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‘It is about an equal opportunity’: The lack of diversity in NFL coaching

Although the league's roster of players is about 70% Black, only three out of 32 teams have a Black coach

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Just two of the 32 teams have African American general managers – Chris Grier of the Dolphins and Andrew Berry of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
By: Anthony Amey & Alyssa Wilson

The end of every regular season of the NFL brings numerous head coaching vacancies, but it does not consistently put eligible Black candidates in those roles. 

The league’s roster of players is roughly 70% Black, but only three of the 32 teams have Black head coaches. 

Those coaches are Mike Tomlin with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brian Flores with the Miami Dolphins and David Culley of the Houston Texans. 

“Understand…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. I’m proud of that,” Culley said. 

The 65-year-old is a first-time head coach who spent 27 years as an NFL assistant coach. 

Benjamin Watson, a former NFL tight end, said it doesn’t seem like opportunities are equal. 

“When it comes to equity, we’re not simply talking about an equal outcome. It is about an equal opportunity to have an outcome. That’s the frustrating part. That’s what you hear from so many people. Guys don’t feel like…men don’t feel like they have an equal opportunity,” he said. 

For three consecutive offseasons, Eric Bieniemy, who coordinated an explosive offense for the Kansas City Cheifs, was shutout. 

He played in the NFL for nine seasons and served as an assistant for 13 years. He was also instrumental in the development and growth of Patrick Mahomes. 

The Chiefs quarterback said he’s surprised Bieniemy hasn’t been offered a coaching position. “If you look at his track record and the way he’s able to coach us, the way he’s able to lead men…It’s a special talent.” 

Even after a second straight Super Bowl appearance for the Chiefs, no team called on him despite there being seven head coaching vacancies at the end of the 2020 season.  

Bieniemy said “It’s always about getting the right job, and you gotta understand…sometimes, the job and the person have to connect. So, it has to be a connection. The only thing I can do is be my most authentic self. That’s who I am, okay? I can only be me. Some team has to want me.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the most diverse staff in NFL history with four Black coordinators and two female assistant coaches. 

“I think that’s what matters. Qualification. If you’re qualified, no matter gender or race, or anything like that, it shouldn’t matter, ” said Buccaneers’ wide receiver Mike Evans. If you’re qualified, then if you’re the best available for the job, then you should get it.

In 2003, the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule with a requirement that every team with a head coaching vacancy interview at least one diverse candidate. 

In 2009, the rule was expanded to include general managers and other front-office positions. 

The Fritz Pollard Alliance was formed to “champion diversity in the NFL,” and the organization’s executive director says something needs to change. 

“We have to create a system where we…are able to benefit from a meritocracy as opposed to being hired on friendships. The standards are different and particularly, they’ve been demonstrated to be different for Black coaches. That’s the issue. Wherever we tried to line up and apply with credentials and standards that they set forth, we find out that the goal posts are moved whenever we’re in position to be considered,” he said. 

DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFL’s Players’ Association, joined BNC’s Start Your Day With Sharon Reed and Mike Hill to discuss the NFL’s hiring practices. 

Reed asked if the Rooney Rule could be considered a failure. 

Smith says it was more of a suggestion. “It’s a rule without any consequences. It clearly hasn’t achieved the goal it was set out to achieve.” 

Hill referenced the fight for social justice and the NFL’s response to Colin Kapernick who was blackballed by the league and he asked Smith how proud he was of NFLPA members fighting injustices. 

“I’m really proud of our men. I’m proud of our membership,” Smith said. “First of all, I’m proud of the fact that many of our players have stood up to take on issues of social justice even though we know it cost Colin his job.” 

According to Smith, there is no one at the NFL in charge of diversity and there is no process in place to ensure it. 

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