Ken Belson, The New York Times, December 31, 2019
In late June, the sleepiest part of the NFL calendar, several of the sport’s most prominent minority coaches and executives gathered at Morehouse College in Atlanta to try to dispel a persistent football myth: that there are not enough qualified candidates of color for the league’s coveted offensive coaching jobs.
The Quarterback Summit, organized by the NFL and held for a second straight year, took on a new urgency when the number of minority head coaches and general managers plummeted by half (from eight to four and four to two, respectively) in the 2019 offseason, reversing years of progress.
Recently, the main avenue to head coaching jobs in the NFL has been experience guiding an offense, a role in which minorities have been underrepresented. Among the 32 teams this season, there were two African American offensive coordinators and 10 defensive coordinators.
The summit “was birthed out of looking at the last few hiring cycles, and the appetite for offensive coaches,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. “When you look at the demographics, it’s embarrassing.”
After every NFL season in recent years, as clubs fired coaches and top executives, the league — in which about three-quarters of the players are African American — has come under fresh scrutiny over how few minorities are hired to fill those spots. In November, Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, issued his annual report on the hiring of women and minorities in the NFL and gave the league its lowest grade since the institute began tracking this data in 2004.
“We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NFL, yet we have only three head coaches of color,” said Rod Graves, a former NFL general manager and league executive who now runs the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes diversity in football.
As Graves noted, the December firing of Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who is Hispanic, brought the number of minority head coaches to three — Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Anthony Lynn with the Los Angeles Chargers and Brian Flores with the Miami Dolphins — down from a record eight, in 2018.
There are just two general managers of color.
For years, African American coaches have had an easier time being hired for defensive jobs, their roles apparently circumscribed by the kind of stereotypes that have long steered black players toward defense and away from certain offensive positions — quarterback, in particular, but also tight end and the offensive line.
In addition to the scarcity of minority offensive coordinators this season, there were only two African American coaches for quarterbacks — despite the growing impact of black quarterbacks in the league — plus five for tight ends and one for offensive linemen.
In 2003, the NFL introduced the Rooney Rule, which requires that each club interview at least one minority candidate from outside the organization when trying to hire a head coach, assistant coaches or senior executives in football operations. Named after the longtime Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the rule was intended to help fix the racial imbalance, but the number of minority head coaches at any given time has never topped eight and the league has rarely penalized clubs for violating the rule.
Despite a stated goal of broader diversity, the NFL does not set quotas for its teams; each franchise owner decides who fills the top spots on his or her team. So while 28% of management jobs at the league headquarters belong to people of color, the representation among the teams’ top front-office executives is 11%, a statistic that earned a failing grade from Lapchick.
“We have to make sure we’re doing everything we can do to build a pipeline of play callers and quarterback coaches, who will eventually get to offensive coordinator and head coach,” said Michael Bidwill, the son of Bill Bidwill and the current owner of the Cardinals. More than a dozen other NFL teams have since established similar fellowships.