Racial diversity at the highest levels of the competition has become an increasing point of focus for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. During his ‘state-of-the-league’ address, he stated, “I’m not sure there’s an issue we spent more time with our ownership on.” Nonetheless, he publicly expressed disappointment that out of seven open head-coach positions, only two were filled by minority candidates.
David Culley of the Houston Texans and Robert Saleh of the New York Jets are two additions to the existing two minority head coaches, including Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins’ Ron Rivera.
Despite the discussion being held at length between the NFL and team owners, a substantial pool of qualified minority coaches did not make the cut. Team leadership continues not to share a racial background with the majority of the player base, which is 70% non-white.
Rodell believes the lack of diversity among head coaches is emblematic of broader issues. Because head coaches determine much in the way of team policy and atmosphere, the position is not just symbolic. Moreover, it was not what he expected given his communications with team organizations.
An investigation into the interview process will be conducted. Certain proven candidates were suspiciously not given interviews or did not receive call-backs. Despite successful work with Tom Brady this season, Tampa Bay’s Bryon Leftwich was among those who did not receive an interview.
The difficulty for players is what is considered to be capped ambitions. It is common across all leagues of sports for players to aim for coaching positions after their athletic careers. If players cannot see themselves in their leadership then their motivation on the field becomes more about financial contracts than the spirit of the game.
Discussion has been had about postponing the hiring process for new coaches until after the Super Bowl in subsequent seasons. Playoff teams are essentially penalized for their competitive success. The interview window would therefore be tighter before the next season begins, and there would be less distraction from game preparations in the postseason.
While this season’s hires resulted in disappointed players and organisers, there has been notable progress in middle management and player diversity. However, after seventeen years of concerted effort to diversity the top-most positions, there is still a long way to go.