After a firing-and-hiring cycle in which the number of minority head coaches in the NFL was significantly reduced, a diversity group plans to ask the league to add two positions per team to help increase the number of minorities in the coaching pipeline.
When representatives of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which works closely with the league on its hiring practices, meet with league officials next month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, the group will request that the NFL commit to having each team add two minority coaches in low-level, quality-control positions, according to John Wooten, the group’s chairman.
Wooten said in a phone interview Wednesday that the step, if taken by the league, would give opportunities for minority coaches to get into the pipeline, gain experience and earn promotions toward becoming position coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators and, eventually, head coaches. The new positions would include one for each side of the ball, offense and defense.
“It’s very obvious to us all that if you’re going to build a pipeline, you must follow the procedure that we’re outlining,” Wooten said. “I’m not talking about [coaching] internships. I’m talking about putting them in positions where they’re going to have opportunities to advance. This should be done because this is what the league is about. The league is about opportunity. We know the road that we must travel.”
The measure, if enacted by the NFL, would come after five of the league’s eight minority head coaches were fired during or soon after the 2018 regular season. No minority coaches have been hired so far among the six head coaching vacancies that have been filled. One of the two remaining openings could go to a minority coach, with the Miami Dolphins reportedly prepared to hire New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores as their head coach following the Super Bowl.
“I truly believe if the league is committed to diversity and inclusion, this is the way to go,” Wooten said.
It’s not clear if the NFL will comply with the request. In the coaching profession, quality-control jobs amount to entry-level positions with little authority, long hours and modest pay, but bountiful chances for career advancement.
The NFL has made changes in the past based on recommendations by the Fritz Pollard Alliance. The league announced modifications last month to the Rooney Rule, which requires each team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate, at the behest of the group.
Those changes included a new requirement that at least one of the minority candidates interviewed by each team come from outside the organization or from the list of candidates recommended by the NFL. That apparently was aimed at eliminating any attempt by a team to circumvent the Rooney Rule by interviewing a candidate with no realistic chance of being hired.
Wooten said the Fritz Pollard Alliance is satisfied that each NFL team with a head coaching vacancy complied with the Rooney Rule — named for late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the former chairman of the league’s workplace diversity committee — during the current hiring cycle.
“Every team interviewed two to three, if not four, minority candidates,” Wooten said. “We have no holler on the procedure. It went extremely well on that end.”
Even so, the ranks of the NFL’s minority head coaches were thinned considerably. The Dolphins’ hiring of Flores, if completed, would give the league four minority head coaches next season. Flores would join holdovers Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers and Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers.
There were eight minority head coaches this season, but five of them were ousted: Hue Jackson by the Cleveland Browns, Todd Bowles by the New York Jets, Marvin Lewis by the Cincinnati Bengals, Vance Joseph by the Denver Broncos and Steve Wilks by the Arizona Cardinals. The Bengals called their parting with Lewis mutual.
The hiring process was characterized by many teams seemingly seeking virtual clones of Sean McVay, the second-year head coach who has the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. Several teams sought young, offensive-minded coaches. In some cases, that meant coaches with direct ties to McVay. In each case other than that of the Dolphins, minority coaches were shut out.
Wooten said he was disappointed that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Dallas Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard and Jim Caldwell, the former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions, were passed over for head coaching jobs.
“I think it went okay,” Wooten said of the hiring process. “I’m not doing backflips. I’m probably disappointed that Eric Bieniemy didn’t get a shot, with the position he put his team in. I thought Kris Richard, with the job he did, was outstanding enough to get a job. I thought Jim Caldwell had an outstanding chance in that everybody was looking for a quarterback coach, so to speak.”
The Rooney Rule, after originally being enacted for head coaching vacancies, later was extended to include key front office openings, including general manger jobs. The league previously agreed to instruct teams to follow the Rooney Rule on an informal, best-practices basis for coordinator vacancies, without penalties for noncompliance. Wooten said the Fritz Pollard Alliance will not push to have the Rooney Rule extended to coordinator vacancies on a formal basis.
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