Every year, approximately five to six head coaching positions are vacated in the NFL, on average. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. How many of those coaching vacancies are filled by minorities has become a focal point of every offseason—but largely because so few ever ultimately fill those roles.
Since the end of the last hiring cycle, seven teams moved on from their previous head coaches, including the Los Angeles Chargers, who fired Anthony Lynn, one of the small handful of current minority head coaches in the NFL. Two of those vacancies were filled by first-time minority head coaches, with Robert Saleh joining the New York Jets and, in one of the most surprising hires in years, David Culley joining the Houston Texans.
In all, then, the league netted one minority head coach, with Lynn departing and Saleh and Culley joining Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team, and Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins, for a total of five. Of the five, only Tomlin was hired to his current post prior to the 2019 season, but Rivera is a long-time head coach previously of the Carolina Panthers.
The Rooney Rule is an annual part of this discussion about the cycle of minority hires, and last year featured the most extreme overhaul of the rule, which requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates for head coaching positions, and also incentivizes teams to develop minority candidates by awarding teams who lose minority candidates to head coaching positions with two compensatory third-round draft picks (the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will thus receive compensation for Saleh and Culley, respectively).
Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II, whose father’s name was leant to the rule, was a leading advocate for last year’s changes, and he spoke again this offseason in favor of there being a further evaluation of the rule. “There’s still work to be done in this area, no question about it”, he said, via ESPN.
“We didn’t make as much progress on the head-coaching side as we would have liked”, he added, as advocates note highly-qualified candidates such as Eric Bieniemy continue to go overlooked year after year. “But I would say we did make some progress on the general manager side, which is encouraging. And then we’ll have to look on the coordinator side to see how much progress we make on that front”.
Rooney allowed that he feels the steps that the league took last year will pay dividends in increasing diversity hiring—not just at the head coaching level but on through the coaching and front office ranks, but added that there are still things that they can do to strengthen opportunities afforded to minority coaching. A chief focus for any further changes might involve the promotion of minority candidates beginning at the lowest levels of coaching,