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Senior NFL official: ‘Double standard’ for Black coaches when it comes to keeping jobs

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said the league should not “shy away from” its record of teams firing Black coaches after winning seasons or short tenures. (Seth Wenig/AP)

A top NFL official said Tuesday “there is a double standard” in the league when it comes to retaining and hiring Black coaches, a pointed public acknowledgment by the league that its teams have fallen short of the goal of increasing diversity within the senior coaching ranks.

Speaking one day after the Miami Dolphins fired Brian Flores following a second straight winning season, Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said the league should not “shy away from” its record of teams firing Black coaches after winning seasons or short tenures. Flores’s dismissal leaves the league with just two Black head coaches.

Vincent cited past cases with prominent Black coaches being let go, including Tony Dungy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jim Caldwell with the Detroit Lions and Steve Wilks with the Arizona Cardinals. He added the example of Tyrone Willingham losing his job at Notre Dame.

“There is a double standard, and we’ve seen that,” Vincent said in a phone interview. “And you talk about the appetite for what’s acceptable. Let’s just go back to Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame, [who] was fired after a winning season. Coach Dungy was let go in Tampa Bay after a winning season. So we have seen this. … Coach Wilks, just a few years prior, was let go after one year. And then the things that happened [Monday].

“There is a double standard. I don’t think that that is something that we should shy away from. But that is all part of some of the things that we need to fix in the system. We want to hold everyone to why does one, let’s say, get the benefit of the doubt to be able to build or take bumps and bruises in this process of getting a franchise turned around when others are not afforded that latitude? … We see it at the collegiate level. And we’ve seen that in history at the [professional] level.”

Dolphins’ Brian Flores and Bears’ Matt Nagy among Monday’s NFL coach firings

The Dolphins fired Flores after they finished 9-8. Flores’s record in three seasons as the team’s coach was 24-25, including a 10-6 mark in 2020.

“Coach Caldwell was fired after a winning season in Detroit. … It is part of the larger challenges that we have,” Vincent said. “But when you just look over time, it’s over-indexing for men of color. These men have been fired after a winning season. How do you explain that?”

The dismissal of Flores left the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Houston Texans’ David Culley as the NFL’s Black head coaches. There have been reports that the Texans are contemplating Culley’s job status after the team went 4-13 in his first season. The Texans played all year without three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was on the inactive list for each game while he faces allegations of sexual misconduct made by women in civil lawsuits.

“I think if you actually look at the history of why the Rooney Rule was created in the first place, it was this very issue,” said Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer. “So that’s why we’re where we’re at in terms of putting together the policies, practices that we have because of that historical issue we’ve had with retention.”

Vincent and Beane are among the NFL’s highest-ranking Black executives. Vincent is a former NFL defensive back.

Dungy was fired by the Buccaneers after they went 9-7 in 2001. Caldwell was fired by the Lions following a 9-7 season in 2017; the team has not had a winning season since, going 17-46-2 over the past four seasons. Wilks lasted only one season as coach of the Cardinals, finishing 3-13 in 2018.

Feinstein: The firing of Brian Flores shows the uphill climb Black NFL coaches still face

Beane called the retention rate of minority coaches a “really complicated” issue.

“If we look at the Miami Dolphins … there are several coaches that had a two- to three-year tenure when they were there,” Beane said. “So there were a lot of coaches prior to Coach Flores that were not there longer than three years. So I guess with each club, each club is different. Each owner is different. Each culture is different. And each philosophy of how a club should be run and what the future holds and how long you have to deliver is different.

“So it’s hard for me to have an overriding opinion on retention. I think always, as a general thought, you always want to make sure that every coach has enough time to actually develop their club the way they want so they can perform at a max level.”

At a news conference Monday, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said, “I don’t think that we were really working well as an organization that it would take to really win consistently at the NFL level.”

Culley was the only Black head coach hired during last year’s hiring cycle. The other minority head coach hired was Robert Saleh by the New York Jets; he was born in Michigan to Lebanese parents. The league did make progress in other areas last year in its diversity efforts as three Black general managers were hired: Brad Holmes by the Lions, Terry Fontenot by the Atlanta Falcons and Martin Mayhew by the Washington Football Team.

The NFL has pushed to improve its minority hiring practices. Last year, the league enacted a rule by which teams that develop minority candidates hired by other franchises as head coaches and GMs receive draft-pick compensation. For this hiring cycle, the NFL bolstered its minority interviewing requirements and allowed teams with vacancies to interview head coaching candidates from other franchises during the final two weeks of the regular season, hoping to allow more time for teams to consider deep and diverse pools of candidates.

League leaders acknowledged that while they strive for diversity in all areas, they know they will be judged in large part by the decisions made by teams on head coach hirings. They said they believe team owners recognize the importance of diversity and are committed to improving. Beane said he believes progress will be made during this year’s hiring cycle.

“For us, it’s all about making sure that everybody gets a fair shot and that everybody is evaluated equally and that the pool is broad and you’re really looking at all the talent that’s out there and not simply depending on a particular relationship you have, which then leads to who you identify to interview,” Beane said. “To me, I think we feel good about that. There’s been a lot of changes, and there still may be some. But I feel like our policies and practices are ready.”

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