an initiative to promote black/minority coaching candidates. This isn’t the NFL, which is about 70 percent black but only has three minority head coaches (two black) and two black general managers. Out of the five NFL head coach openings in 2020, only one went a minority, and Ron Rivera was just fired by the Carolina Panthers.

When the NHL will have their next black head coach remains unanswered. It’s been 20 years since Graham was fired. You wouldn’t think it would take that long for a second black head coach to be hired, but that’s the case.

It will happen, but Jerrard believes we may require patience. “I think it’s going to take some time,” he said.

That’s 20 years and counting.

Questions? Comments? Send to randolphc82@comcast.net. Follow @NE_Arena on Twitter.

Published 08 Feb 2020, 19:23 IST
NHL
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