In a recent ESPN article, Mike Sando revealed just how much the Rooney Rule is failing the very people – minority coaches – it purports to help. In the last five hiring cycles, from 2012 to 2016, NFL teams hired 21 first-time white head coaches, while hiring just one first-time minority head coach (Todd Bowles). The gap from 1997 to 2001? Yup, 21-1. Identical.
Sadly, the coaches who spoke to Sando did so under anonymity. If they spoke openly and honestly about what was happening, they would probably have a harder time moving up the coaching ladder because they would anger the powers-that-be.
Is that a safe assumption?
“I think some people do feel that way,” Browns running backs coach Kirby Wilson said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. Guys will make comments. Guys will have an opinion and they’d rather keep it to themselves than appear disgruntled. Everyone loves their job, everyone wants to provide for their family. No one wants to be labeled as a malcontent or someone who’s always unhappy or disappointed and angry and upset – and that’s not the case. A lot of guys are just kind of speaking about what they believe is the truth and what they see. You just go by what you see. At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. You go by what you see. Whether that is accurate or not, you go by what you see, and sometimes perception is reality in all of our worlds. But as I’ve said, you can’t be concerned with those things. You got to work hard. You got to just stay focused and control the things that you can control – which is your work ethic, your hard work and your ability to lead people, to lead men and do your job to the best of your ability. You hope at the end of the day, that’s enough.”
The Rooney Rule requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a new head coach. Unfortunately, 80 of the NFL’s 85 offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coaches and offensive control coaches are white, including all 37 with the word “quarterback” in their title.
Still, Wilson, who has coached with the Patriots, Redskins, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Steelers and Vikings, believes the Rooney Rule helps minority coaches.
“Everything is done for the good of the cause,” he said. “There’s some very smart men in the National Football League who have thought things well out. Does it make it perfect? Absolutely not. But is it in the best interests of football coaches and general minorities in particular? Yes. So down the road, I’m sure there will be some staff committee that will look at this and say, ‘Hey, we can tweak it. We can do it a little different.’ When that times comes, those people in charge of that will do that. Until that happens, you just keep working. You keep your nose to the grindstone and you work – because that’s what this is all about. At the end of the day, it’s how can we make the players better? How can we make the product better? And again, I will go back to what I said earlier: You control what you can control and that’s your work ethic, your attitude and (getting) your players better. You can’t control these other factors. You really can’t. You just have to keep working and encouraging the young coaches who are coming into the league to stay positive, stay focused, and don’t get side-tracked with those things – because you can’t control it.”
One minority coach in Sando’s story said that black coaches often receive raises, not promotions, and they often take the money because they have nowhere else to go.
Kirby, 54, disagrees with that mindset.
“No, you always have somewhere to go,” he said. “As my grandma used to tell me when we were little at dinner time, you got two options: ‘You can take it or leave it.’ That’s really what it is. You always have options. If you don’t like a situation, you do something about it. I’ve always done that in my life and my career. If I didn’t like a certain situation, instead of complaining about it, I did something about it. That’s what all our options are. If you don’t like it, do something else. Everybody is not totally happy in their jobs and their careers. But most coaches I talk to in the National Football League are extremely happy – black and white – to be blessed with this opportunity to do what we love to do, and that’s coach football. I see it everyday as a tremendous opportunity to come into work and work with some of the best athletes in the world and work in the profession that I love. I’ve been a part of football since I was 8 years old. I’ve been extremely blessed and I don’t ever look at anything negatively in terms of I’m going to be in a bad mood today. No, they’re all good days. Some days are better than others, but they’re all great days.”