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A broken rule

ESPN’s Mike Sando investigates the plummeting numbers of minority coaches in the NFL

The implementation of the NFL’s Rooney Rule in 2003 was a sign of hope for minority coaches. The policy, which requires an NFL team to interview at least one minority for a head coaching position, would be a step to having more minority candidates in higher roles. The policy would be a promising one if it actually worked.

According to the latest figures, “80 of the NFL’s current 85 offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coaches and offensive quality control coaches are white, 23 of 32 defensive coordinators are white, and 94 percent of head coaches hired over the past 20 years (133 of 141) had been NFL coordinators, pro head coaches (including interim) or college head coaches previously.” With the given numbers, it’s clear to see the uphill battle minority coaches have faced in recent years, no matter how experienced they may be.

In this story, ESPN senior writer Mike Sando breaks down the numbers, and speaks to current and former coaches about their thoughts on the rule.

Bruce Arians hired minority coordinators on offense (Harold Goodwin) and defense (Todd Bowles) when he took the job in 2013. (Bowles has since moved on to the New York Jets.) He added former NFL linebacker Levon Kirkland to his staff last season under a two-year coaching fellowship designed to help former players get into coaching. Arians cringed during a conversation at the NFL owners meetings in March when told teams had hired white head coaches 120 times in 141 chances over the past two decades.

“Those are staggering numbers,” Arians said.

How staggering? Second-, third- and fourth-time white head coaches outnumber all minority hires by a 40-21 margin during that span.

Arians thinks the league should expand the Rooney Rule to include interviews for jobs as coordinators. (The rule was expanded in 2009 to cover “lead personnel executives,” such as general managers.)

“You could expand the Rooney Rule if you wanted,” a minority coordinator said, “but the problem is, they say, ‘OK, we need a minority coach, and he coaches DBs, D-line, running backs, receivers. He does not coach quarterbacks, he does not coach offensive line.’ Guys like Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell have tried to put minority coaches in positions where they are next in line so they get an opportunity, but when you look at it, all the new hires were the offensive guys this past year.”

Indeed, all seven head coaches hired in 2016 had backgrounds on offense. Five were coordinators last season, and Mike Mularkey went from assistant head coach/tight ends to interim head coach in Tennessee. A seventh, Chip Kelly, was a head coach last season. Six of the seven head coaches hired in 2015 had defensive backgrounds, but two were already head coaches in 2014 (John Fox and Rex Ryan), four were coordinators, and the seventh, Jim Tomsula, was an outlier as a career defensive line coach who appealed to the San Francisco 49ers as an agreeable in-house successor to Jim Harbaugh.

“For most of the black guys, they give you raises and not promotions,” a prominent minority coach said. “They put money in your pocket to keep you right there to handle that position group. You usually will take it because you have nowhere to go.”

Read more on ESPN.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.