The NFL has a diversity problem when it comes to its head coaching positions. While former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’s lawsuit highlighted many of the ways that franchises skirt or abuse the Rooney Rule, there’s no denying that the gains that many expected over the last 30 years have come to fruition.
Currently, there are just three Black head coaches in the NFL; Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lovie Smith of the Houston Texans, and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That also happens to be the same number as in 2003, when the NFL enacted the Rooney Rule, meant to encourage more Black coaches and front office hiring.
The league indeed has three additional head coaches who are people of color: Miami’s Mike McDaniel, the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh, and the Washington Commanders’ Ron Rivera. However, according to former NFL player and current Jackson State assistant coach Dennis Thurman.
The Washington Post kicked off an editorial series about the plight of Black coaches in the NFL on Wednesday. While they spoke with many coaches and league officials, Thurman’s comments cut to the core of the problem.
“The NFL doesn’t have a diversity problem. The NFL has a Black problem,” said Thurman. “There aren’t that many Hispanics playing in the NFL. There aren’t that many Asians. There aren’t women on the field in the NFL. I understand them wanting to be inclusive, and I applaud what they’re doing for those groups.
“But the issue is not women. It’s not Asians. It’s not Hispanics. The majority of players in the NFL are Black. They use the word ‘diversity.’ It’s real slick. But, no, uh-uh. That’s not the issue.”
The NFL is very good about talking a good game when it comes to promoting diversity and ending racism. But it’s also the league where Colin Kaepernick was blackballed, Jon Gruden’s emails showcased how conversations between NFL high-ups actually sound, and the Texans tried to hire Josh McCown despite his never having been a head coach at any level instead of qualified Black coaches.
The proof will be in whether or not the numbers change in the years ahead.