Rooney Rule and Minority Hires Will Be Under Intense Scrutiny if Majority of African-American Coach

By Jason Lisk
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NFL firing day is fast approaching, and the official news will start leaking out after teams finish their schedule today. That news may create a public relations issue for the league and its minority hiring record.

According to Mike Florio, four firings seem almost certain given the lack of pushback on recent reporting: Dirk Koetter, Steve Wilks, Vance Joseph, and Todd BowlesJay Glazer predicts that those four, along with the two interim coaches, Joe Philbin and Gregg Williams, and Marvin Lewis, will be dismissed. Marvin Lewis feels like the wildcard here (because his tenure would have already ended a long time ago with most owners after zero playoff victories, but we do not know what Mike Brown will do.)

If Lewis is fired, that would mean that five of the seven African-American coaches entering the season will be gone (Hue Jackson already being fired in Cleveland).

It also extends to the front offices and decision makers on personnel, where Ozzie Newsome is retiring, and Reggie McKenzie was run out of Oakland. From PFT:

Only one African-American coach or G.M. has control over a football operation, and Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome will be retiring at season’s end. That will leave no coach, no General Manager, no V.P. of player personnel, no one who has practical or contractual final say over the construction of an NFL roster.

On the coaching front, you could make a plausible argument that Hue JacksonMarvin Lewis, and Todd Bowles hung around a season too long in their situations. Vance Joseph feels like he was on the outs from the start in Denver. Steve Wilks took over a clear rebuilding situation in Arizona, with the veteran QB retiring, the GM getting suspended before the season, and taking over an aging roster. It went poorly. Which is to say, you could look at any one situation and say that the move makes sense.

The problem is the league’s history and hiring practices and everything coming together at the end of the 2018 season. Some of that is tied to fewer opportunities at the level above the coaches, something that will shrink to non-existent with Newsome’s departure. Some of it is tied to the racial breakdown of coaches in college football, where the numbers are even bleaker–as plenty of successful college coaches do springboard to the NFL, even from college jobs that weren’t at the pinnacle when the coach left (Doug Marrone comes to mind from Syracuse, Bill O’Brien leaving Penn State amid the Paterno aftermath). Some of it is tied to the opportunities in the assistant coaching ranks, where the league is made up of minorities on the field, but successful players–to the extent they want to get into coaching–are years behind their younger colleagues who did not play (or play long) professionally when it comes to making coaching connections. And some is tied to a dearth of recent successful minority coaches who could fill that role known as the re-tread veteran NFL coach hire.

Jim Caldwell
Jeff Fisher
Tom Coughlin
Mike Shanahan
John Fox
Mike McCarthy
Jack Del Rio
Lovie Smith
Gary Kubiak
Mike Smith
Rex Ryan
Chuck Pagano
Bruce Arians
Ken Whisenhunt
Jim Harbaugh
Mike Mularkey
Jim Schwartz
Mike McCoy
Joe Philbin
Mike Munchak
Leslie Frazier
Gus Bradley
Hue Jackson

Marvin Lewis could join them, but of that group, only four are minorities. Hue Jackson may get an opportunity in Cincinnati but certainly not anywhere else after a dismal Cleveland tenure. Leslie Frazier has returned to coaching defenses and is five years removed from being a head coach and approaching 60 years old. Lovie Smith’s Illinois tenure in college isn’t going to get him closer to returning. Which leaves Jim Caldwell, who will likely be on some short lists, and his Detroit tenure of having the Lions in contention and still getting fired looks good compared to what Matt Patricia has done.

Which means that the Rooney Rule will have to have an impact, giving opportunities to some assistants to come in and impress, because you are not going to see a massive influx of minority hires from veteran coaches or college coaches. Brian Flores with the Patriots or George Edwards with the Vikings certainly merit a look as defensive coordinators. But the league is enamored with offensive minds, and there is a dearth of offensive coordinators who are African-American. Eric Bieniemy, with the Kansas City Chiefs, is the only one who has coached all season (Byron Leftwich replaced Mike McCoy in Arizona at mid-season on the worst offense in the league). Bienemy should be a hot name considering his immediate predecessors in the role, Matt Nagy and Doug Pederson, have gone to immediate success. He’s only served in the offensive coordinator role for this year, but the Chiefs have the #1 offense in the league and he’s coached for well over a decade in both college and the pros, including six on Reid’s staff. But outside Bieniemy, there isn’t much immediate hope for the offensive revolution to also bring in minority hires.

I don’t believe in strict quotas, or that firing one African-American coach should result in a strict swap. The moves this year can be justified. But the NFL may be facing an issue when it comes to minority hiring that is exposed this week, and it will have been several years in the making.

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