Lovie Smith had an 81-63 record and a Super Bowl appearance to his credit as Chicago Bears coach, but he was fired after the team went 10-6 and missed the playoffs after the 2012 season.(Photo: Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY Sports)
NFL commissioned research project before offseason when no African Americans were hired to prominent leadership jobs
Black coaches rarely get second chances at NFL, college or coordinator level
Report’s author suggests teams be rewarded with draft picks for diverse hiring practices
(PhatzRadio / USA Today) — An exhaustive study of NFL hiring practices for head coaches confirms what has been widely known about the historical disparity in opportunities for minorities when compared to white counterparts but also reveals a significant pattern for what happens to a disproportionate number of minorities after losing NFL head coaching jobs: Typically, they don’t land as NFL coordinators, and none has ever gone on to become a head coach at the major college level.
Such findings are revealed and analyzed in a landmark independent study commissioned by the NFL, a 30-page coaching mobility report titled: Examining Coaching Mobility Trends and Occupational Patterns: Head Coaching Access, Opportunity and the Social Network in Professional and College Sport.
The report, obtained by USA TODAY Sports, was researched and produced by Dr. C. Keith Harrison, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida with an extensive background in business management, with support from fellow researchers.
The NFL has been stung by criticism of its hiring practices and the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule after no minorities were hired for the eight head coaching vacancies or seven general manager positions this year. Yet league officials maintain that the report wasn’t produced as a reaction to the recent hiring cycle.
The league decided to commission the study in 2011 and provided access to data that provided the foundation for the report that explores patterns extending back to 1963.
“I look at the report as a tool in the tool kit as we think about diversity and inclusion,” Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s executive vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer, told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday.
Gulliver said that he is taking a “forward-thinking” approach in digesting the research results and recommendations. He said the two most striking elements of the report are the emphasis on the importance of networking socially in career opportunities and the re-affirmation of diversity as crucial to the NFL’s business model.
Said Gulliver, “We are working aggressively to be looking forward.”
Still, Harrison said that it is important to consider the patterns that have existed for decades in order to provide context to the NFL’s diversity goals. “I give the NFL a lot of credit,” Harrison told USA TODAY Sports. “At a time when their brand has so much value and influence, they’ve made the decision to turn the mirror on themselves and say, ‘We can do better.’ ”
Since 1963, 88% of head coaches hired for NFL teams were white. That figure is hardly surprising when considering that Art Shell became the first African-American head coach of the modern era with the Oakland Raiders in 1989. Of the 17 people of color hired as head coaches since 1989, 12 were hired since the Rooney Rule — requiring that at least one minority candidate is interviewed for head coaching vacancies — was instituted in 2003.
Other findings from the report, however, provide oft-overlooked context:
Since 1980, 30 former NFL head coaches accepted similar positions at the major college level. All were white.
None of the six African-Americans who have held the position as interim coach in the NFL became a head coach.
After losing their first NFL head coaching job, 53 were re-hired as head coaches. Of that number, 46 were white and seven were minorities.
Of the 42 who landed as offensive and defensive coordinators after losing their first head coaching job, 40 were white. Two minorities became coordinators; the overwhelming majority of minority coaches landed as position coaches.
“What surprised me is, who gets a second chance? A third chance?” said Harrison.
Neither of the minority head coaches fired after last season — Romeo Crennel and Lovie Smith — landed a new job, though Crennel has been a head coach for two franchises (Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs).
“Instead of looking at that as an anecdote,” Harrison said, “look at the findings and ask, ‘Is that anecdotal?’ ”
Smith, who was fired by the Bears after winning 10 games in 2012 but missing the playoffs, is seeking another head coaching job rather than a coordinator’s position, a person familiar with his thinking told USA TODAY Sports.
He’s hardly the only ex-head coach not to get another opportunity. Former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, who is white, also hasn’t had another head-coaching job despite winning a Super Bowl after the 2000 season.
Yet four of the coaches fired after last season — Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Ken Whisenhunt and Pat Shurmur — were quickly hired by new teams. Reid is the Kansas City Chiefs head coach; the others are offensive coordinators.
With a growing emphasis on offense in the NFL, some view the defensive backgrounds of an overwhelming majority of the African Americans have been head coaches as a factor working against them on the market.
The trends have ignited debate on the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule. Gulliver expressed disappointment with the shutout of minority head coach and GM candidates during the most recent hiring cycle but doesn’t believe there’s a need for an overhaul of the Rooney Rule. “I take the long view,” he said. “While this year didn’t produce the diversity we expected, we have to look at the impact of the Rooney Rule over the last decade.”
Gulliver said that he aims to have the “spirit” of the Rooney Rule applied to all positions in the NFL and will continue to tweak diversity initiatives. Next week, the NFL will stage a career development symposium for 64 aspiring coach and executives at Penn’s Wharton School of Business, re-launching a series that was discontinued several years ago.
In the meantime, recommendations from Harrison and his team included:
Comprehensive incentive and disincentive models, which would reward teams with draft picks for noteworthy diversity hires and strongly punish teams financially for not reaching goals.
A more transparent hiring process, which could involve case studies and a “Transparent Performance Scale” that outlines subjective and objective criteria used in the hiring decision.
Efforts to expand social networking that would allow candidates and decision-makers to interact, including those on the college level. The report proposes that the NFL and NCAA consider holding a joint event each year for that purpose.
Gulliver is open-minded to some of the suggestions, including the efforts aimed at social networking. He was non-committal when asked specifically about the incentive and disincentive models.
Yet while expressing his expectation that the NFL’s 32 teams will adhere to principles of diversity — which is open to questions stemming from the most recent hiring cycle for head coaches and GMs — he is clearly embracing the dialogue.
“Diversity is one of our core values,” Gulliver said. “We have an opportunity to do more. I sense that the clubs will continue on this path.”
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell