The NFL has been criticized forever about its lack of diversity in coaching and executive positions. However, on Tuesday, the league’s 32 owners took steps to increase diversity in the league’s leadership ranks.
A proposal was approved to change the league’s anti-tampering policy. It prohibits teams from denying assistant coaches the chance to interview with other clubs for head coaching or coordinator positions, regardless of their contract status.
It also broadens the tampering rule, allowing lower-level football executives, under contract with one team, to interview for an assistant general manager’s job with another.
The ability for teams to block moves by coaches or executives on their respective staff has been cited as a potential reason candidates of color haven’t landed more coveted positions.
“The facts are, we have a broken system and we’re looking to change where we are going, and it’s been going south, and not a gradual south,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL.’s executive vice president of football operations.
Since 2003, the league has relied on the Rooney Rule.
It compels teams to interview at least one candidate of color for its top coaching and personnel jobs. However, with no real change, the owners are exploring several approaches including rewarding teams for diversity hires.
Draft Slot Incentive Declined
However, the owners did not make a decision on rewarding teams that hire head coaches or general managers of color with improved draft picks slots.
The measure was polarizing plan and heavily criticized. Many African-American coaches felt that teams shouldn’t need major incentives. The feeling that tokenism could develop just to secure top draft spots.
“I just have never been in favor of rewarding people for doing the right thing,” Tony Dungy, the former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, said in a podcast interview. “And so I think there’s going to be some unintended consequences.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the proposal, including incentives, had been tabled and not fully rejected. In fact, the owners, he said, were supportive of the idea and considering ways to improve it. The measure, he added, could be voted on again later this year.
A team that hired a nonwhite head coach would have moved up six spots from its position; in the third round of the draft in the year preceding that coach’s second season.
A team that hired a nonwhite GM would have moved up 10 spots in the third round of the draft; before that executive’s second season on the job.
A team would have lost its advantage if it fired the new coach after a single season. This is to prevent tanking, or firing coaches after one losing season.
“We’re not satisfied where we are, we know we should and can do better,” Goodell said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “There’s no single solution to this. It’s a matter of a number of initiatives.”
Will Change Ever Come?
Three-quarters of the league’s players are people of color. However, the vast majority of top coaches and player personnel executives are white men.
Ex-Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis says giving owners a draft incentive to hire minorities is “like having Jim Crow laws.” Lewis went off during an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
“Draft picks are like gold. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. As a head coach, no one wants to be hired or put in that position.”
During the off-season, only one nonwhite coach was hired: Ron Rivera, to the Washington Redskins. In 2019, of the eight head coaching positions filled, only the Miami Dolphins hired a nonwhite head coach, Brian Flores.
Currently, there are only two general managers and four nonwhite head coaches of color. At one point there were eight head coaches, which was the height in 2014.
“The problem is, it can’t be about incentives. It’s got to be about giving the right coaches the right opportunities,” Sam Acho, a member of the N.F.L. Players Association’s executive committee, told ESPN. “The problem with the N.F.L. is that there’s so much cronyism; it’s all about who you know.”