Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel says the team's defensive line coach and assistant head coach Terrell Williams will serve as head coach for the first NFL preseason game of 2023 against the Chicago Bears — making Williams the fourth Black head coach in the league.

During a press conference Monday, Vrabel told reporters he's stepping aside for the Titans pre-season game Saturday to let Williams serve as the head coach, emphasizing that it's a great opportunity for both Williams and the franchise.

"I think this is a great opportunity for him and for us and for everybody involved. Big T [Williams] will handle that and Clint [McMillan, Titans' defensive assistant] will handle the defensive line," Vrabel said.

The 49-year-old will take over as head coach starting Thursday night, as some of his responsibilities will entail planning for who will be the starting quarterback, discussing decisions with assistant coaches and deciding how he will want to play the game.

Williams, who joined the Titans in 2018, has been a defensive line coach throughout his 26 seasons of coaching, serving the last 12 seasons in the league, with the then-Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins before the Titans.

During his first press conference since the announcement, Williams said he gives credit to Vrabel for the opportunity to step into the head coach role, something that is uncommon for assistant coaches to do.

"Hopefully more coaches will give assistant coaches opportunities to do this because there's nothing better than actually getting the experience," Williams said, according to ESPN.

The lack of Black head coaches has been an issue in the league

With the start of the NFL regular season quickly approaching, there are only three Black head coaches — Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and DeMeco Ryans (Houston Texans) — across the league's 32 teams. In comparison, more than half of NFL players are Black.

And that's 20 years after the NFL enacted the Rooney Rule — a league effort to correct inequities at the top of football's hierarchy by requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching vacancies.

In recent years, the NFL has come under fire for its hiring practices — most recently with former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who filed a class action lawsuit last year against the NFL and three of its teams for alleged racial discrimination.

Flores alleged that race was at the center of his removal as head coach of the Dolphins, a problem that he said is endemic in the NFL.

"I love coaching. I do. It's something that I'm passionate about. It brings me joy. And I love helping young people reach their potential and become the best version of themselves. I'm gifted to do that. But this is bigger than that," Flores said during a February 2022 interview on CBS Mornings.

In response to Flores' suit, the NFL released a statement saying it would defend "against these claims, which are without merit."

"The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations," the league said in its statement.

"Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time," the statement added.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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