A decade ago, Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri rattled the litigation sword regarding the stunning absence of minority head coaches in the NFL. The NFL responded promptly with the “Rooney Rule,” which initially required at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for every head-coaching job and now also requires at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for every G.M. position.
At the time, there were two minority head coaches: Tony Dungy of the Colts and Herm Edwards of the Jets.
Today, after the firings of Romeo Crennel and Lovie Smith, there are four.
Marvin Lewis was hired by the Bengals in the cycle that occurred after the Rooney Rule was promulgated, and he recently celebrated his 10th anniversary on the job. Other minority coaches are Ron Rivera of the Panthers, Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, and Leslie Frazier of the Vikings.
An optimist would say that the situation has improved by 100 percent. A pessimist would say that an industry dominated by minority players should have a much greater representation of minority coaches.
A realist would say that the latest hiring cycle has resulted in no minority coaches or General Managers being hired. The Bills have hired coach Doug Marrone. The Chiefs have hired coach Andy Reid and G.M. John Dorsey. The Eagles have hired coach Chip Kelly. The Bears have hired coach Marc Trestman. The Browns have hired coach Rob Chudzinski. The Cardinals have hired G.M. Steve Keim. The Chargers have hired G.M. Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy. The Jaguars have hired G.M. Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley.
Three vacancies remain: Cardinals coach, Browns G.M., and Jets G.M.
Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports takes a candid, honest look at the situation. Part of the problem is that, with the exception of Bradley in Jacksonville, teams are hiring head coaches with offensive backgrounds. And as Silver recently explained, few minority coaches are being groomed to become offensive specialists. (If the Cardinals are intent on hiring an offensive coach, they should maybe wait for the Ravens’ season to end and interview offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.)
Another part of the problem is that, as college head coaches become more attractive to NFL owners, the NCAA’s abysmal track record when it comes to minority hiring means that there necessarily are fewer successful minority coaches at the college level. Stanford’s David Shaw likely would have been on the NFL’s “A” list this year, but he signed his extension before flirting with the NFL — and unlike at least one former college coach Shaw didn’t reconsider his commitment.
One of the explanations provided when the Rooney Rule arrived was that white owners and General Managers tend to gravitate to candidates with whom they have similarities in appearance and/or background. Forcing teams to interview at least one minority candidate gives the minority candidate an opportunity to break through the often subconscious (but sometimes conscious and unspoken) biases that were prompting white owners to hire a disproportionate number of white coaches, especially in relation to the racial composition of the men who play the game. Still, even with a minority owner in Jacksonville, Shahid Khan’s three major hires (two coaches, one G.M.) have all been white.
So the core problem seems to be more about grooming candidates than selecting them. Again, college football bears plenty of the blame. Despite a widespread reputation of colleges being bastions of liberal attitudes and policies, only recently has progress been made when it comes to giving minority coaches fair opportunities to run NCAA programs.
There’s no easy solution. A true NFL minor league would give players, coaches, officials, and executives opportunities to develop their skills. Still, until more minority coaches get a chance to take on greater responsibilities within the confines of an NFL team, there simply won’t be an abundance of qualified and experienced minority coaches when the time comes to find new head coaches.
Regardless of any additional changes that are made in the future, the bottom line is that, over the course of the last 10 years, it appears that not much has changed.