With only the Super Bowl left to be played in this 2020 NFL Season, the offseason is already in full swing for 30 of the league’s 32 teams. With that comes a hiring roulette that has already seen a number of candidates land their first head coaching and general manager roles.
But coming into this hiring cycle, there was heightened focus on the hiring of minority coaches and general managers, after last year when only one of eight head coaching vacancies were filled by a non-white candidate.
Spurred by what has seemed to be regression rather than progression at all levels of football, Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley founded the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches in June 2020.
On Monday, Locksley spoke on ESPN’s Outside the Lines about this current head coaching hiring cycle, which for the second year in a row could result in no African American head coaches hired, depending on the outcome of the Houston Texans' search.
“The way we look at it as a coalition, it’s become an election. We may have to take a page out off Stacey Abrams book of campaigning and do a great job of making sure we get behind and drum up support for all of these qualified minority coaches that we feel are capable of doing the job,” he said.
Despite the league's diversity initiatives and the various coalitions taking it upon themselves to push for equity in the league's hiring processes, there were just three African-American head coaches at the beginning of this season -- the same number of African-American head coaches in the league in 2003 when it first introduced the Rooney Rule, requiring league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching jobs.
The notion of promoting the number of decorated minority coaches and removing the roadblocks that have historically impeded their ascension has been at the heart of Coach Locksley and the NCMFC’s work over the past six months.
As this year’s hiring cycle unfolds, we’ve seen the Washington Football team become the first organization in league history with a Black GM in Martin Mayhew and a Black team president in Jason Wright, while the New York Jets hired the league’s first Muslim American head coach in Robert Saleh.
But with the Chargers parting ways with head coach Anthony Lynn, there are still just four minority coaches — Ron River in Washington, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburg, Brian Flores in Miami and now Saleh in New York.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy remains a viable candidate for the last of six head coaching vacancies remaining this year, and with his team capturing the AFC title over the Bills last night, he could add a second Super Bowl to his coaching resume. But he and plenty of other viable minority candidates have continued to miss out on head coaching roles, causing the NCMFC and concerned parties around the league to rethink what is necessary to ensure that hiring processes around the league are meritocratic.
“We’ve got to put pressure on the owners from a sponsorship standpoint. We’ve got to continue to do our part with the media of getting the names and the successes of the minority coaches that they’re having and then get behind the campaign. Because they’re not hiring coaches anymore, they’re electing them,” the second-year Maryland head coach said.
Eric Bieniemy and the Chiefs are set to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LIV on February 7th. Locksley and those who have patiently awaited greater diversity within the NFL’s head coaching ranks will be monitoring his fate closely.