The recent efforts by the NFL to strengthen its minority recruitment practices by enforcing the application of its old Rooney rule were followed by a cycle of fire that disproportionately affected the African American head coaches of the league, significantly lowering their ranks.
Five of the eight coaches shot at the turn of everything in the middle of the regular season are African Americans. This left only three minority coaches in the NFL while the carousel turns again to replace those just fired coaches.
The sport continues to grapple with its minority recruitment problems 16 years after the owners of the team, under the threat of litigation, have promulgated the Rooney Rule in December 2002. The rule is named after the Lieutenant Owner of Pittsburgh Steelers Dan Rooney, former workplace chairman of the NFL diversity committee, and requires each team a vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate. It has been refined and strengthened over the years, most recently at the owners' meeting in Dallas almost three weeks ago.
The leaders of Fritz Pollard Alliance, the diversity group that works closely with the NFL for its minority recruitment practices, said they are monitoring the current cycle of layoffs and hiring and are not overly alarmed or worried at this point of the number of licensed African-American trainers. But the small number of African-American leaders reinforces the need for continued efforts to ensure that fair opportunities exist for minority coaches, they said.
"We all know it's winning or coming home," said John Wooten, president of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, in a telephone interview. "We will work and move forward and we will continue to watch it and move forward for the next opportunities".
Of the coaches of the dismissed minorities, Hue Jackson was fired by the Cleveland Browns during the season. Todd Bowles of the New York Jets, Vance Joseph of Denver Broncos, Steve Wilks of the Arizona Cardinals and Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals were ousted from the end of the regular season on Sunday. The Bengals called Lewis' departure a mutual decision and Lewis said at a press conference that both he and owner Mike Brown believed it was time to separate after 16 seasons.
"Marvin was a bit different," said Wooten. "He probably could have stayed there for another year, if he really wanted it, I think maybe he thought it was time to move on."
Wilks had just completed his first season with the Cardinals, who had a 3-13 record. Joseph has coached the Broncos for two seasons with a combined record of 11-21.
"It's a kind of cyclicity," said Wooten. "I'm a bit surprised by the two young guys, Vance Joseph and Steve Wilks, not the color, it's very hard to say that you will enter and win in your first and second year when you go to a place where things are not going well ".
The remaining coaches of minorities in the league are Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers and Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers.
"I would say this is mainly a phenomenon of how competitive this process is and how short the timing is for the teams [to judge coaches] "Cyrus Mehri, advisor to the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said on the phone on Monday" We are heartened by the strengthening of the rooney rule as we move forward. But there are some challenges in the offensive coordinator and in the positions of the quarterback coaches. There are simply too many minority ministers in those positions. This is something we need to focus on. "
The championship did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance leaders have stated over the years that they have focused on ensuring that the interviewing and hiring process is fair, not on trying to dictate which coaches are hired and fired by the teams.
As it has become increasingly clear in recent years that the teams in the NFL, in a crime league, were mainly looking at offensive coordinators for potential promotions to be coaches, the Fritz Pollard Alliance emphasized the underrepresentation of minority coaches in the coordination work. offensive and pushed for the rooney rule to be extended to the coordinators' work, as it was previously extended to cover key front-office positions.
The NFL did not issue this rule as a formal rule, although in December 2016 it agreed to apply the rooney rule to some coordinating vacant posts on an informal basis, without penalties for non-compliance.
The league has strengthened the rule in other ways. The NFL announced on December 12 that it was modifying the rule to require a team with a coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate outside its organization or from the list of candidates compiled by the league's consultative committee. Apparently this occurred in response to allegations that some teams, including the Oakland Raiders a year ago, have circumvented the rule by interviewing minority candidates who are not considered legitimate claimants to be hired.
The December changes also require that the teams maintain a complete documentation of the interview process and require that if the principal decision maker of the franchise, such as the owner, is involved in the interviewing and hiring process right from the start, the principal decision maker must remain involved through the completion of the process. The NFL reiterated its commitment to punish teams for non-compliance with the Rooney rule.
The eight available seats offer opportunities for minority coaching candidates such as Kansas City Chief offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, New England Patriots linebackers Brian Flores and Jim Caldwell, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions. Caldwell was fired by Lions following a 2016 season in which the team passed 9-7. Lions have gone 6-10 this season under the replacement of Caldwell, Matt Patricia.
Lewis approved Jackson, who rejoined the Bengals as an assistant coach after his dismissal in Cleveland, as his possible replacement for Cincinnati. Wooten said he is confident that the newly fired coaches will have more chances.
"I would not be surprised if two or three of these guys emerged somewhere else," Wooten said.