The National Football League has urged teams for years to hire more minority head coaches.
That mission finally seems to be paying off.
Four minority head coaches have been hired this year, including Atlanta’s Raheem Morris, New England’s Jerod Mayo, Las Vegas’ Antonio Pierce and Carolina’s Dave Canales, bringing the number of coaches of color entering the 2024 season to nine, the most in league history. Seattle and Washington have yet to fill their vacancies.
Dr. Richard Lapchick, founder of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sport, called it a “major milestone” for the NFL.
“The league has been struggling to raise the percentage of head coaches of color, particularly Black head coaches,” Lapchick told The Associated Press. “The NFL has worked hard to put programs in place to make this happen and the rewards have finally come home.”
The NFL originally created the Rooney Rule in 2003 to promote the number of minority head coaches (and later general managers and executives) by requiring teams to interview at least one person of color before making a hire.
The league further expanded the rule in 2020, incentivizing teams to hire minority assistant coaches by awarding compensatory draft picks if they lose a minority coach or top football executive to another team. NFL rules stipulate teams receive third-round selections in each of the next two drafts — or each of the next three drafts if two minority employees are hired by another team — providing the candidates were with the team for at least two years.
So, while the Rams will receive two third-rounders for losing Morris to the Falcons, the Buccaneers will not get any since Canales was only with the organization for one season.
“I’m very pleased at what is happening around the league,” said Ron Rivera, a former head coach in Carolina and Washington who is Hispanic. “I think when you have to put incentives into place to hire minorities, it probably tells you that something needs to change. But for me, this is really about making sure there are opportunities for minorities, and I think when you open your pool of candidates to give you more to draw from, it helps you find the best person, whoever that is.”
Rivera interviewed eight times for head coaching jobs with various teams before landing his first gig in Carolina in 2011. He said at times he felt like he was a “token” minority candidate, which was frustrating.
Eventually, he sensed teams were truly interested in hiring him and that he became better in interviews as time went on.
“When I finally realized there was real interest, that was a pretty cool feeling,” Rivera said.
There is still work to be done to achieve equality.
According to the institute’s 2023 racial and gender report, two-thirds of the league (66.7%) consists of players who are minorities, with 53.5% being Black. Those percentages don’t reflect the percentage of minority and Black head coaches.
But progress is being made.
There are six Black head coaches entering 2024 — Morris, Mayo, Pierce, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles and Houston’s DeMeco Ryans — which doubles the number from the 2023 season. The other minority coaches are Canales, who is Mexican American, Miami’s multiracial Mike McDaniel and Robert Saleh of the New York Jets, who is Lebanese.
Rivera believes the success of existing minority head coaches in the 2023 season “absolutely” impacted the number of minority hires this year. Bowles, Ryans, Tomlin and McDaniel all led their teams to the playoffs.
Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, who is Black, was asked if it is encouraging to hear about the hiring of more minority head coaches, such as his former quarterbacks coach Canales. He answered with a resounding no.
“It’s 2024 and we are talking about minorities,” Smith said. “So, it’s not encouraging. I think we have to get away from that talk and let people be people. But that’s another topic right there.”
Rivera echoed that sentiment.
“What is happening is it is becoming more mainstream,” Rivera said of the increasing number of minority hires. “There are enough good coaches now where we can start saying, ‘Hey, let’s just call everybody a head coach, not necessarily minority head coach.’”