Key findings from ‘Black Out,’ The Post’s series on Black NFL coaches

“Black Out” is a series from The Washington Post examining why Black coaches continue to be denied head coaching positions in the NFL nearly 20 years after its implementation of the Rooney Rule, which is aimed at providing opportunities more equitably.

A cultural and financial powerhouse, the NFL has been under increased scrutiny since the offseason, when two Black head coaches were fired — briefly leaving the league with just one. One of those fired coaches, Brian Flores, later sued the league and its teams for discrimination.

Amid that scrutiny, The Post analyzed three decades’ worth of data on the hiring, performance, retention and professional networks of NFL head coaches. Post reporters also interviewed 16 of the 24 living Black men who have served as NFL head coaches, as well as former players, assistants, executives, agents and others.

The series will continue throughout the NFL season. Here are the key takeaways so far:

Black coaches continue to be underrepresented

In the NFL, 58 percent of players are Black and just a quarter are White. As recently as last decade, nearly 70 percent of the players were Black.

But just 11 percent of full-time head coaches since 1990 have been Black. During that time, 154 White men have served as an NFL head coach, compared with 20 Black men.

In each of the past four seasons, including this one, just three of the league’s 32 head coaches have been Black. And almost two decades after the Rooney Rule was implemented, 13 teams have never hired a Black full-time head coach.

Black workforce, White bosses

The disparity in the percentage of NFL

players and head coaches who are Black remains stark.

The Rooney Rule

took effect in 2003.

80

No data

available

70

60

58%

Players

50

Defensive

coordinators

40

38%

Offensive

coordinators

30

20

Head

coaches

16%

10

9%

0

1990

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

1995

Sources: TIDES (The Institute for Diversity and Ethics

in Sport), Global Sport Institute, Post reporting

Black workforce, White bosses

The disparity in the percentage of NFL players

and head coaches who are Black remains stark.

The Rooney Rule

took effect in 2003.

80

No data

available

70

60

58%

Players

50

Defensive

coordinators

40

38%

Offensive

coordinators

30

20

16%

Head

coaches

10

9%

0

1990

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

1995

Sources: TIDES (The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport),

Global Sport Institute, Post reporting

Black workforce, White bosses

The disparity in the percentage of NFL players and head coaches who are Black remains stark.

The Rooney Rule

took effect in 2003.

80

70

No data

available

60

58%

Players

50

40

38%

30

Offensive

coordinators

Defensive

coordinators

20

16%

Head

coaches

10

9%

0

1990

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

1995

Sources: TIDES (The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport), Global Sport Institute, Post reporting

If they get the job, they’re more likely to be fired

Since 1990, Black full-time head coaches have led teams to a .500 record or better in 78 regular seasons. In 9 percent of those instances, those coaches were fired afterward. In the same stretch, White coaches who met that benchmark were fired just 4 percent of the time.

Black coaches who have won at least six games in a season have been fired afterward 12 percent of the time, compared with 8 percent of White coaches. When they win at least nine games in a season, Black coaches are fired 8 percent of the time, compared with 2 percent of White coaches.

In other words, Black coaches who win at least nine regular season games have been fired just as often as White coaches who win at least six.

Winning isn’t everything

The winning percentage at which every fired NFL coach has been dismissed since 1990 shows Black coaches have, on average, been fired after better seasons than their White peers in recent years.

Black

White

Other races

Five-year average

Winning

percentage

1.00

.900

Marty

Schottenheimer

.800

Lovie

Smith

.700

Steve

Mariucci

Buddy

Ryan

Jim

Caldwell

.600

.563

.500

Brian

Flores

.400

.363

.302

.300

.264

.200

.100

0.00

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

Prior to 2010, fewer than one Black coach on

average was fired each year, which affects the

average trendline.

Sources: Post reporting, Sports Reference

Winning isn’t everything

The winning percentage at which every fired NFL coach has been dismissed since 1990 shows Black coaches have, on average, been fired after better seasons than their White peers in recent years.

Black

White

Other races

Five-year average

Winning

percentage

1.00

.900

Marty

Schottenheimer

.800

Lovie

Smith

.700

Steve

Mariucci

Buddy

Ryan

Jim

Caldwell

.600

Brian

Flores

.563

.500

.400

.363

.302

.300

.264

.200

.100

0.00

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

Prior to 2010, fewer than one Black coach on average

was fired each year, which affects the average trendline.

Sources: Post reporting, Sports Reference

Winning isn’t everything

The winning percentage at which every fired NFL coach has been dismissed since 1990 shows Black coaches have, on average, been fired after better seasons than their White peers in recent years.

Black

White

Other races

Five-year average

Winning

percentage

1.00

.900

Marty

Schottenheimer

.800

.700

Lovie

Smith

Buddy

Ryan

Steve

Mariucci

Jim

Caldwell

.600

Brian

Flores

.563

.500

.400

.363

.302

.300

.264

.200

.100

0.00

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

Prior to 2010, fewer than one Black coach on average was fired each year, which affects

the average trendline.

