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Diversity group calls on NFL to take steps to improve ‘abysmal’ hiring record

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was among the minority head coaching candidates passed over during this NFL hiring cycle. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

The diversity group that works closely with the NFL on its minority hiring practices called on the league and team owners Monday to take tangible steps to address what it called “a flawed system.”

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, now headed by former NFL general manager Rod Graves, said that the league and owners must act after a hiring cycle in which only one of the five new head coaches hired is a minority coach.

“The Fritz Pollard Alliance is calling on the National Football League, Owners and Club leaders to develop specific diversity action plans to improve diversity in all aspects of management,” the group said in a written statement. “Our goal is to inspire better results and to work with all NFL stakeholders to come up with meaningful solutions.”

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The Washington Redskins’ newly hired coach, Ron Rivera, was the only minority coach hired during this cycle. No African American candidates were hired. Four of the 32 NFL teams currently have minority head coaches: Rivera in Washington, Mike Tomlin with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Anthony Lynn with the Los Angeles Chargers and Brian Flores with the Miami Dolphins.

“We are in a battle for social justice,” the Fritz Pollard Alliance said in its statement. “The current system of hiring and promoting talent into the upper levels of NFL management is a flawed system. We cannot expect fairness if business remains status quo. Our focus must shift from counting emblematic victories each year to calling for measurable initiatives that support sustainable progress.”

The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some minority coaches around the league have become increasingly discouraged about the tendency for teams to pass over minority candidates in favor of white coaches. Four head coaches hired during this cycle — Mike McCarthy (Dallas), Joe Judge (New York Giants), Matt Rhule (Carolina) and Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland) — are white. Some minority coaches were particularly upset that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was passed over.

The NFL has just three black head coaches. Some call it a ‘denial of opportunity.’

NFL rules require that each team with a head coaching vacancy interview at least one minority candidate. All teams appeared to comply with the Rooney Rule — named for Dan Rooney, the late owner of the Steelers and the former chairman of the league’s workplace diversity committee — during this cycle.

The Rooney Rule was enacted by acclamation of the owners in December 2002 under the threat of litigation by attorneys Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Cyrus Mehri. They co-founded the Fritz Pollard Alliance, named for the NFL’s first African American head coach, in 2003. The group’s leaders have said over the years that the minority interviewing rule is about attempting to create equal opportunities for minority coaches and is not about dictating to teams which coaches they should hire.

In its statement Monday, the group said that the league has an “abysmal record of hiring people of color in high ranking levels of NFL management,” with one current African American general manager and no African American team presidents. The Fritz Pollard Alliance said it believes that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “wants to be on the side of progress” and that some teams are committed to diversity, but also said it was “painfully reminded” during this hiring cycle that more must be done.

“True devotion to diversity starts with a recognition of the profound good that it can bring to the Game,” the group said. “It embraces a belief that the benefactors who contribute to the business of football should also share in the benefits. It embraces a core belief that the Game should be accessible at every level for those that possess the skills and who have the resources to meet their aspirations.”

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