From there, Martin moved on to the NFL, where the Pittsburgh Steelers had a couple of African-American coaches, as well.
“We had Tim Lewis and John Mitchell, but for the other teams, maybe one at the most would be on the staff,” said Martin. ”You just kind of took it because that was the way it was. You didn’t ask questions. You just went on about your business.”
In that ten-year span from his athletic career of a player to that of a coach, black coaches stopped taking it for what it was and started asking questions.
“Now I see more are getting opportunities to coach,” Martin asserted.
In previous eras in sports, the opportunities for black coaches simply did not exist. Being trusted to guide, lead and cultivate talent was something that racism prevented. Now, we live in a world significantly more color blind, and as such, black coaches have been able to show that they too can lead, and can do so well.
“There are more opportunities and people are more receptive to African-American head coaches and coordinators and position coaches now,” said Martin.
“Once someone is given the opportunity to interview to be a coach or a Graduate Assistant and is trusted with recruiting and to coach your position, it is a turn for the better.”
In his own coaching career, Martin says that simply being given the chance to coach has helped him grow into a better one.
“There are only so many jobs around the country, and I feel like no matter what your race, your ability to get one should be based on what you can do and who you know,” said Martin.
“I’ve had the opp to work under two African-American head coaches [Mike Locksley and Joker Phillips] and I learned a lot. And Now I work under Kiffin, a young white coach, and I am learning even more. So now I think guys are getting the opp to have legitimate offers and get good positions.”
But even so, a bigger stall to progression is really what has hindered black coaches to flourish in America.
“One thing that’s hard about the NFL, is that it is one of the only businesses that there are only 32 opportunities to be hired. In the world,” said Martin.
“There’s no other NFL—or NBA, for that matter—in the world. There’s no working overseas and having your job transfer over here.”
“The league isn’t growing so the jobs aren’t opening,” Martin explained. “Sometimes for a young coach, it’s hard to get into that circle of where you lose a job and you can easily find another one. You see it a lot with the more experienced coaches who find a landing place after losing a job. I think it comes with growth—at the college level being a grad assistant, and then recruiting, and then a position coach, etc. Its tough to create positions if the league isn’t growing.”