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'Staggering' numbers show NFL minority coaching hires have stalled...
Minority coaching hires have stalled
THE NFL HAS sponsored programs, implemented the Rooney Rule, counseled team owners and convened committees to address its diversity problem in the coaching ranks. None of it is working. Minority coaches are frustrated. The numbers explain why -- emphatically.
Teams have taken a chance on 21 first-time white head coaches and only one first-time minority head coach, Todd Bowles, over the past five hiring cycles (2012-16). The gap was an identical 21-1 nearly two decades ago, when the New York Jets made Herm Edwards the only first-time minority hire from 1997 to 2001.
It's as though team owners have reverted to previous form, undoing the historic gains driven by Tony Dungy and his coaching tree in the early 2000s.
"Remember the old thing [where they said] you can't win with a black quarterback?" a minority assistant coach asked. "It is almost like that for the coaches."
Various league initiatives -- led by the Rooney Rule, which required teams to interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a new head coach -- continue to address the symptoms, not the underlying issues:
80 of the NFL's current 85 offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coaches and offensive quality control coaches are white, including all 37 with the word "quarterback" in their titles.
23 of 32 defensive coordinators are white.
Those are crushing numbers for minorities considering how the hiring game is played: 94 percent of head coaches hired over the past 20 years (133 of 141) had been NFL coordinators, pro head coaches (including interim) or college head coaches previously.
The path to becoming an NFL head coach is clear. It is also largely unavailable to minorities, especially with Dungy in retirement. Dungy and his former assistants accounted for 43 percent of minority head-coaching hires over the past two decades and 39 percent since the Rooney Rule took effect.
"The good thing about the Rooney Rule was not that you had to interview a minority candidate but that it slowed the process down and made you do some research," Dungy said, "but now it seems like in the last few years, people haven't really done what the rule was designed for. It has become, 'Just let me talk to a couple minority coaches very quickly so I can go about the business of hiring the person I really want to hire anyway.'"
Minorities dominate coaching positions for running backs and, to a lesser degree, the defensive secondary, but whites fill the most upwardly mobile spots. Researchers at the Georgetown McDonough School of Business expounded on this subject in a study of coaching staffs from 1985 to 2012. They concluded in part that while teams do hire minorities for positions carrying a lower likelihood for promotion, white coaches gained promotions more readily even when researchers accounted for assistant coaches' initial and current NFL jobs.
Current minority coaches agreed to share their thoughts for this story in hopes they could raise awareness to effect positive change. They requested anonymity because they felt that speaking candidly for attribution could jeopardize future opportunities. Dungy felt no such restrictions in retirement.
ARIZONA CARDINALS COACH Bruce Arians hired minority coordinators on offense (Harold Goodwin) and defense (Bowles) when he took the job in 2013. (Bowles has since moved on to the Jets.) He added former NFL linebacker Levon Kirkland to his staff last season under a two-year coaching fellowship designed to help former players get into coaching. Arians cringed during a conversation at the NFL owners meetings in March when told teams had hired white head coaches 120 times in 141 chances over the past two decades.
"Those are staggering numbers," Arians said.
How staggering? Second-, third- and fourth-time white head coaches outnumber all minority hires by a 40-21 margin during that span.
Arians thinks the league should expand the Rooney Rule to include interviews for jobs as coordinators. (The rule was expanded in 2009 to cover "lead personnel executives," such as general managers.)
"You could expand the Rooney Rule if you wanted," a minority coordinator said, "but the problem is, they say, 'OK, we need a minority coach, and he coaches DBs, D-line, running backs, receivers. He does not coach quarterbacks, he does not coach offensive line.' Guys like Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell have tried to put minority coaches in positions where they are next in line so they get an opportunity, but when you look at it, all the new hires were the offensive guys this past year."
Indeed, all seven head coaches hired in 2016 had backgrounds on offense. Five were coordinators last season, and Mike Mularkey went from assistant head coach/tight ends to interim head coach in Tennessee. A seventh, Chip Kelly, was a head coach last season. Six of the seven head coaches hired in 2015 had defensive backgrounds, but two were already head coaches in 2014 (John Fox and Rex Ryan), four were coordinators, and the seventh, Jim Tomsula, was an outlier as a career defensive line coach who appealed to the San Francisco 49ers as an agreeable in-house successor to Jim Harbaugh.
"For most of the black guys, they give you raises and not promotions," a prominent minority coach said. "They put money in your pocket to keep you right there to handle that position group. You usually will take it because you have nowhere to go."
About one-third of NFL coaches are minorities, while about two-thirds of NFL players are African-American. This imbalance creates dynamics rarely discussed publicly. Some white assistants say they've been told teams could not hire them because the head coach sought a minority for a certain position. One prominent minority NFL coach said he still gets calls from college programs saying they would like to hire him explicitly because the head coach needed minority representation on staff, presumably to help with recruiting.
"It is not as bad in the NFL," this minority coach said, "but you'd better have some guys who can relate to the black players on the team or you are going to have a hard time."
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