The NFL will have eight minority head coaches in 2017, tying the most for the beginning of one season.
With the hirings of Anthony Lynn by the Chargers and Vance Joseph by the Broncos, the eight minority coaches will equal the number in 2011.
Five of those men — Marvin Lewis, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, Hue Jackson and Ron Rivera — remain as head coaches, though Caldwell has switched from the Colts to the Lions, and Jackson went from the Raiders to the Browns. The Jets’ Todd Bowles is the other.
The 49ers are the only team without a head coach.
Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s chief human resources officer, cites the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule, which mandates that teams interview minority candidates for coaching and general manager positions. That rule also has been extrapolated to include other NFL jobs.
“The rule is firmly embedded,” Gulliver said Friday. “It makes us better.”
Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy agrees.
“To me, the Rooney Rule is doing what it is supposed to do,” Dungy said. “It’s not just to interview minority coaches, but to investigate every candidate and make a thorough list and highlight the person who fits you.
“If you explore it and take your time, you usually come out with a good candidate.”
Perhaps most notable in the process this winter has been the rise to prominence of assistant coaches who might not have been among the prime candidates mentioned when the season ended. Lynn, Joseph and the Rams’ Sean McVay — the youngest head coach in modern NFL history at age 30 — fall into that category.
“When we created the Rooney Rule in 2002-03, what we were trying to do was give guys who otherwise got overlooked to get a fighting chance,” explained Cyrus Mehri, who co-wrote the Rooney Rule and has been a strong advocate of minority hiring in pro football, working closely with the Fritz Pollard Alliance.
“This hiring cycle has been particularly special because of the guys who have worked hard to get themselves in position to compete, two guys got selected, and now we are at the highest number of clubs that have” a minority head coach.
“We are very happy about that.”
If 2011 was a ground-breaking year — three other minorities finished that season in charge of teams, Mel Tucker in Jacksonville, Romeo Crennel in Kansas City, and Bowles in Miami — Gulliver, Dungy and Mehri are excited with how 2017 has begun.
Already in place are minority general managers Rick Smith in Houston, Jerry Reese with the Giants, Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore, Sashi Brown in Cleveland, Reggie McKenzie in Oakland and Doug Whaley in Buffalo.
Most encouraging to Gulliver is how the Rooney Rule is being adopted in other sports, businesses and, as of last week, apparently by the U.S. government.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is planning to urge his fellow Democrats to adopt the “Rooney Rule.” In the Senate, Schumer wants to ensure that at least one minority applicant is considered for any open position.
“The more diverse the Senate is, the better it can serve the American people,” Schumer said. “Expanding the diversity initiative, following the Rooney Rule, and dedicating ourselves to increasing diversity will be good for the Senate and for the country.”
Within the NFL, Gulliver notes there are plenty more opportunities for diversity.
“We continue to look for opportunities to build on the success of the Rooney Rule,” he said.
“We’ve had a good dialogue with the Fritz Pollard Alliance and the commissioner, talked about the opportunity not only to have a diverse candidate slate for coaches and GMs, but about the best practice to have multiple diverse candidates. We’ve talked about the best practices being applied to coordinator positions.”
A year ago, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the extension of the rule for gender applying for senior level positions at the league office. The NFL has encouraged the 32 teams to consider that as a best practice, too.
“Forty-five percent of our fans are women,” Gulliver said, “so it only makes sense for women to be involved in all levels of our sport. It just makes us better as an organization.”
Dungy, whose coaching tree includes such successes as Tomlin, Caldwell, Lovie Smith and Herm Edwards, was particularly uplifted by this year’s coaching hires.
“The spirit behind the Rooney Rule is very good when the interview process is executed properly,” he said. “To foster diversity helps in a lot of ways, and in the NFL it allows you to get a better and deeper pool of people and then you can pick from it. It only adds to the quality of people hired.”