Entering the 2018 season, the NFL featured eight minority head coaches out of 32 positions, representing a full quarter of the head coaching population at that time. But it was an ugly year for the group, as five of them—Hue Jackson, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles, Steve Wilks, and Vance Joseph were all fired or mutually parted ways.
Of the many head coaching vacancies that opened with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets, the Arizona Cardinals, the Denver Broncos, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Green Bay Packers, and the Miami Dolphins—against, a full quarter of the league—only the Dolphins hired a minority head coach in Brian Flores of the New England Patriots.
Said Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, one of the four current minority head coaches in the NFL, “I think the numbers speak for itself in that regard. It was a disappointing hiring cycle for someone who watches it like I do, knowing some of the deserving men I do who I thought should have gotten an opportunity and didn’t”.
The only four other minority head coaches in the NFL currently in addition to Tomlin and Flores are Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn. Their population had been halved in one hiring cycle.
“We’ll continue to work and fight for equality and opportunity”, Tomlin said. “I think that’s what the Rooney Rule speaks to, is equality within the opportunity. We’ll continue to fight for that, not only in terms of head coaching searches, but maybe other areas of the profession as well. I know there’s some discussions in the offseason regarding some of that”.
Back in January, Commissioner Roger Goodell hesitated to overreact to one coaching cycle, but explored avenues of strengthening and aiding the Rooney Rule to ensure that minority coaches are better trained and made more available for opportunities.
A month ago, Steelers President Art Rooney II, whose father was the namesake of the rule, said that “we have to judge our progress on the results. It’s like looking at your team. You are what your record says you are”.
This season, multiple first-time head coaches were hired after having less than a full season’s worth of experience as a coordinator, such as the Browns’ hiring of Freddie Kitchens and the Bengals’ addition of Zac Taylor.
Tomlin noted that when he was moving up in the ranks, he was advised at that time that he would have a better opportunity to advance if he switched to the defensive side of the ball. He did, and that advice obviously ended up working.
“If offensive coaches are in vogue in this hiring cycle, and guys in my age group, particularly those of color, have been advised in that way, then obviously there might be a void of offensive coaching talent”, he said of the current climate. “I think just the overall development of young, sharp coaches at all levels, and an investment in that, is important”.