When the Rooney Rule, the
NFL’s hiring policy
requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head
coaching positions, was adopted in December 2002 it was in response to
two things: 1.) the firings of prominent Black head coaches Tony Dungy
of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings,
and 2.) the continued dire prospects for other Black men attempting to
become, or remain, head coaches in the league.
Civil rights attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran blasted the
league for its substandard treatment of Black coaching candidates, first
through a research study that found a discrepancy between how Black and
white coaches were hired and fired, and later with Cochran threatening
to sue the NFL for discriminatory hiring practices by the league. Facing
a possible lawsuit, the league suddenly became interested in a more
diverse and equitable hiring policy. In addition to head coaching
Rooney Rule was eventually expanded
to include coordinators and front office positions.
The policy still has its faults.
Aside from sham interviews and violations of the spirit of the rule,
qualified Black candidates lose out on head coach jobs to white
candidates with lesser credentials or experience. Hiring is subjective,
but it still appears there is discrimination against Black coaches based
Andscape removed race from the equation. Below is a head-to-head
comparison of anonymous coaching candidates based solely on performance
and background. Each pair of candidates was up for the same job in a
respective year for jobs open from 2014 to 2023. Scroll through each
candidate pair to find out who was chosen for the job.
Black coaches hired
1920 – 2002
Black coaches hired
2003 – 2023
Head Coaching Tenure Since 2014
Which coach offered stability?
|50||Season win %||69|
|10th||Season unit rank||3rd|
|26||Years as coach||24|
Hired by 49ers, 2014
Jim Tomsula offered the San Francisco 49ers experience (his first
coaching job was in 1989) and stability (he was the team’s
defensive line coach the previous nine years and served as interim
head coach for a game in 2010), but Teryl Austin turned the Lions
into a top-3 defense in his first season as D-coordinator. Turns
out there’s more to coaching than stability: The Niners had the
lowest-scoring offense, went 5-11 and Tomsula was canned after
just one season.
record after only one
season as head coach
Which Type of Coordinator Was Hired?
|69||Season win %||75|
|6th||Season unit rank||16th|
|17||Years as coach||18|
Hired by Raiders, 2014
There’s no downplaying Jack Del Rio’s résumé: He coached the Baltimore Ravens’ linebackers when Ray Lewis & Co. ran the league and helped turn the Denver Broncos’ defense into a top-5 unit starting in 2012. While the Oakland Raiders had the worst defense in the league in 2014, their offense was just as bad, and Pep Hamilton was just coming off a season as the Indianapolis Colts’ O-coordinator, where quarterback Andrew Luck had one of the best seasons of his career (4,761 passing yards, 40 touchdowns). Del Rio won double-digit games in just one season and was fired in 2017.
Only winning season
as Raiders head coach
Who landed this AFC East job?
|38||Season win %||44|
|23rd||Season unit rank||23rd|
|16||Years as coach||25|
Hired by Dolphins, 2015
The Miami Dolphins made Adam Gase the youngest head coach in the
league (age 37) after he worked with Jay Cutler in 2015, with the
quarterback throwing 11 interceptions and 21 touchdowns. Gase was
the Denver Broncos’ O-coordinator when Peyton Manning threw 55
touchdowns in 2014. Teryl Austin’s unit with the Detroit Lions
declined from third to 23rd in 2015, which was the same ranking of
Gase’s unit with the Chicago Bears. Gase never repeated his
previous success, and was fired three seasons later in 2018 by
Miami after going 23-25.
total seasons as
Dolphins head coach
Which D-coordinator was chosen?
|81||Season win %||56|
|5th||Season unit rank||21st|
|20||Years as coach||27|
Hired by Lions, 2017
Matt Patricia had the benefit of being a branch on the Bill
Belichick coaching tree, but as New England Patriots D-coordinator
from 2012 to 2017, his units never ranked outside of the top 10,
won two Super Bowls and appeared in a third during that time
frame. Most of Belichick’s assistants haven’t panned out as head
coaches, however, including Patricia, who was fired after a
13-29-1 record across parts of three seasons in Detroit. After a
three-year hiatus as a D-coordinator, Austin returned in 2022 with
the Pittsburgh Steelers and his unit finished 10th.
