Two of the seven vacancies for general manager were filled by minorities when the Falcons hired Terry Fontenot and the Detroit Lions tabbed Brad Holmes. They join Cleveland’s Andrew Berry and Miami’s Chris Grier as the only Black GMs in the league.
Some consider progress has been made but most agree there’s a long way to go.
“There’s still work to be done in this area, no question about it,” Pittsburgh Steelers team president Art Rooney II said Thursday.
The Houston Texans hired David Culley this week, making the 65-year-old longtime assistant the league’s third Black head coach hired. The New York Jets previously hired Robert Saleh, the son of Lebanese immigrants and the first NFL head coach who is known to be Muslim.
Culley and Saleh join Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Miami’s Brian Flores and Washington’s Ron Rivera as the league’s only minority head coaches. In a sport where about 70% of the players are minorities, the lack of diversity among the head coaching ranks sticks out.
Rooney said the league will take another look at the rule named after his father, Dan Rooney, who was chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee.
“We didn’t make as much progress on the head coaching side as we would have liked,” Rooney said. “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.
“There are a lot of pieces to it that we’re going to have to sit down when it’s all said and done and really analyze what happened, and are there things we can do to strengthen the opportunities for minority coaches. I think last year we did take a number of steps that I think over time are going to pay dividends, but that’s not to say we can’t do more, and we’ll take another strong look at it this offseason.”
Perhaps an increase in minority executives will lead to more minority head coaches. Ultimately, the owners are the ones making the decision and 31 of the 32 are white. They have to be convinced.
“I got this job simply because I was the best football coach that they wanted in this situation, and I happen to be African American,” Culley said Friday. “I’m proud of that. I’m happy for that. And I hope if me getting this job because of that reason allows other teams in this league to see that ... so be it. I’m part of it and I’m for that.”
In November, the NFL implemented a resolution that rewards organizations with draft picks for developing minority coaches and front office executives who become head coaches, general managers or team presidents for other clubs.
That was part of a seven-point mobility plan designed to enhance opportunities.
Last May, the NFL amended the Rooney Rule to stipulate teams must interview at least two minority candidates not associated with their own team for a head coaching vacancy. Also, one minority candidate has to be interviewed for coordinator positions as well as high-ranking positions in the front office, including the general manager role.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy had six interviews but was passed over again. Coach Andy Reid, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and other Chiefs expressed disappointment that Bieniemy didn’t get an opportunity.
“It’s very shocking that he didn’t get a job,” wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. “I know deep down inside he’s going to look at himself in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better so I can get that job?’ He’s that kind of dude. He wants to get better and he wants to become a head coach. His time will come.”
The list of Black candidates who interviewed for head coaching positions included five guys who previously held the position: Marvin Lewis, Jim Caldwell, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier and Raheem Morris.
The Eagles interviewed their assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley, who left for Detroit after Nick Sirianni was hired to replace Doug Pederson. They also interviewed Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, Bowles and Saleh among a total of 10 candidates.
“I was blown away by the quality of these candidates,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “The NFL is lacking in slots, not in candidates. . ... They’ll be the hot candidates in a year, two or three, no question about it. That’s what we learned in the process.”
The Jets interviewed then-Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn. He later joined Dan Campbell’s staff in Detroit.
Many players, and their union leader, have voiced their concern about the lack of diversity in the coaching ranks.
“A rule or any modifications to a rule that has very little transparency and very little accountability, none of us should be surprised when it fails, right?” NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said this month. “So, I think to the league’s credit they’ve asked the NFLPA and us to help them improve diversity across the NFL, not only coaches or head coaches but entire coaching ranks, NFL team front offices, the league office, and ultimately ownership. Those are conversations that I know we’re going to start to have with the league after the Super Bowl.
“But, to me, it has to start with those two things. Without a level of transparency and accountability, none of us should be surprised when there are only incremental steps of change or times where we’ve gone backward. There are concrete ways of addressing this. A lot of them mirror what people have been doing in corporate America for years. But increasing transparency, giving someone the responsibility of increasing diversity and then making it accountable, I think if you have those three things as the core of how you want to make the league look like its membership and its community. I think those are the only ways to go about it.”