Column: NFL continues to pass on hiring new Black coaches

Coaches understand before they sign employment contracts that they are hired to be fired, something that’s particularly true in the NFL where the only measure of success is a playoff slot at the end of the season.

That’s why there was no real outcry when Anthony Lynn was let go by the Chargers. Lynn’s team went 7-9 this season and some of his head-scratching decisions late in games caused fans to lose their hair.

That Lynn is Black didn’t matter when it came to getting a pink slip. A half-dozen coaches who weren’t of color were also let go in the annual coaching exodus across the league.

Unfortunately, though, it seems being Black still does matter when it comes to getting hired in the first place. And that’s become a problem the NFL seems increasingly unable — or unwilling — to fix.

The news Thursday that Philadelphia plans to hire Indianapolis offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni as the new head coach of the Eagles is the latest reminder of that. Sirianni seems qualified but at the age of 39 he’s getting an opportunity that could have gone to any number of equally deserving Black assistants.

That it didn’t means six of the seven coaching vacancies this offseason have now been filled. Robert Saleh was hired to coach the New York Jets as the first Muslim head coach, but there are no new Black coaches in the group.

The Rooney Rule that requires minorities be interviewed for all head coaching openings still gets Black applicants a foot in the door. But the door seems to close when it comes to making the actual hire, and recent tweaks to the rule haven’t been enough to change that.

Consider this: In the three previous coaching replacement cycles before this year, 20 coaches were hired and only three were coaches of color — just one of them Black.

That leaves the NFL with four minority coaches, just two of them African-American, pending a coaching hire in Texas. And that’s simply unacceptable in a league where 70 percent of players are Black, and so are a third of the assistants trying to work their way up the coaching ladder.

Yes, there have been two Black general manager hires, but that’s scant consolation for those who see other inequalities at the top.

“The disparity in opportunities is mind boggling,’’ Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves said in a statement earlier in the week. “It is unfortunate that the performances of coordinators like Eric Bieniemy, Todd Bowles, Byron Leftwich, Leslie Frazier, and Joe Woods, may not meet what appears as ‘ever-evolving standards’ for becoming a Black Head Coach in the NFL.’’

Graves, whose organization works to promote minority opportunities in the NFL, cited the annual report card issued by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida in highlighting the NFL’s issues. The 2020 edition put together by Richard Lapchick gives the NFL poor grades in racial hiring for all its executives, including head coaches.

I’ve spoken many times to Lapchick, a trailblazer in race issues in sports, about the NFL’s hiring practices. I’ve listened as he’s become increasingly exasperated that the Rooney Rule instituted more than a decade ago continues to fail in its main purpose — which is actually getting Black coaches hired.

“It’s not like there are no qualified candidates,’’ Lapchick said last year. “These people are out there and ready.’’

Of that there is no argument. Example No. 1 around the league is Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator of the Chiefs who has interviewed with almost every team that had a vacancy this year. With just the Texans job open, none has yet to take the counsel of Kansas City coach Andy Reid.

“I mean everybody knows what I think of Eric and what kind of head coach I think he’d be,’’ Reid said. “Whoever gets him I think is a very lucky organization, one of the few people that I’ve come across with the leadership skills that he has, the ability to lead men in this crazy game that we’re in and for those guys through his leadership to play at a Pro Bowl level. ‘’

Here’s hoping Bieniemy gets the last available job, which would mean Black coaches won’t get totally shut out this year. His credentials speak for themselves and, besides, the Texans can use the help.

The bigger issue, though, is that NFL efforts to diversify the head coaching ranks simply haven’t worked. Once hailed as trailblazing, the Rooney Rule now seems almost irrelevant.

Interviews are great, for what they’re worth. Some actual hires would be even better.

___

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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