The NFL announced on Monday that all 32 teams must have a minority assistant on their offensive staffs for the 2022 season, a new requirement under the league’s Rooney Rule.
The move to specifically address representation on the offensive side of the football is a direct acknowledgment that many of the league’s head coaches have come from the offensive ranks. In the 2022 hiring cycle alone, twice as many coaches (six) came from an offensive background as opposed to defense (three).
The pipeline for minorities on offense is lacking, as Steelers owner Art Rooney II reiterated on Monday.
“We recognize we have seen progress on some fronts,” said Rooney, chairman of the league’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, “but we still have a way to go on other fronts.”
The NFL saw an increase in the number of people of color in all coaching positions from 35% in the 2020 season to 39% last season. There was an all-time high increase in defensive coordinators to 15, up by two; an increase in minority GMs (five to seven), and assistant GMs (three to six).
Teams will receive league funding toward the coach’s salary for up to two years. Overall, including women in all Rooney Rule requirements is designed to address under-representation of women in key football positions. The league believes this will “encourage the further identification and development of women candidates and the ability to provide them additional opportunity to interview for open positions.”
A total of 12 women coaches at the start of the 2021 season was an all-time high. Dasha Smith, the NFL’s chief administrative officer and one of the league’s highest-ranking women, noted that for the first time, a female candidate was interviewed for a general manager’s position this year.
Smith also said that virtual interviews will no longer be acceptable for head coach and general manager positions, and there will be specific requirements for candidates to become offensive assistants. Those would include at least three years of experience on the college or pro level.
Just five people of a minority background are currently head coaches in the NFL: Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins), Ron Rivera (Washington Commanders), Robert Saleh (New York Jets), Lovie Smith (Houston Texans) and Mike Tomlin (Steelers). The proportion is jarring in a league in which more than two-thirds of the players are Black.
The league also released a resolution to increase diversity ownership of franchises, and created a diversity advisory committee that includes Peter Harvey, a former attorney general of New Jersey; Rick Smith, former general manager of the Houston Texans; and Don Thompson, former president and CEO of McDonald’s Corporation.
Earlier on Monday, Mike Tomlin said he did not hire Brian Flores as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers out of sympathy for the former Miami Dolphins head coach.
Tomlin, who like Flores is Black, did so because Flores is “a good coach.” That Flores had sued the NFL and three teams – the Dolphins, Giants and Broncos – claiming racist hiring practices, did not deter the long-time Steelers coach in any way, Tomlin said.
A member of the league’s powerful competition committee and one of the most influential coaches in the sport, Tomlin spoke strongly about the lack of minority head coaches in the NFL.
“I haven’t been in any discussions and no, I don’t have a level of confidence that would lead me to believe that things are going to be better,” Tomlin said. “I’m more of a show me guy as opposed to a guy that sits around and talks about things.
“I think that we’ve pecked around the entire discussion and subject and we’ve done a lot of beneficial things,” Tomlin added of adjustments to the Rooney Rule adopted in 2003 to enhance job opportunities for minorities. “But we’ve got to land the plane. We’ve got to hire capable candidates.”
That, in Tomlin’s estimation and actions, includes Flores, whose lawsuit has been a major topic this offseason. Flores was fired by the Dolphins despite helping turn around a flooding franchise in his three seasons as coach, going 19-14 the last two years.