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National Football League & African American Coaches

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sports
Wordcount: 1318 words Published: 15th Sep 2017

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Jinks A. Arnold III

The Myth for African American Coaches in NFL Lingers On

Many questions over the years have circulated as to why African American coaches don’t get the opportunity to coach in the National Football League (NFL). These questions have seemed to go unanswered and there have been some attempts to answer a few of the question however, still the same results occur between the 32 teams of the NFL as of this year (2017) there are only seven African American head coaches. It seems as though the playing field for hiring black coaches is lopsided, former players are not qualified for any of these positions, assistant coaches which are few if interviewed don’t get hired and finally the history numbers show that African American coaches still ride the back of the bus when it comes to job opportunities in the NFL.

History of National Football League & African American Coaches

For years the history books of the NFL noted Art Shell as the first African American head coach but is that true, the American Professional Football Association was birthed in 1920 which the Hammond Pros was part of this association who was coached by Frederick Douglass Fritz Pollard which was hired as the first African American coach of the league from 1921-1925, he coached four different teams but the NFL treated Fritz Pollard as if he never existed within the league (Braddock, Smith, & Dawkins 2012, pg.714). After the hiring of Fritz Pollard it wasn’t until 64 years later when the Los Angeles Raiders hired Art Shell to be their head coach. The NFL has been in existence for 97 years and from 1921 until 2017 there has only been 24 minority coaches to hold head coaching jobs and out of that number only 16 were African American (Braddock, Smith, & Dawkins 2012, pg.714). The practice of hiring African American coaches has been the topic that has headlined every sport magazine, sport radio and television shows in the United States even with all the news press, Rooney Rule and National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) there is a constant battle to get African American coaches hired.

Is Discrimination the Problem?

The National Football League has been under scrutiny for years for the lack of African American coaches in the sport. Art Rooney owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and diversity committee implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 which is a policy that requires league teams to interview at least one minority candidate for available head coaching and senior football operation jobs. (Fanning, Madden & Ruther, 2010, pg.1). Since this rule was implemented there has only been seventeen minority coaches hired as head coaches in the NFL and after the 2017 season there is only seven African American coaches (Solow, Solow & Walker 2011, pg.6). The NFL has 32 teams and 67% of the athletes are African American (Solow, Solow & Walker 2011, pg.2) yet after retirement they are not hired for head coaching, offensive or defensive coordinator openings, now before jumping to any conclusion the NFL is the umbrella for all 32 teams however, each team has their own hiring practices, the question that continues to surface is why aren’t African American not hired for these head coaching vacancies. .

Why Are There Limited Opportunities?

The National Football League has 32 teams and none of the owners are African American which has a direct effect on the opportunities that may be awarded to African American head coaches. The structure of an NFL coaching staff is made up four levels of coaches which is head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, special teams which each of these positions have assistant also position coaches and quality control assistants (Braddock, Smith, & Dawkins, 2012.pg.715). The NFL uses two resources to give a head coach an opportunity to fill vacancies. The NFL hires from within where they look to employ former head coaches or successful offensive and defensive coordinators but these positions are not awarded to black coaches. Reports show from 2001 through 2009, there were 44 head coach transitions 25 were filled by NFL coordinators and others were filled by former coaches and other positions from the college ranks (Solow, Solow & Walker 2011, pg.6). African American coaches are offered lower level opportunities like running back, wide receiver, defensive back and linebacker coach however, these positions are not covered by the Rooney Rule interview requirement (Fanning Madden & Ruther, 2010,pg. 1) as well as these positions are interchangeable as long as the team is winning these position are secure but usually when the head, offensive and defensive are fired the coaching staff is fired and these not covered by the Rooney Rule interview requirement (Solow, Solow & Walker 2011,pg.1). The other source is National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) where NFL teams seek out coaches but there are very limited opportunities for African American coaches in the NCAA, which leaves African American coaches, still left waiting in the wing for an opportunity.


The Rooney Rule was put in place to force teams to interview minority coaches with stiff penalties if they didn’t adhere to this rule and even with this rule being in place the hiring of African American head coaches is still scarce in the NFL. The final analysis comes down to the fact that the positions that African American players hold in the NFL limits their opportunities to become head coaches and coordinators (Braddock, Smith, & Dawkins, 2012, pg.716). It has be stated that African American coaches must prove they are winners and also valued by personal characteristics before they are offered to a lead coaching position. (Braddock, Smith, & Dawkins, 2012, pg.723). Even with the Rooney Rule and NFLPA in place this will be an ongoing problem for African Americans. This is not because of race or being overlooked it’s a matter of not being qualified to take on a leadership role which requires having knowledge of understanding football strategies and schemes until this changes among African American players they will continue to stand in line and wait for an opportunity.


Braddock, J. H., Smith, E., & Dawkins, M. P. (2012). Race and pathways to power in the national football league. American Behavioral Scientist, 56(5), 711-727. doi:10.1177/0002764211433802

Branham, D. (2008). Taking advantage of an untapped pool: Assessing the success of African American head coaches in the National Football League. Review Of Black Political Economy, 35(4), 129-146. doi:10.1007/s12114-008-9031-1

Evans, H. (2005, July 28). Fritz Pollard, NFLs 1st Black head coach, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. New York Amsterdam News. pp. 40-38.

Fanning Madden, J., & Ruther, M. (2011). Has the NFL’s Rooney Rule efforts ”Leveled the Field” for African American head coach candidates?. Journal Of Sports Economics, 12(2), 127. doi:10.1177/1527002510379641

Proxmire, C.D., (2008). Coaching Diversity: The Rooney Rule, Its Application and Ideas for Expansion Retrieved March 2, 2017 from, https://www.acslaw.org/sites/default/files/Proxmire_Issue_Brief.pdf

Solow, B. L., Solow, J. L., & Walker, T. B. (2011). Moving on up: The Rooney rule and minority hiring in the NFL. Labour Economics, 18(3), 332-337. doi:10.1016/j.labeco.2010.11.010


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