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Field Studies: A 10-Season Snapshot of NFL Coaching Hires

Abstract

At the end of the 2018-19 NFL season, five of the eight head coaches fired were African American, and only one vacancy was filled by a coach of color. This inequity raised the question: is the Rooney Rule, the NFL’s diversity hiring plan, working? The Global Sport Institute, with the Paul Robeson Center for Innovative Academic and Athletic Prowess (PRRC), sought to answer one question: What can we say about the NFL’s hiring of coaches of color? The purpose of this work is to explore and report on coach hiring and firing trends, not to extrapolate how or why these patterns occur. While other research has considered changes on a year to year basis, we looked at changes from the 2009-10 NFL season through the 2018-19 season. All the data presented have been gathered from publicly accessible sources. We conducted two phases of data collection and analysis. Our findings show that the number of head coaches of color has gone up and down. Overall, head coaches of color are hired at older ages, have more significant and relevant playing experience and do not receive equivalent “second chances.” Specifically, when African American head coaches have been fired in the NFL, it has been more difficult for them, as compared to white coaches, to obtain another head coaching position at the same level.

Introduction

Tom Fears (Los Angeles Rams) was the first Latino American head coach in the NFL (1967), and Joe Kapp was the first Latino American NCAA Division 1-A coach at a predominantly white program (1982), University of California-Berkeley. Tom Flores (Oakland Raiders) was the first Latino and coach of color in the modern NFL era (after the 1970 NFL-AFL merger). Art Shell (Los Angeles Raiders) became the first African American head coach in the modern era (1989), and Willie Jeffries was the first African American NCAA Division 1-A coach at a predominantly white program, Wichita State (1979). The push for greater representation of coaches of color within the NFL has been well documented, especially since the adoption of the Rooney Rule in 2003.* The Global Sport Education and Research Lab, with the help of the Paul Robeson Center for Innovative Academic and Athletic Prowess at the University of Central Florida, sought to answer one question: What can we say about the NFL’s hiring of coaches of color? 

Rather than exploring the question in the snapshot of a single year, we examined this issue with an in-depth approach. We analyzed who was hired and fired and looked for patterns over a ten-year window, from the 2009-10 NFL season through the 2018-19 season. The data below are not exhaustive, and we will continue to build on this research, searching for more patterns and additional questions. The total number of coaches in this data set is insufficient for inferential statistical analyses. The purpose of this report is to explore and report on coach hiring and firing trends, not to extrapolate how or why these patterns occur.

*The Rooney Rule requires clubs hiring a head coach to interview at least one person of color.

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