Black coaches speak out on hiring process, Rooney rules
Veteran NFL coach Anthony Lynn has crafted a personal defense in response to league policy that requires teams to interview minority candidates for their top jobs.
While he appreciates the intent of the policy, Lynn, who is black, added his own amendment to it long ago: as his star rose to become one of the league’s top assists in the mid-2010s, Lynn would only meet with teams to discuss a vacant head coaching position if they had already fielded at least one other minority candidate, which the so-called Rooney Rule did not require until 2021.
“I just didn’t want to be a token interview,” Lynn, the San Francisco 49ers’ black assistant head coach, told The Associated Press. “I really believe in the spirit of the Rooney rule, but I just saw how people were abusing it and I didn’t want to be part of it.”
The rule is named after former Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who oversaw the league’s diversity committee, and was groundbreaking in 2003. It was almost universally hailed as a good idea that would help diversity.
Today, it is often seen as a policy followed in letter, but not in spirit. It can be a humiliating process for those it was designed to help who fall far short of its goal: there were three non-white head coaches when the rule came into effect in 2003; today there are five.
The racial discrimination lawsuit filed this month against the NFL and several teams by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has drawn attention to the league’s hiring practices and sparked frustrations from long standing with the Rooney rule. It also prompted Lynn and others to benchmark American companies, which also struggled to diversify their leadership ranks.
What prompted Flores to file a lawsuit, he said, was a series of text messages with Patriots coach Bill Belichick three days before a scheduled interview about a coaching job. -leader with the New York Giants. These texts led Flores to believe that Brian Daboll had already been chosen as the new coach.
“It was humbling to be quite honest,” Flores said. “There was disbelief, there was anger, there was an outpouring of emotion for a lot of reasons.”
For Lynn, persistence paid off in 2017 when the Los Angeles Chargers made him the first black head coach in team history.
Candidates Lynn beat out for the job included Teryl Austin, who is now defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Austin’s interview with the Chargers was one of 11 occasions when he got a one-on-one meeting but failed to land the head coaching job.
There were times when Austin felt like he was really in the running, and times when he felt he “was one of those guys where they ticked a box” to comply with the mandate.
“You can’t say for sure,” Austin said. “Maybe I’m not what owners see when they look in the mirror and see leadership positions.”
Austin’s personal background is included in Flores’ lawsuit as evidence of a discriminatory system that frustrates qualified applicants.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell partially pushed back on Wednesday, saying the league has made “significant progress in many areas.” However, he acknowledged that the league is lagging when it comes to head coaches.
“We still have work to do and we have to figure that out,” Goodell said in Los Angeles ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium. Goodell said the NFL has already hired “outside experts” to help it review hiring policies and he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of eliminating the Rooney rule.
The two teams competing in this year’s Super Bowl — the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams — are led by offensive-minded white head coaches in their 30s. There is, however, considerable diversity among the dozens of coaches who oversee their offenses, defenses and special teams. Half of the assistants working for Rams coach Sean McVay are black.
Art Rooney II – Dan’s son and current Steelers president – has defended the impact of his father’s eponymous hiring policy.
“While I recognize that we have not seen progress in the ranks of head coaches, we have seen a marked improvement in the hiring of women and minorities in other key leadership roles,” he said. -he declares.
In many cases, there was nowhere to go but up.
About 70% of NFL players are black, but the NFL is in place to diversify its most visible leadership positions. While more than a third of assistant coaches are black, only two teams have employed black offensive coordinators this season, considered the lowest rung on the ladder before becoming head coaches. Nearly 85% of general managers and directors of player personnel in the league are white, according to a report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
“It’s a matter of will and heart,” said Troy Vincent, a former player who is now the league’s executive vice president of football operations. “You can’t force people, so we need to keep educating and sharing with those who are in the hiring cycle.”
Players also have a role to play in promoting change, says Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
Lapchick is referring to the NBA, where players are playing an increasingly public role in social activism. Nearly half of the NBA’s 30 teams are led by black coaches and more than a quarter employ black general managers.
“I don’t think the (NFL) office can do it on its own,” Lapchick said. “The impact will only happen when the athletes themselves speak up and say it matters.”
Corporate America has faced many of the same diversity challenges as the NFL and the same legal issues.
“The NFL is no different from the rest of society,” Lynn said of the 49ers. “Look at the top Fortune 500 companies. How many minority CEOs do you have in this industry compared to ours? Our percentage may be higher.
According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, more than 90% of Fortune 500 presidents and CEOs are white and only 3% are black.
Former Morgan Stanley chief diversity officer Marilyn Booker sued the bank in 2020 for racial discrimination and retaliation. She alleged that the company’s predominantly white executives thwarted her plans to diversify its management structure. The two parties eventually settled out of court.
Last year, five of the biggest banks – JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, US Bancorp and Wells Fargo – agreed to publicly commit to policies that echo the Rooney rule, according to a spokesperson. of the AFL-CIO, which helped secure the deals.
But experts say many of the biggest companies still have a ways to go.
“Many companies engage in these types of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) efforts as a theater of performance art,” said Nicholas Pearce, clinical professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. of Management from Northwestern.
Whether in sports or business, Pearce says an easy way for hiring managers to reduce the effects of implicit bias would be to require more diverse panels to conduct job interviews.
The NFL’s property ranks are overwhelmingly white. Of the league’s 32 teams, the only minorities with a majority stake are Shad Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kim Pegula of the Buffalo Bills, who co-owns the team with her husband, Terry.
Jerod Mayo, a 35-year-old linebackers coach for the New England Patriots, has ambitions to become a head coach one day. And Mayo, who is black, is optimistic that by the time he’s ready, many of the challenges veterans like Lynn, Austin and Flores have faced will be a thing of the past.
“You know, it’s a great day where we don’t need the Rooney rule.”
AP Sports Writers Larry Lage, Kyle Hightower, Aaron Beard, Cliff Brunt, Steve Reed, David Brandt, Greg Beacham, Mark Long, Kristie Rieken, AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Rob Maaddi, AP Newsperson Terry Tang and AP Business Writer Mae Anderson contributed to this report.
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