NFL commissioner Roger Goodell encouraged, but ‘not satisfied’ with inclusive hiring — Andscape
LAS VEGAS – The NFL’s progress in inclusive hiring has continued, and this hiring cycle has been the best one recently for Black coaches seeking the league’s most high-profile position: head coach.
With the promotion of Jerod Mayo by the New England Patriots, Raheem Morris by the Atlanta Falcons and Antonio Pierce by the Las Vegas Raiders, the number of the NFL’s Black coaches doubled from three to six. The newcomers join Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans – who’s expected to be selected as the Associated Press Coach of the Year after leading Houston to the AFC South title and a playoff victory in his first season – and the dean of the group, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What’s more, the cycle has been good for coaches of color overall.
Dave Canales, the Carolina Panthers’ new coach, is Mexican American. So far, coaches of color have been hired for half of the eight coaching openings this cycle. Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins, who is biracial, and Robert Saleh of the New York Jets are the league’s other minority coaches.
That’s a total of nine coaches – 28% of the 32-team league. Those are numbers that commissioner Roger Goodell was eager to discuss Monday during his pre-Super Bowl news conference at Allegiant Stadium, the Raiders’ home field.
As the league he runs awaits the start of Super Bowl LVIII between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs here Sunday, Goodell has many reasons to be pleased about the state of inclusive hiring.
“As I said last year and the year before, we still have a lot of work to do,” Goodell said in the Chiefs’ locker room at Allegiant Stadium. “We are not satisfied where we are. We think that diversity is very good for us as a league. It makes us better. It gives the league opportunities to hire good people. The hiring cycle was, obviously, encouraging from a coaching standpoint, a head coaching standpoint.
“But we don’t look at this as just the coaching level or offensive coordinators. We look at this across the board. We look at this in coaching, in ownership, in presidents, in general managers. And we see extraordinary progress in all of that. And that’s an effort that we have with our clubs. I give our clubs tremendous credit. The process they went through with coaches and general managers this year was very thorough.”
After having only three Black offensive coordinators last seasons, however, it appears the 32-team league will have none to start next season. Generally, assistants on offense — especially those who work closely with quarterbacks — are the most sought-after candidates to fill openings for head coaches.
The NFL’s first leaguewide hiring mandate is its coaching fellowship program, which is intended to put more coaches of color on offense in the hiring pipeline. During Monday’s news conference, Goodell pushed back on the suggestion that the program is not working as evidenced by the offensive coordinator numbers heading into the offseason. He said it will take time for young coaches to climb the coaching ladder until they’re ready to compete for top-tier jobs on coaching staffs.
This season, Black or African American players account for 57.5% of NFL rosters. That number has been as high as 70%. The NFL is an overwhelmingly Black league. Goodell wants the league’s employees of color, both on and off the field, to believe they truly have the same opportunities as their white counterparts to climb ladders.
The Patriots made a splash in kicking off the cycle by promoting Mayo, formerly their inside linebackers coach who also spent his entire playing career with the team, to replace legendary coach Bill Belichick. In 24 seasons, Belichick led the Patriots to a record-tying six Super Bowl championships, nine AFC titles and 17 division titles.
Like Mayo, Morris and Pierce move into their new jobs from positions on defense (Pierce was the Raiders’ linebackers coach before becoming the interim head coach on Oct. 31, 2023).
During an era in which franchise owners prefer to fill head-coaching openings with coaches who were formerly offensive playcallers – and with the development of young quarterbacks being paramount in the league – Mayo, Morris and Pierce, obviously, were held in especially high regard by their team’s owners.
According to longtime NFL official Rod Graves, who now runs the independent group that advises the league on matters of inclusive hiring, there are many other top-notch coaches of color on defense who deserve opportunities to run their own shops.
“The hires show that some owners still recognize that defensive coaches are just as capable of putting together sound plans to build a winning team,” Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said in a text to Andscape. “I hope these hires signify more opportunities for coaches of color at the head coach position.”
NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent, Goodell’s bannerman in the ongoing struggle to make the league more inclusive from the front office to the field, has played a key role in spurring positive change, according to law professor N. Jeremi Duru.
A professor of sports law at American University in Washington, Duru is one of the nation’s foremost experts on the NFL’s hiring practices. He’s also the author of the definitive book on the creation of the Rooney Rule, Advancing The Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL.
Although many people have worked hard to create the current hiring climate, Vincent is among those who should be singled out for his efforts, Duru believes.
“A few years ago, Troy called out the league as passionately as I have ever seen anybody call out their own organization on ensuring equitable hiring practices. And it wasn’t performative,” Duru wrote to Andscape in a text message. “Those who know Troy know he meant every word.
“He and those working with him at the league office are really trying, and it is showing. Just a few years ago the league had never had a Black [club] president and had only one Black GM [general manager]. Look at where we are now in those categories. … And this hiring cycle has thus far been a very good one for diversity among head coach hires.”
On the matter of inclusive hiring in the NFL these days, they’re walking the talk in the commissioner’s office. And it starts at the top.