The NFL offseason has just begun after the memorable Super Bowl LIV. While there will likely be a constant stream of news on players and picks, all of the head coach slots for the 2020-21 season are filled.
Some of these moves are controversial, like the Cleveland Browns ditching Freddie Kitchens with haste. Many are seen as positives, like long-suffering Cowboys fans finally moving on from the (mostly) mediocre Jason Garrett.
One trend is a bit starker. Every single new head-coach hire is a white man, with one exception. It’s a sign that the Rooney Rule isn’t giving the results intended, and NFL fans are increasingly annoyed with this situation.
What is the Rooney Rule?
The Rooney Rule was a reaction to two massively controversial head coach firings in 2002. Minnesota Vikings head coach Dennis Green was fired after a single losing season. In 10 years, it was his only losing season, sending a signal in the NFL that black head coaches may be on shorter leashes.
Even more egregiously, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy got his pink slip off a winning season. A subsequent investigation unearthed a shocking objective fact: Black NFL head coaches won a higher overall percentage of games while being less likely to get hired and more likely to get fired.
The NFL responded with the 2003 implementation of the Rooney Rule, requiring all teams to interview minority candidates before making any coaching hires.
Is diversity in NFL coaching really trending down?
The Rooney Rule is a great idea on paper. But does it work in practice. Shortly after the rule was made, the Detroit Lions landed on the wrong side of it. They fired Marty Mornhinweg and immediately announced his replacement, Steve Mariucci, without interviewing other candidates. This earned them a searing $200,000 fin, reports SB Nation.
Overall, things trended toward the positive. As recently as 2017, the Rooney Rules’ effects showed a slow but steady rise in the right direction.
Unfortunately, this swung hard in the opposite direction in 2018, when a whopping five black coaches got the axe all at once. In 2019, there was no movement on the issue. Latino coach Ron Rivera lost one job and gained another, leaving the net gain of minority coaches completely flat.
Clearly, the Rooney Rule isn’t getting the job done. Minority coaches report feeling as though they aren’t actually being considered for most of the jobs they interview for. But the problems may run deeper than making the leap directly to head coaching positions.
How problems start within the coaching hierarchy
The Rooney Rule serves to address the institutional racism that may prevent someone like Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy from getting a head coach job over less qualified candidates.
It doesn’t address another major point of contention: Minority coaching staff get promoted into positions that naturally lead to grooming for head coaching jobs in the first place.
Head coach openings usually pull from either existing head coaches or coordinator-level coaches. White coaches are 114% more likely to be picked for a coordinator job compared to minority options, with actual performance not correlated with these picks.
The other path to getting an NFL head coach nod, climbing the college ranks, is even worse. Black NCAA football coaches operate on a short leash. They aren’t allowed to make nearly as many mistakes as white coaches in the same positions.
The Rooney Rule isn’t getting the job done. As teams search for the next Sean McVay, they appear to be increasingly ignoring proven minority talent already waiting in the wings. The fans are right: Something needs to change.
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