Diontae Johnson and Art Rooney II Dec 5, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (left) talks with team President Art Rooney II before they play the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no denying that the NFL has a major problem when it comes to Black head coaches. Long before the Brian Flores lawsuit, the league enacted the Rooney Rule in 2003 to increase the number of Black head coaches across a league dominated by Black players. At the time there were three Black head coaches and in 2022 there are three once more.

The Rooney Rule, which requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior jobs, is named after Dan Rooney, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His son, Art Rooney II, is the current owner of the Steelers, and he was also the only NFL owner to speak with the Washington Post for their recent article that delves into the challenges that Black coaches face and the walls that remain between them and long-term head coaching jobs.

While the article spoke with many Black coaches about their experience, as well as Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, Rooney provided some ownership context that is sorely missing from the conversation.

Rooney told WaPo that they really did expect the new rule to make it easier for Black coaches to ascend to the top spot.

“Most of us were not expecting it to turn in the wrong direction the way it did and to the extent it did and over the time period that it did,” Rooney said. “I don’t think there’s any one reason that you could point to. It’s obviously a trend that was not expected [and] not welcomed. … It may have taken us too long to get to this point. We’re addressing the situation. But I’m just pleased to say at this point that I do think there’s a consensus and a collective effort to address it.”

Rooney, who chairs the NFL’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, added that “I think you could certainly argue that we didn’t respond quick enough to the negative trend,” as the number of Black head coaches in the NFL dwindled from seven to three over the last five years. However, he hopes that there is now “a sufficient amount of scrutiny to the hiring process so that if we feel like teams are skirting the rule or not abiding by the rules, that’s going to be identified and addressed. So there’s a lot of scrutiny inside the league now.”

We’ll see how the next hiring cycle goes and if the number of Black head coaches starts growing again or if we see more Josh McCown situations.


About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.