The NFL Has a Diversity Problem: What Comes Next?

It’s that time of year again, where coaches are getting hired and fired left and right. This year eight teams relieved their head coaches of their duties. There were some very attractive options for coaches looking to make the leap, as both the Jets, Browns, and Cardinals all possess young and exciting quarterbacks.

Without a doubt, the team that made the biggest splash is the Arizona Cardinals. After just one year the Cards’ fired head coach Steve Wilkes and brought in former Texas Tech Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury. First of all, firing the guy after one year seems pretty absurd to me. At least give the guy one more year to figure it out. The Kingsbury hire was a head-scratcher, to say the least, as he was fired this year from Texas Tech after going 5-7 this past season.

The Kingsbury hire is a product of the Sean McVay obsession effect. Every team now wants the next great young offensive mind and QB whisperer. The Packers made a similar move hiring Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, a coordinator that hasn’t gotten to really show his cards yet after a season of Marcus Mariota and Blaine “Big Game” Gabbert. The only issue with this logic is that all of these “QB Gurus” are just white guys with history as offensive coordinators.

Dallas area sports anchor Dale Hansen who has been outspoken critic on social issues in the NFL said it best: “Kingsbury fits all the criteria to be a head coach in the NFL: He’s an offensive genius, he’s young, and he’s white, and not necessarily and not necessarily in that order.”

This problem stems from the fact that a majority of the quarterbacks in the NFL are white, and most of their quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators are white.

As four black coaches have gotten fired and only one get hired (Brian Flores in Miami), leaving only three black head coaches in the league, I can say without a doubt that the Rooney Rule isn’t working.

The Rooney rule was implemented after the 2002 firing of head coaches Tony Dungy of the Tampa Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings. Dungy was fired with a winning record, and Green was coming off his first losing season in ten years.

The rule requires teams to interview at least one minority head coaching candidate, which now also applies to general managers. Well, it’s been 17 years and not much has changed. There are only three black head coaches and one Hispanic-American coach in the NFL which is the second lowest number since 2002 when there were only two head coaches of color.

Wow NFL you guys really did a bang up job! 17 years later and you have two more minority coaches than you started with. Clearly, the Rooney Rule hasn’t changed much, and things may have gotten worse.

The fact that people can accept this situation as the status quo is ridiculous. How 70% of the players are African-American but less than 10% of the coaches are African-American?

Now I don’t want to call NFL owners out as racists, but there’s clearly an issue. Former Texans owner Bob McNair had some racially charged words when he said: “we can’t let the inmate run the asylum,” referring to the kneeling issue. Most of the owners showed their true colors during the kneeling saga when they sided with President Trump as he called their own players “sons of bitches.” Pretty ironic that that whole debate was about “patriotism” when President Trump is literally being investigated by the FBI for acting as agent on behalf of Russia.  

When it comes to black coaches getting promoted they are at severe disadvantage: “According to new research from professors at Georgetown, George Washington, Emory and Iowa State University, white position coaches and assistants in the NFL are more than twice as likely to be promoted to coordinator than their black counterparts, regardless of their performance, experience or coaching background.” The numbers are undeniable, if you’re black you’re at a severe disadvantage compared to white coaches.

Black coaches are also at a significant disadvantage when it comes to keeping their head coaching jobs. Specifically when they have winning records: “In the history of the NFL, there have only been 17 black head coaches who have coached at least one entire season (minimum 16 games) with a team. But four of these — or 23.5% — were fired from winning teams.”

Compared to white coaches: “Since 1978, there have been 174 white head coaches who led a team for at least 16 games. Of these, only 12 — or 6.9% — were fired from a winning team. So black head coaches appear much more likely — relative to white head coaches — to be fired coming off a winning season.”

If Kliff Kingsbury and Matt LaFleur find success in their jobs, I only see the problem getting worse for black coaches trying to get hired. One solution to address this problem is instead of only having to interview one black candidate each team should be required to interview three of four black candidates.

I also think that you need to look at the teams who have never hired an African-American coach and investigate whether or not that is due to racial bias from the top of the organization. This is an absolutely vital issue that the NFL has on its hands and people need to wake the hell up to it. The league cannot go on like this.  

-Jackson Parker

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