Sources: Post reporting, Sports Reference

Black coaches face narrower paths to top jobs

Nearly half of Black coaches played in the NFL compared with a quarter of White ones, suggesting a prerequisite exists for some coaches that doesn’t for others.

Black Out

This football season, The Washington Post is examining the NFL’s decades-long failure to equitably promote Black coaches to top jobs, despite the multibillion-dollar league being fueled by Black players.

Black coaches then languish for nearly twice as long as assistants and position coaches before getting head coaching jobs, The Post found, spending much longer in the league’s middle levels of coaching. The Black men who became NFL head coaches in the past decade, on average, had spent more than nine years longer than their White counterparts in mid-level assistant jobs and three years fewer as coordinators.

The leaguewide push to hire young, offensive-minded coaches with experience coaching quarterbacks also has shut out Black coaches, who for decades largely were steered away from offensive coaching opportunities. Of the many coaches 40 or younger who have been hired in recent years, only one, Flores, was Black, and none was a Black offensive coach.

White coaches, meanwhile, spent more time in college roles. Since 1990, seven White coaches became first-time NFL head coaches without having coached in the league, a feat no Black coach can claim. Those seven coaches have gone a collective 161-205-1 (a .440 winning percentage).

The league's movement toward young, offensive coaches leaves Black coaches behind

NFL head coaches with experience on offense are overwhelmingly White overall, but the difference is even more stark for those age 40 and younger.

'90

'95

2000

'05

'10

'15

'20

40 and younger

White

Black

Other races

Over 40

White

Black

Other

races

Categories determined based on a coach's age as

of Jan. 1 each year.

Sources: Post reporting, Sports Reference

The league's movement toward young, offensive coaches leaves Black coaches behind

NFL head coaches with experience on offense are overwhelmingly White overall, but the difference is even more stark for those age 40 and younger.

'90

'95

'00

'05

'10

'15

'20

40 and younger

White

Black

Other races

Over 40

White

Black

Other

races

Categories determined based on a coach's age as

of Jan. 1 each year.

Sources: Post reporting, Sports Reference

The league's movement toward young, offensive coaches leaves Black coaches behind

NFL head coaches with experience on offense are overwhelmingly White overall, but the difference is even more stark for those age 40 and younger.

'90

'95

2000

'05

'10

'15

'20

White

40 and

younger

Black

Other races

White

Over 40

Black

Other races

Categories determined based on a coach's age as of Jan. 1 each year.

Sources: Post reporting, Sports Reference

The Rooney Rule is failing to overcome team owners’ biases

In interviews with The Post, current and former coaches described the Rooney Rule’s ability to land them interviews — and its inability to overcome team owners’ biases.

Several Black coaches, including Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, described interviews in which they were tacitly told they had no chance. Racist comments were kept to themselves, coaches said, amid concerns about being labeled as difficult.

“There’s a culture of forced silence,” Dungy said, “because if you want another opportunity, you just can’t go out and say, ‘That interview that I got was a sham,’ or, ‘I didn’t get a fair deal.’ It’ll be held against you.”

Black coaches get relegated to stopgap roles

Black coaches are much more likely to be tapped as interim coaches than for full-time roles, indicating a willingness by owners to entrust their teams to Black leaders only when success is out of reach. Black coaches have held 13 percent of full-time head coaching jobs since 1990 — and 29 percent of the interim stints. While 5 percent of White NFL head coaches only served as interims, 20 percent of all Black NFL head coaches fell into that category.

Serving as an interim coach can be a path to a full-time job — but it’s a rockier road for Black coaches. Black coaches have held interim roles 14 times since 1990, and they were retained on a permanent basis just three times. All three — Romeo Crennel with the Kansas City Chiefs, Leslie Frazier with the Minnesota Vikings and Mike Singletary with the San Francisco 49ers — posted at least a .500 record during their interim stints. For White coaches, full-time job offers have had no correlation with their records as interim coaches, The Post found.

The NFL sold the Rooney Rule as a model policy to corporate America while failing to address its shortcomings

The Post found that the NFL, buoyed by the Rooney Rule’s apparent initial success, touted it to corporate America as a model policy. But as the number of Black head coaches plunged back to pre-Rooney-Rule levels and research piled up that the rule was growing obsolete, the league rejected calls for it to significantly modify or overhaul its signature diversity policy.

The Rooney Rule’s familiar flaws — allegations of sham interviews, a lack of enforcement and illusory results — then surfaced in versions of the policy that were adopted by corporations and governments, a nationwide trend that culminated shortly after George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

Through interviews with insiders to the rule’s history and corporate diversity experts, as well as a review of previously unreported documents, The Post found that the NFL — in its response to a legal threat by lawyers Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran Jr. — rejected a proposal for a more comprehensive diversity policy and, later, refused to make changes. The Post obtained a 2014 letter from the Fritz Pollard Alliance urging the league to broaden the Rooney Rule to include coordinators to counteract a leaguewide trend toward offensive-minded coaches that further tilted the odds against Black candidates. The league rejected the idea.