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Football Fabulosa – Are we seeing an upswing in hiring minority head coaches?

Greetings and welcome to this week’s edition of Football Fabulosa. It’s coaching carousel time again in both college and the National Football League. As usual, there are a number of hot coaching candidates being mentioned by media and fans alike. Are we finally seeing a swing on the hiring of minority candidates? So far, three minority coaches have been hired or made moves. Lovie Smith was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. James Franklin hired, flirting  or who knows from Vanderbilt to Penn State University. Finally, Charlie Strong was hired by the University of Texas as their new head coach.

It’s long been an issue that minority candidates have gotten the short stick when it comes to being offered opportunities in coaching. In an effort to counter-balance the inequity, the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule to require teams with head coaching vacancies to interview minority candidates for the job. It extends to football operations spots but not to staffing or assistants. There is no such rule in the college ranks.

Since the rule was instituted by the league in 2003, it has been met with mixed emotions and limited success. The rule is named after Art Rooney the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers hired their first minority head coach on January 22, 2007 in Mike Tomlin. He is one of four minority head coaches in the league right now. The others are Lovie Smith, who just got hired by the Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, and Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

According to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman:

Since the Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003, 17 teams have had either an African-American or Latino head coach or general manager. Three teams—the Chiefs, Colts and Raiders—have had more than one head coach of color. This progress probably would not have happened without the forcible nudge of the rule, because in the 80 years of the NFL’s existence before it, just seven head coaches of color were hired.

For the record, I completely agree with Freeman. Progress often doesn’t happen without a little bit of nudging, or in some cases a lot. The success of Tomlin and Smith in the NFL certainly makes it easy for teams to make that move now. Both Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell had success with the Indianapolis Colts. There are other names as well. You may not like or agree with the Rooney Rule but there is no doubt it was needed and has produced results though the results are still somewhat mixed.

At one point it was thought the rule needed to be expanded to assistants and there may still be merit there but there are several current NFL assistants who are hot coaching names . Ray Horton, the defensive coordinator at least for now for the Cleveland Browns, is a hot name out there. Todd Bowles, the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, has interviewed with the Browns and is drawing interest from the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions.

There are currently eleven African American coordinators in the league. Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker isn’t getting much attention. Other names of interest not receiving attention are Bengals assistant Hue Jackson (who was just promoted to offensive coordinator), Green Bay Packers assistants Winston Moss and Darren Perry, Denver Broncos assistant Eric Studesville, and former Texans assistant Karl Dorrell. Dorrell is scheduled to interview for the vacant offensive coordinator position for the New York Giants.

There are only three African American offensive coordinators and they are Indianapolis’s Pep Hamilton, Arizona’s Harold Goodwin, and Caldwell who is currently the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. None are receiving very much interesting which is disappointing. Jim Caldwell did interview with the Tennessee Titans.

There are six African American General Managers in the NFL. The Buccaneers and the Miami Dolphins are reportedly interested in interviewing Titans Vice President of Player Personnel Lake Dawson. Dawson has done a great job in Tennessee with the Titans and is a rising star in the league.

The league has impaneled a group consisting of eight former coaches and general managers to help identify the top minority coaching candidates along with other candidates. The Career Development Advisory Panel includes Tony Dungy, Bill Polian and John Madden. There were several minority candidates on the list including several from the college ranks. The NFL also partnered with the NFLPA in 2012  to institute the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship.

The list compiled by the Career Development Advisory Panel included several hot coaching names. The inclusion of David Shaw, Kevin Sumlin and James Franklin is no mistake. All three made their mark on the offensive side of the football which is where much attention lies when it comes to hiring new head coaches. You can debate how successful that mindset is as Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter pointed out:

You cannot argue however that the numbers for up and coming minorities has been largely on the defensive side of the ball. It’s extremely important that we continue to see an uptick in minorities entering into coaching on offense and being successful at it.

Charlie Strong, who made history by being named the first African American head coach at the University of Texas, is a defensive minded coach. At the start of the 2013 college football season, and out of 125 FBS programs in the country, only fifteen were minorities. That is simply unacceptable.

It is definitely great to see minority candidates like Charlie Strong and possibly James Franklin make history going to major college powerhouses. Both were hot commodities and Franklin interviewed with at least one NFL team the Houston Texans. It remains to be seen whether more coaches join them as head coaches. According to Dr. Matthew Lynch:

While head coaches are the most visible, support positions are severely underrepresented as well. Only 312 of 1,018 of college football assistant coaches are Black, and only 31 of 255 of offensive and defensive coordinators are African-American. Combined, Black football coaches and support staff represent a measly 5 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision numbers.

Those numbers are as staggering as they are saddening. Progress is being made but it’s far too little and far too slow. You could make a very compelling argument that the NCAA needs to institute its own Rooney Rule.

I think it’s very premature to declare a success here in hiring minorities although the signs are certainly encouraging. You could make a solid argument that minority coaches like Lovie Smith get the hook far too early too. Also, he had already been a head coach for the Chicago Bears so he isn’t a new hire. Regardless, the numbers are still underwhelming. Attention doesn’t equal hiring as we have long seen. Progress is encouraging but we simply must do better.

Here’s hoping we continue to see more success in hiring minority candidates in both the NFL and college football.

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