NFL Report: Hiring Rate of Coaches of Color Nearly Doubled for Open Jobs in 2021

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorFebruary 26, 2021

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh talks to players on the sidelines during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)
Scot Tucker/Associated Press

The NFL's hiring rate of coaches of color for open coaching positions nearly doubled from 18.8 percent in 2020 to 34.6 percent in 2021, per a report from the Associated Press' Rob Maaddi detailing the league's recent 61-page demographics study. 

In addition, interview requests for nonwhite candidates improved from 22 percent in 2020 to 47 percent in 2021. Twelve of the 28 coaches who received interview requests for head coaching positions were coaches of color, per Maaddi. Two of those 12 were hired—the Houston Texans' David Culley and the New York Jets' Robert Saleh.

Maaddi provided the entire list with a breakdown of the coach-seeking teams involved:

The NFL recently instituted changes to the Rooney Rule, which mandates that teams interview external candidates from underrepresented groups for head coaching and senior football operations positions.

Kevin Patra of NFL.com outlined a report from NFL Network's Tom Pelissero regarding the changes, which were enacted last May.

"The league will require clubs to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coaching openings and at least one minority candidate for any coordinator job, per sources informed of the decision.

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"In addition, teams must interview one external minority candidate for senior football operations and general manager jobs. Teams and the NFL league office must also include minorities and/or female applicants for senior-level positions, including club president jobs."

Although progress has been made, coaches of color only occupy five of the 32 NFL head coaching positions. That group consists of the Miami Dolphins' Brian Flores, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin, the Washington Football Team's Ron Rivera, Culley and Saleh. 

Jim Trotter of NFL Media noted one reason why more candidates from underrepresented communities have not landed more head coach positions:

The current head coaching number is matched on the NFL general manager front, with the Atlanta Falcons' Terry Fontenot, the Detroit Lions' Brad Holmes, the Washington Football Team's Martin Mayhew, the Miami Dolphins' Chris Grier and the Cleveland Browns' Andrew Berry occupying five of the league's 32 GM positions.

We'll see if more progress is made in the 2022 head coaching cycle. There shouldn't be a shortage of candidates, with examples including Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, New York Giants defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Patrick Graham and more.