record in three seasons
as Lions head coach
Which former head coach was hired?
|69||Season win %||81|
|11th||Season unit rank||10th|
|23||Years as coach||28|
Hired by Giants, 2017
Pat Shurmur was named assistant coach of the year in 2017 for his
work as the Minnesota Vikings O-coordinator in getting a Case
Keenum-led offense to the NFC Championship Game. That same
offense, however, scored zero points in the final 54 minutes of
that title game. Shurmur had an opportunity as a head coach in the
past, winning just nine games in two seasons with the Cleveland
Browns from 2011 to 2012. Steve Wilks, who ended up being hired as
head coach by the Arizona Cardinals, was the assistant head coach
and DB coach for the NFC champion Carolina Panthers in 2015 and
was the D-coordinator for a unit ranked 11th in 2017.
named assistant coach
of the year under Vikings
Who did this NFC West team hire?
|31||Season win %||42|
|25th||Season unit rank||16th *|
|43||Years as coach||11|
Hired by Cardinals, 2018
Kliff Kingsbury was fired as head coach of Texas Tech in November
2018, hired as USC O-coordinator a month later, and then hired by
the Arizona Cardinals to be their top guy another month after
that. Kingsbury won just 16 games in three seasons with Patrick
Mahomes as his quarterback in Lubbock, Texas. Jim Caldwell had
nearly half a century of coaching experience, won 14 games and the
AFC championship in his first season as Indianapolis Colts head
coach in 2009, and had a winning record with the Lions from 2014
to 2017. Kingsbury was fired in January.
Record with Kingsbury
in final year as head coach
Who did the Jets choose?
|44||Season win %||31|
|26th||Season unit rank||25th|
|19||Years as coach||43|
Hired by Jets, 2018
No matter his 23-25 record with the Miami Dolphins the previous
three seasons, the New York Jets hired Adam Gase to replace Todd
Bowles. Gase had Miami offenses that finished 18th, 29th and 27th
in points per game during his tenure. Jim Caldwell was fired after
barely missing the playoffs in 2014 and 2016 and making it in
2017, which a Detroit Lions coach had done only once since 2000.
record as Jets head coach
Who was promoted by the Browns?
|44||Season win %||31|
|20th||Season unit rank||25th|
|20||Years as coach||43|
Hired by Browns, 2018
Freddie Kitchens was bumped up from assistant head coach/RB coach
to interim O-coordinator to head coach in less than three months
after being credited for the development of quarterback Baker
Mayfield, the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick, who threw for a
rookie-record 27 touchdown passes. When Kitchens was hired, he
asked, “Who the hell is ready to be a head coach?” He was fired
after one 6-10 season.
record after one season
as Browns head coach
Which O-coordinator was hired in 2019?
|75||Season win %||63|
|5th||Season unit rank||8th|
|19||Years as coach||14|
Hired by Browns, 2019
After 13 years as a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach, Kevin
Stefanski was promoted to O-coordinator in 2019, leading the
eighth-ranked unit in the league. That offense sputtered in the
playoffs, though, managing just 147 total yards in a 27-10 loss to
the San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, in two seasons as the Kansas
City Chiefs’ O-coordinator, Eric Bieniemy’s units finished first
and fifth, the team went to back-to-back conference championships,
and Patrick Mahomes won the MVP award. Stefanski has finished
under .500 twice in three seasons.
