ESPN’s Mike Scando penned a damning report about the state of the NFL coaching fraternity and how the league has moved backwards in attempts to rectify its diversity problems.
There are 117 coordinators and quarterback coaches in the league- the biggest pool from which teams promote future head coaches- and only 14 are minorities (12.0%). This an awful rate for a league where 72.4% of the players are minorities.
It turns out the Patriots are the worst offender regarding the imbalance (cue the white receiver jokes), with just two minority coaches on a staff of 14. I’ll note that this study does not include strength and conditioning coaches since they do not matriculate to become head coaches.
Running back coach Ivan Fears predates head coach Bill Belichick and has been with the team since 1999. 29 of the league’s 32 running back coaches are minorities, but they are rarely promoted to offensive coordinator- which is the necessary step to become a head coach. We already know that tight ends coach Brian Daboll will take over on offense when Josh McDaniels gets another head coaching role.
On the defensive side, linebackers coach Brian Flores has replaced Patrick Graham- who joined the New York Giants this offseason- and is likely next in line to replace defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Flores has been with the Patriots since 2004.
The study found that there are twice as many minority defensive coordinators than offensive coordinators because most offensive coordinators come from the quarterback coach position- and every single quarterback coach in the league is white. This hurts future matriculation because teams have been hiring more offensive-minded coaches than defensive-minded coaches to become head coaches, including all seven hires this offseason.
There could be a lot of reasons for why there is such an imbalance. Teams aren’t respecting the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview a minority candidate before making a coaching hire. They are paying lip service by bringing in someone to say they complied, before handing the keys to their predetermined mark.
For example, the NFL was concerned this offseason when the Eagles interviewed in-house running backs coach Duce Staley for the head coaching position to qualify for the Rooney Rule, so they could move quickly to sign Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.
There’s also this notion of being risk-averse where general managers are more willing to give former head coaches another shot before giving the chance to a minority hire. Per the report, teams have hired 40 former head coaches over the past 20 years versus just 21 minority head coaches. Four of the past five minority head coaching hires were former head coaches.
The article also notes that there is a feeling that teams are more willing to hire white coordinators coming off a losing season, versus their minority counterparts.
A solution would be to increase the Rooney Rule to the coordinator positions and for head coaches to increase the number of minority quarterback coaches- although this leads to another issue where black quarterbacks are “39 percent more likely to be asked to switch positions when they enter college.”
There’s also the concern that white coaches are 114% more likely to become a coordinator versus “black coaches who oversee the same position.”
There are only three teams in the entire NFL with staffs comprised of more than 50% minorities and all three have minority head coaches- the Panthers, Jets, and Steelers. The Lions have the 4th highest rate and they also have a minority head coach.
The most obvious solution is just to give minorities a chance to prove themselves. It’s easy to say that teams just want the best candidate for the job, but it’s difficult for minorities to become the quarterback coach and the offensive coordinator when they’re never given the opportunity.
Expanding the Rooney Rule to the coordinator position might force coaches to look at the running backs coach and the defensive backs coach and perhaps that will be enough of an opening to generate more minority coordinators. And if the promotion doesn’t happen immediately, then perhaps teams will start to consider their running backs coach a possible option when they need a new quarterbacks coach.
Belichick has always groomed in house options to take over those that receive promotions with other teams. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has been the team’s only minority coordinator under Belichick, although Graham was the heir apparent for Patricia before he left- and Flores is now next in line.
Perhaps Graham left for a similar reason to former defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, as both needed to escape Belichick’s shadow to prove they warrant consideration as defensive coordinator.
Fears is the only minority coach on the offensive side of the ball, and this is where the Patriots should make their next move. There’s no excuse to rank dead last in the league in this category. When offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels becomes a head coach in the next year, and Daboll takes over, Belichick should seriously consider a minority candidate to fill the gap.
And with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia coming out of retirement, Belichick should think about the future and hire a young coach to be Scar’s shadow for the next few years.
I’m not saying that Belichick should hire a minority for the sake of hiring a minority. I’m saying that there is an opportunity for the Patriots to hire smart, young coaches to a pair of positional groups that could possibly lead to a coordinator job down the line and that a minority candidate should seriously be considered to fill these roles.