The lack of minority head coaches in the NFL is a critical issue that has plagued the league. Even though 70 percent of NFL players are Black, less than 10 percent of head coaches are. Former Houston Texans head coach David Culley was the only Black man hired during the 2021 offseason.
Before Super Bowl 55, Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed concern that only two minorities were hired out of seven possible openings: “As you know, we had two minority coaches hired this year. But it wasn’t what we expected, and it’s not what we expect going forward.”
The league has failed to make noticeable improvements for this upcoming season. 2022 will have the same number of Black head coaches – three – as it did in 2021. Lovie Smith was hired by the Houston Texans, and Mike McDaniel, who considers himself to be biracial, will take over the Miami Dolphins. The NFL considers people of mixed Black and white ancestry to be Black.
When the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for the head coaching position, was introduced in 2003, three minorities held the position. Heading into the 2022-23 season, five teams will be led by minority head coaches (the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh, Smith, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Washington’s Ron Rivera, McDaniel).
Why Does the NFL Lag so Far Behind?
Compared to the progressiveness of the NBA and the MLB, the NFL seems to be stuck in the mud. More than 80 percent of NBA players are people of color and 30 percent of head coaches are. Forty percent of MLB players are people of color, and 20 percent of managers are. So what needs to be done? The Rooney Rule has for the most part been a failure, and that should prompt the NFL to take more deliberate steps.
Why does such a resistance to coaching diversity exist? Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich are two of the foremost offensive minds in the league. Former head coach Jim Caldwell interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears earlier this offseason, but did not receive a job. Hue Jackson and Marvin Lewis were highly respected by their players but were not considered for new gigs.
More Action, Less Slogans
Social justice slogans and financial commitments to social programs can only do so much, but in order to fully embrace this issue, I would encourage players to become more vocal and stand up to ownership. The NFL Players Association should find ways to generate greater attention and work together with ownership in order to facilitate a more responsible hiring process.
There has to be a struggle. There has to be conflict. There has to be disruption. And that starts with the players. Although as an NFL executive I would not be happy if corporate sponsors withheld money from the league if more black coaches were not hired, sponsors doing so would send an impactful message.
Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL unveiled the league-wide systemic racism that has been hiding in plain sight for a long time, but how long will it be until owners and executives truly acknowledge that Black head coaching leadership is being suppressed? This is not a lack of talent or a lack of experience issue. This boils down to moral decency, and the audacity to initiate needed change.