Rooney Rule For NFL Minority Coaches Needs Tuning

By: Leigh Steinberg


The 2017 NFL season will begin with seven African-American Head Coaches and one Latino Head Coach. Eight minority coaches is the new record for diversity, exceeding by one the number of minority Coaches in 2006, 2008 and 2011 and is a positive sign. That means that 25 percent of the coaches in the NFL are minority. The African-American share of the country is 13 percent, however their representation as NFL players is over 70 percent.The Latino share of the population is 17 percent, but Latino players comprise only 1.1 and Samoans eclipse that number. The Rooney Rule, requiring NFL teams looking for coaches to at least interview minority applicants, has been a success. The key to the future is having enough minority coordinators on teams to make up the next generation of hiring pools.

The Rooney rule, is named after Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL reacted to the 2002 firing of Dennis Green, Coach of the Minnesota Vikings after he had his first losing season in ten years. Tony Dungy, Coach of the Buccaneers was also fired. That left the NFL with only two African-American Head Coaches. Rooney, the head of the diversity committee, took action to insure that more minority Head Coaches were at least interviewed. The effect was fairly immediate. The number of minority coaches jumped from two in 2002 to six in 2004.

To keep this progress going it is important to focus on the other parts of the coaching chain. Who gets hired as Head Coaches? 94 percent of head coaches hired over the past twenty years have been NFL Coordinators, pro head coaches, or college head coaches. Going into the 2016 season 80 of the 85 NFL offensive coordinators, quarterback coaches, and offensive quality control coaches were white. The defensive side of the ball had more diversity -- 13 of 32 defensive coordinates are white, nine were African-American.

The reason that the percentage of African-American quarterbacks in the last twenty years has increased is not simply more tolerance. For many years the collegiate minority quarterbacks were in wishbone or option offenses that required a different set of skills than the pros. Once enough younger, taller, African-American college quarterbacks were starters in programs that played pro style systems, there was a large enough pool to insure that they would be drafted and play in the NFL. Even a spread or air raid offense creates quarterbacks more attractive to the pros than wishbone or option offenses do.

Perhaps the Rooney Rule could be expanded to the offensive and defensive coordinators position. Getting the next generation of minority coaches in positions to take the helm is a positive for football.