Stefanski’s end of season
in two of three seasons
Who did the Giants hire?
|75||Season win %||75|
|N/A||Season unit rank||5th|
|15||Years as coach||19|
Hired by Giants, 2019
Joe Judge had been a special teams coordinator for five seasons
with the New England Patriots before being hired as head coach of
the New York Giants in 2020, having spent the previous 10 years as
a combination of graduate assistant, special teams assistant and
LB coach (at Division III Birmingham-Southern). What Judge lacked
in experience, he more than made up for in proximity: he coached
under both Belichick and Alabama’s Nick Saban. Judge lasted just
two seasons, winning just 10 games.
games won in two seasons
as Giants head coach
Which candidate was chosen by the Falcons?
|69||Season win %||37|
|4th||Season unit rank||19th|
|14||Years as coach||23|
Hired by Falcons, 2020
Raheem Morris had the advantage of previous head coaching
experience (Tampa Bay, 2009-11) and familiarity with the
franchise: He served as interim head coach the season before,
going 4-7 in 11 games. But team owner Arthur Blank said when
Morris was promoted that he’d “certainly” be a candidate for the
job if he went 11-0. So, instead, the Atlanta Falcons hired Arthur
Smith, whose offense, led by running back Derrick Henry, ranked
fourth in 2020. The Falcons have finished 7-10 in back-to-back
seasons under Smith.
record in back-to-back
seasons as head coach
Who was hired for this 2020 opening?
|38||Season win %||75|
|30th||Season unit rank||5th|
|38||Years as coach||13|
Hired by Lions, 2020
Dan Campbell never worked as a coordinator before being hired as
the Detroit Lions’ head coach, though he served as the Miami
Dolphins’ interim coach for 12 games (5-7 record) in 2015. An ESPN
report of Campbell’s hiring said that the former 10-year pro was
not considered an “X’s-and-O’s guru,” compared with Marvin Lewis,
who had nearly 40 years of coaching experience, including 16 years
as the Bengals head coach from 2003 to 2018, appearing in the
playoffs seven times. Campbell won nine games in 2022, the Lions’
first winning season since 2017.
Lions’ first winning
season since 2017
Which coaching veteran was hired?
|53||Season win %||65|
|9th||Season unit rank||1st|
|30||Years as coach||33|
Hired by Bears, 2021
The Chicago Bears hired a coach with a top-10 defense in his
recent path, at least 30 years of coaching experience, and at
least 12 years as a coordinator. But that choice wasn’t Leslie
Frazier, who was a head coach in the past (Buffalo, 2010-13),
played five seasons in the NFL, and whose unit in Buffalo the
previous season was tops in the league. Matt Eberflus, whose
defenses with the Indianapolis Colts ranked in the top 10 in three
of his four seasons as D-coordinator, went 3-14 in his first
season with Chicago last season, allowing the most points in the
record in first season
as Bears’ head coach
Which O-coordinator did the Colts chose?
|82||Season win %||82|
|1st||Season unit rank||3rd|
|22||Years as coach||13|
Hired by Colts, 2022
In just two seasons as Philadelphia Eagles O-coordinator, Shane
Steichen took a unit that ranked 26th in the league in 2020 and
turned it into the third-best offense in the league last season.
Along the way, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts went from completing
52% of his passes with a 2.7% interception rate to 66.5% and 1.3%,
respectively. It just so happens that Eric Bieniemy has led a
top-5 offense in his five seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs
O-coordinator, complete with three Super Bowl appearances (two
wins) and two MVP awards for his quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
Offensive line ranking
So, how do we fix this problem?
When Mehri and Cochran presented their study findings to the league in
2002, they recommended what they called a “Fair Competition Resolution.”
The policy comprised three elements:
Reward one or more teams per year with a draft pick for implementing
hiring practices that encourage diversity in decision-maker
Require teams to interview a “racially diverse” slate of candidates
for head coach, assistant and coordinator jobs.
Risk a first- or third-round draft pick for not complying with the
The NFL would eventually implement components of the first and second
elements, but the league and its teams have consistently avoided
removing draft picks for circumvention of the rule.
After two decades of revisions to the rule and the success of Black
coaches in that timeframe (Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has won
a Super Bowl and has never had a losing season since being hired in
2007), maybe the threat of punishment is the only viable option to give
non-white coaches the opportunity to get the top job.
Written by Martenzie Johnson. Edited by Erik Horne. Project managed by
Produced by ESPN Creative Studio: Dominique DeMoe, Jarret Gabel, Sean
Hintz, David Ibarra, Luke Knox, Nathan Nye, Daniel Pellegrino, Garrett
Photography credits: AP, Getty Images