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When it Comes To Seeking Black Head Coaches, the NFL’s Hiring Practices Remain Embarrassingly Exclusive

It is disturbing that the NFL has become brazen in its disregard for giving Black coaches an opportunity. The teams’ owners and hierarchy do not even fake it anymore. They just look to hire white candidates with impunity, hardly even bothering to give African-Americans even a cursory look.

It’s as if the Rooney Rule—implemented as a mandate that teams interview a minority candidate before making a hire, to increase the Black coaching pool—gave them carte blanche to do the opposite of its intent.

So far since the end of the NFL’s regular season, Rex Ryan has been hired as coach of the Buffalo Bills. Reportedly, the Bills interviewed Pep Hamilton, the bright young offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts. This is the same Colts of quarterback Andrew Luck, who, under Hamilton’s direction, has blossomed into a bona fide star. And yet the Bills hired Ryan, a retread who has a history of failure.

They targeted Ryan, who hasn’t won anything, placated Hamilton, executed the Rooney Rule requirement and hired the man they wanted.

The same will happen with John Fox, who parted ways with the Denver Broncos yesterday. Teams will knock themselves over to acquire Fox, who did not win anything with arguably the most talented team in the league. But he will be signed by Miami or Atlanta or the New York Jets or some other team in the coming days. Bet on it.

That’s how it has worked, Rooney Rule be damned.

Todd Bowles, defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, is making the rounds, hoping to get his shot as a head coach after working his way from player to position coach to coordinator. Head coach is the appropriate next step.

This is his time. He has another interview with the Falcons on deck. No assurances if he’ll get the nod, though.

A number of white assistant coaches and coordinators are linked to different job opportunities in the league. Bowles and Hamilton are the only Blacks getting any play.

And here’s another thing: Bowles and Hamilton must have the goods because they are being given consideration from multiple teams. The cynical way to look at it is that they are being used as the Rooney Rule fulfillment as teams seek to name anyone but them as coach.

Consider for a moment, though, that the interest in Bowles and Hamilton is real. That would make them rarities in still another sense: Black coaches almost never get head-coaching jobs unless they are promoted from within.

Tony Dungy, the first Black to win the Super Bowl as coach of the Indianapolis Colts, figured that out. Here’s Dungy to Pro Football Talks: “Mike Singletary, Leslie Frazier and Romeo Crennel were named interim coaches when their bosses were fired during the season. They were retained as permanent head coaches. Jim Caldwell, Raheem Morris and Hue Jackson were assistant coaches on staffs where there was a head-coaching opening and they were promoted from within. However, you have to go back to 2007 when the Steelers hired Mike Tomlin to see a situation where a team hired an African-American coach from outside their organization to be their head coach.”

Here’s the thing about Dungy’s comments: They were two years ago. And in a league that wants to be considered progressive, not much has changed since Dungy’s original observations.

Caldwell, with Detroit now, and Lovie Smith of Tampa Bay, have been tabbed as a head coach separate from the team they were already connected to. But the real measure of progress in their cases is that they were Black head coaches who were fired and able to land another head-coaching job. That hardly ever happens. Usually, they are exiled back to assistant jobs, never to be considered for a head job again.

And yet, someone like Rex Ryan, who is more standup comic than coach, gets another head position less than two weeks after doing nothing noteworthy with the Jets?

Mike Shanahan was awful with the Washington Redskins, perhaps ruining Robert Griffin III, and many years before that in Denver, and he’s being wooed by teams? This is not progress.

The talk for years has been creating a system where Black assistants are elevated to coordinators, which would give them more leadership experience. That’s hardly happening, either. Pepper Johnson, a former outstanding linebacker for the New York Giants, has been the team’s linebacker coach for years. He’s interviewing for the Giant’s defensive coordinator job. Let’s see if he gets it.

There are two Black offensive coordinators in the NFL: Hue Jackson of Cincinnati and Hamilton. There are six defensive coordinators. Let’s see how many of the eight get serious looks for promotions.

“You still have to be concerned about the process for minority coaches,” Dungy said to PFT.  “Unfortunately, it appears . . . that the best way for an African-American coach to get an opportunity is to be on a staff where the head coach gets fired or retires. I still don’t think owners and GMs are doing a great job in the process of identifying minority candidates.”

They’re doing an awful job. Worse, they don’t seem to care.

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