In a 32 team league where around 70 percent of players are black, currently, the NFL has only one Black head coach. The NFL continues to lag behind professional basketball and Major League Baseball. In the NBA, 14 out of 30 teams have black head coaches and two of the MLB’s 30 teams have black managers. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin is the only remaining Black head coach after David Cullen and Brian Flores were both fired in January of 2022. The New York Jets’ Robert Saleh, who is of Lebanese descent, and Washington’s Ron Rivera, who is Latino, are the only other two head coaches of color.
David Culley was fired from the Houston Texans after just one season in charge. The Texans went 4-13 although their star quarterback did not play that season.
Brian Flores, the son of Honduron parents, is Black and Latino and was head coach of the Miami Dolphins. He became the fourth Latino coach in NFL history. His dismissal leaves just one Latino coach, Washington’s Ron Rivera. Troy Vincent, the NFL executive vice president of football operations, told The Washington Post a day after Flores’s dismissal that “there is a double standard” when it comes to retaining and hiring Black coaches in the league. Flores recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and its teams, claiming discrimination when it comes to hiring and retention of Black coaches. The NFL and the teams named in the suit have denied the allegations. Flores’s suit argued that the Rooney Rule isn’t working.
Another example is from 1989. Two months after his induction into the NFL Football Hall of Fame as a player, Art Shell took over as the head coaching job of the Los Angeles Raiders. This was a milestone because Shell became the NFL’s first Black head coach since 1920. When Shell joined the ranks of Black coaches, sports sociologist Harry Edwards stated, “I don’t attach all that much significance to firsts…. I’m interested in seconds and thirds and fourths and fifths.” Edwards’s commentary appeared to be prophetic, for when Shell was fired six years later in 1995, there were only two Black head coaches remaining in the NFL. Like Brian Flores, Shell was fired after a winning season in which his team went 9-7 in 1994, similar to Flores’s 9-8 record last year, before he was fired.
The NFL has said that it’s tried to increase diversity in its ranks of head coaches after years of criticism. In 2003, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule to get more Black coaches. Named for the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney who chaired the league’s diversity Committee, it requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching openings. Expanded in 2009, the Rooney Rule required that minorities be considered for front office and coordinator vacancies. In 2020, the rule was expanded again to require additional interviews. However, many have been skeptical of its impact and argue that the rule has become more about checking a box to prove compliance than deliberate thought.
Another contributing factor to this inequality is that the NFL has only two owners of color. Thus, when hiring at the senior-most levels, they tend to revert to what they’re most comfortable with – picking someone who is White and not Black.
Frommer, Frederic J. “The Modern NFL Didn’t Have a Black Head Coach until 1989. Here’s His Story.” The Washington Post, 6 Feb. 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/history/2022/02/06/art-shell-brian-flores-nfl/.
Hill, Jemele. “The Continuing Humiliation of Black NFL Coaches.” The Atlantic, 22 Jan. 2022, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/01/black-nfl-coaches-brian-flores-david-culley/621344/.
Morse, Ben, and Jason Hanna. “The NFL Is down to a Single Black Head Coach after It Pledged to Do Better with Diversity.” CNN, 26 Jan. 2022, www.cnn.com/2022/01/14/sport/david-culley-houston-texans-nfl-spt-intl/index.html.