Topics such as sports, football, and the Cowboys are easy to have with almost anyone. Even if you vehemently disagree on major issues it’s enjoyable to have these conversations with perfect strangers. But when the topic of race is broached, people tend to act quite differently. Some will grow defensive, others aggressive, and still others may shut up completely. No matter who you are it’s a topic that will stir some amount of emotion. In 2013 race in sports is an important issue for the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys themselves, and fans everywhere. While the conversation and the inevitable disagreements feel uncomfortable, they are still an important part of the process and necessary for the betterment of the NFL.
In 2013 there were eight head coaching vacancies in the NFL. All eight vacancies were filled by white coaches. Last year? There were seven openings. Six were filled by white coaches. The one minority head coach hired in 2012 was Romeo Crennel and he has already been fired. Fired after only one season. Does this mean the NFL, its owners, its executives, its general managers, are all racist?
Of course not. In fact probably none of them are. It merely illustrates the disparity that exists for head coaches in big money sports (NCAA and professional) as it relates to other populations.
The Rooney Rule, the NFL’s version of Affirmative Action, was created in 2003. Its purpose was not to force teams to hire a certain number of minorities but rather make teams interview minorities. This would theoretically give the minority applicant a chance to impress in an opportunity they may not have received otherwise. By 2006 the percentage of African American head coaches jumped from 6% (pre-Rooney Rule) to 22%. Recently those numbers have dropped back to a startling level. With the firing of Lovie Smith and Romeo Crennel, only four minorities will start the 2013 season as head coaches. That’s the fewest number since the Rooney Rule was first instituted.
The Dallas Cowboys have had eight head coaches, all of which have been white. Some of those coaches have been good while some have been bad. It’s pretty absurd to think Jerry Jones hired any one of them because of skin color. Whether it’s Jerry or Stephen running the team, there is no reason to think they will pass over a minority head coach if he’s the right man for the job. Last year the Cowboys had four minority coaches on the staff. That counted for about a quarter of the Cowboy’s coaching staff. Sadly some of the collateral damage of Jerry’s “big changes” included the firing of Skip Pete and now most likely Brian Baker as the Cowboys make room for Rod Marinelli. That brings the Cowboys back down to 2 minority coaches – good for only 13% of the coaching staff listed on their website.
According to the NFL, the league had a total of 199 minority coaches in 2012. Divide the 199 by the number of NFL teams (199/32) and you average around 6 minority coaches per coaching staff. With a total of 610 coaches in the NFL you can see 32.6% of all coaches are minorities. These numbers fall comfortably between US census demographics and NFL player demographics. No Rooney Rule proceeds over the interviewing of minority assistants but still, diversity seems to be thriving regardless. The 32.6% minority coaches from last year far exceed the 5% of minorities in 1980.
Then what is the problem?
The NFL thinks it’s the coordinator positions that are causing the rift. Successful play-callers are most likely to receive future head coaching opportunities but an overwhelming majority of those coordinators are white. Are you aware Pep Hamilton and Jim Caldwell are the only minority offensive coordinator/play-callers? If offensive coordinators are the most sought-after pool of candidates teams are looking through, then it’s no wonder few minority coaches have been made head coaches. This says to some that owners and GM’s are hiring the best person for the job after all. The main problem is the lack of diversity in the coordinator positions (primarily the offensive side). If the minority coordinators were also 32.6% (the same as the assistant coach demographics), owners and GM’s would have more qualified candidates to choose from for head coaching positions. At least that is what the NFL is thinking as they plan to expand the Rooney Rule to the coordinator positions.
The Rooney Rule is celebrating its tenth anniversary this season. It currently requires teams to interview at least 1 minority candidate for head coaching and executive vacancies. It seemed to have worked in 2006, but in 2013 the NFL is back to where it started. Many questions can be asked to identify a cause. Is the Rooney Rule working? Is the Rooney Rule a good thing even if it was effective? Do the Ends justify the Means? Can people be trusted to hire simply the best person for the job? Should it be expanded to NFL coordinators and NCAA coaching? What are the Cowboys doing to get ahead rather than fall behind? I can’t even begin to answer those questions but asking them seems like a step in the right direction.