There’s been a lot of focus, both internally and externally, at the NFL’s lack of diversity among its head coaches and general managers. Years after the establishment of the Rooney Rule, the NFL somehow has fewer African-American head coaches than the Pac-12, and it has more African-American head coaches than GMs.
While well intentioned, the NFL has largely confronted the problem from the wrong end. Initiatives like offering draft picks for hiring African-American head coaches could possibly lead to more minority head coaching hires in the short term, but they treat the symptom, not the disease.
The reason there are so few minority head coaches is because few minorities are put in position to get head coaching jobs. Seventy percent of NFL head coaching hires over the past three cycles had previous experience as an offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach; in 2020, there will be two minority offensive coordinators — Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy and Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftiwch.
On Tuesday, the league announced a new initiative that will attack the problem at its root.
Moving forward, all 32 NFL teams will establish permanent coaching fellowships geared toward helping former NFL players, minority coaches and women establish careers as professional football coaches.
The fellowship positions will last for 1-to-2 years, depending on the team and the job, a vast increase from the existing Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship program, which generally just run through training camp and the pre-season.
“While positions at each organization vary, these programs help identify and develop talent with the goal of advancing candidates to full-time coaching positions through promotion within,” the league’s statement read.
“The NFL is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which I believe is critical to our continued success,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “While we have seen positive strides in our coaching ranks over the years aided by the Rooney Rule, we recognize, after the last two seasons, that we can and must do more. The policy changes made today are bold and demonstrate the commitment of our ownership to increase diversity in leadership positions throughout the league.”
When combined with other changes announced Tuesday, the league is hoping to diversify its head coaching candidate pool both in the short and long term.
As for why these changes are happening now, Tony Dungy forwarded an explanation in appearance on the Pro Football Talk podcast. (For what it’s worth, Dungy was against the NFL’s draft picks-for-minority hires proposal.)
“I think the biggest thing was the actual broadcast of the draft,” Dungy said. “I think when people saw that and you saw the decision makers and their families just one after another after another, the draftees and their families, just that contrast. I think it gave a visual picture to what everyone was seeing.”
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.