Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL alleging racism in several teams’ hiring practices may seem like a new fight. But it’s really a fight that’s been going on a long time, dating back at least 20 years. Tony Dungy has intimate knowledge of the struggle from his time as a head coach, and recently joined the Under Center podcast to explain his experiences, frustrations and how he thinks things can improve.
“It took me back to 2002 and Johnnie Cochran saying, ‘We need to make some changes in this system, otherwise there's going to be litigation. Litigation will come if we don't have change,’” Dungy told NBC Sports Chicago. “That was in 2002, when I had just gotten fired. Denny Green had just gotten fired by the Vikings. I had just gotten fired by the Bucs, and Johnny Cochran and Cyrus Mehri said, ‘Hey, look at the numbers, this is not fair. This is not legitimate.’”
Cochran and Mehri released a study titled, “Black coaches in the NFL: Superior performance, inferior opportunities.” The contents showed that Black coaches won more games than white coaches, improved teams more quickly than their white counterparts, led their teams to the playoffs more often, and also averaged more wins in their final season before being fired than white coaches. Further, the study showed that Black head coach candidates would lose out on head coaching jobs to white candidates with inferior resumes. One year later, the Rooney Rule was instituted.
Flash forward to 2022, and many of the same problems outlined in Cochran and Mehri’s study remain. With only two Black head coaches in the NFL, it’s clear the Rooney Rule has not worked.
“As Bill Parcells would say, we can't judge what’s in people's hearts, but you are what your record says you are,” Dungy said. “That's what he always used to say. Now, our record right now in these last four years has not been good on minority hiring.
“Can we blame it on racism? Can we blame it on something? I don't know, but our record is very poor, so we've got to do something. And I think Brian Flores’ suit just brought that to the attention of the country, of football fans, and brought things to light. Something has to be done.”
Like Cochran predicted, there’s now litigation with Flores’ suit. Some say the paucity of Black head coaches is simply explained by the lack of high-profile Black coordinators. Others say tweaks to the Rooney Rule will put Black coaches in better positions to get hired for head coaching jobs.
But Dungy isn’t having that.
“I'm so frustrated right now because I'm tired of people saying, ‘Well, we've got to do this. We have more seminars. If we have this, if we have that, we can get some more people in the pipeline.’ There are plenty of people in the pipeline… You can't tell me out of 32 teams, we can't find any African-American coaches, the pipeline has dried up. I don't believe that. When you have Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich, Leslie Frazier and I could go on一 Jim Caldwell who's won a Super Bowl一 we can't say there's no pipeline.”
The pipeline argument holds up less water when you consider two head coaches who made the jump to lead a team after working as a position coach: Zac Taylor and Dan Campbell. Even back in 1999, Andy Reid was hired to be the Eagles head coach after working as the Packers’ QB coach, with no prior coordinator experience.
Meanwhile, Pep Hamiliton, one of the best quarterbacks coaches of the past 20 years, has only had the opportunity to work as a coordinator for three seasons. This hiring cycle he wasn’t considered for any head coaching vacancies, to NBC Sports Chicago’s knowledge. He’s of course Black, and was only promoted to an OC position earlier this week by his new Black head coach, Lovie Smith.
“People talk about, ‘Oh, we've got to get offensive coaches and we've got to get the quarterback fixed,’” Dungy said. “Pep Hamilton coached the Rookie of the Year in Indianapolis, in Andrew Luck. He coached the Rookie of the Year in Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert. He was his coach. He's at Houston last year, Deshaun Watson can’t play一 Davis Mills, I've never heard of Davis Mills, and he ends up lighting up the league. Well, guess what? Pep Hamilton’s his coach.
“Pep Hamilton might be able to fix some quarterbacks. I don't know that half the owners in the league know Pep Hamilton's name. That's the problem. The pipeline is not the issue. We've got to get people to understand who these coaches are that are out there that can do the job for them.”