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It’s been six years since an African-American head coach was hired via external search

Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stands on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. The Steelers won 24-10. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


The NFL has acknowledged disappointment regarding the lack of diversity in this year’s round of coaching and G.M. hires. There’s another trend that the league should regard as even more troubling.

As former Buccaneers and Colts coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst with NBC’s Football Night in America, has pointed out, it has been six years since an African-American head coach was hired as the result of an external search.
“Mike Singletary, Leslie Frazier and Romeo Crennel were named interim coaches when their bosses were fired during the season,” Dungy told PFT via email. “They were retained as permanent head coaches. Jim Caldwell, Raheem Morris and Hue Jackson were assistant coaches on staffs where there was a head-coaching opening and they were promoted from within. However, you have to go back to 2007 when the Steelers hired Mike Tomlin to see a situation where a team hired an African-American coach from outside their organization to be their head coach.”

Tomlin was the Vikings’ defensive coordinator for one year before being selected by the Rooneys to replace Bill Cowher. Overlooked for the job were Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm, both white.

“While many people would say it doesn’t matter and those six coaches were selected and got a chance, you still have to be concerned about the process for minority coaches,” Dungy said. “I know Ron Rivera was hired by the Panthers, but you would have to think that somewhere in the last six hiring cycles a team would reach out to an African-American coach outside their building. Unfortunately, it appears right now that the best way for an African-American coach to get an opportunity is to be on a staff where the head coach gets fired or retires. I still don’t think owners and GMs are doing a great job in the process of identifying minority candidates.”

He’s right, and that’s where the process can best be changed. From current coaches giving more meaningful opportunities to minority assistant coaches (such as play-calling duties on offense) to General Managers casting a wider net when interviewing candidates to teams being prevented from satisfying the Rooney Rule by interviewing a current member of the organization to the media doing a better job of highlighting qualified minority candidates, real changes are needed in order to improve the problem.

“I guess more than being upset by 2013 results I am more concerned about the trend,” Dungy added via text message. “I don’t know if owners are really looking at minority candidates as a whole -- unless they already know them.”

NFL teams should address this problem because it’s the right thing to do. NFL teams will address this problem when they perceive a significant threat to their bottom line from public pressure or litigation.

Here’s hoping they choose to do the right thing before they have to.