Pollard became the league's first (and only) black coach in 1921; the league utilized player-coaches and did not have distinct coaching staffs throughout the early-to-mid-1920s. All five black players who remained in the succeeding National Football League after 1926 departed the league. They were Jack "Curly" Bradley, Willie Hightower, Red Pollard, Billys Lewis, and Charlie Thompson.
Bradley played eight seasons with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. Hightower played nine seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and Brooklyn Dodgers. Pollard played ten seasons with the Cleveland Indians/Browns and Pittsburgh Pirates. Lewis played six seasons with the New York Giants and Boston Bulldogs. Thompson played three seasons with the Racers/Steagles and Newark Tornadoes.
After an absence of nearly a decade, another black man would become the first black head coach in the modern era when Stumpy Stevens led the Chicago Cardinals to a 9-3 record in 1932. The Cardinals finished last in the league that season but had already proven themselves worthy opponents for all other teams; they defeated Washington Redskins 7-0 in their only game that year. After that season, no more black coaches would work in the NFL until 1946 when Dutch Morrill of the Philadelphia Eagles became the first after World War II.
Since then, there have been three more, and the National League's president, Bill White, is also black. Shell was appointed on the same day as Cito Gaston became the first black manager of a major league playoff club when his Toronto Blue Jays faced the Oakland A's in the first game of the American League West championship series.
The Hall of Fame for College Football Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard (January 27, 1894 – May 11, 1986) was a football player and coach in the United States. He was the National Football League's first African American head coach (NFL). In 1920, Pollard and Bobby Marshall were the NFL's first two African American players.
Fritz Pollard was the only minority head coach in NFL history until 1979, when Tom Flores was hired by the Raiders (this was during the league's early years in the 1920s), and by the time the rule was implemented, only Tom Flores, Art Shell, Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes, Tony Dungy, and Herman Edwards had ever held head coaching jobs. Black coaches have been extremely rare throughout most of the history of the NFL; there have been only 13 black coaches in the history of the NFL.
There have been several black managers and assistant coaches over the years, but none have ever been given the opportunity to be a head coach. The lack of diversity at the top of football organizations remains a problem today.
Of the 13 black coaches in the history of the NFL, only three are still working in the league today: George Wilson, Willie Jeffes, and Ron Rivera. All three men are African American.
Wilson was the first black coach in the modern era of the NFL when he was hired by the Chicago Bears in 1978 after serving as an assistant for two seasons. He stayed with the team for seven more years, reaching the NFC Championship Game four times before being fired in 1985. After leaving the Bears, he went on to work for the New York Jets for one season before moving back home to Tennessee to take a defensive coordinator job at Vanderbilt.
There were no more black players in the league by 1934. After WWII, the NFL did not have another black player. The only black person to play in the NFL during this period was Willie Gault who started out as a center for the Minnesota Vikings and later played quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League (CFL). He entered the league in 1967.
The first known black athlete to attempt making the NFL roster was William Henry Lewis in 1946. However, he was cut before the season began. In 1947, Lester "Pete" Gray became the first black player to be drafted by an NFL team when he was picked up by the Chicago Bears. However, he too was cut before the start of the season. During this period, many blacks either played in the all-black National Football League or in the independent American Football League. There were also some who played in the now-defunct Pacific Coast League and Canadian Football League.
In 1948, the Cleveland Browns signed Floyd Allen from the PCL's Oakland Raiders. This was the first time a black player had ever received any form of contract from an NFL team. However, he was released after one game because the Browns' management felt that it was impossible for him to succeed against stronger opponents.