To ensure more opportunities for diverse candidates, the NFL has added requirements on the hiring of offensive assistant coaches, and women in general.
The moves announced Monday at the owners meeting include adjustments to the Rooney Rule adopted in 2003 and amended frequently in attempts to enhance opportunities for people of color and women for nearly all league and team jobs.
Beginning this season, all 32 clubs must employ a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority to serve as an offensive assistant coach. The person will receive a one-year contract and work closely with the head coach and offensive staff to gain experience.
In recent years, head coaches have predominantly had offensive backgrounds. The pipeline for minorities on that side of the ball is lacking, as Steelers owner Art Rooney II reiterated Monday.
"We recognize we have seen progress on some fronts," said Rooney, chairman of the league's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, "but we still have a way to go on other fronts."
The NFL saw an increase in the number of people of color in all coaching positions from 35% in the 2020 season to 39% last season. There was an all-time-high increase in defensive coordinators to 15, up by two; an increase in minority GMs (from five to seven), and assistant GMs (from three to six).
Overall, including women in all Rooney Rule requirements is designed to address under-representation of women in key football positions. The league believes this will "encourage the further identification and development of women candidates and the ability to provide them additional opportunity to interview for open positions."
A total of 12 women coaches at the start of the 2021 season was an all-time high.
The league also released a resolution to increase diversity ownership of franchises, and created a diversity advisory committee that includes Peter Harvey, a former attorney general of New Jersey; Rick Smith, a former general manager of the Houston Texans; and Don Thompson, former president and CEO of McDonald’s Corporation.
Early Monday, Mike Tomlin said he did not hire Brian Flores as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers out of sympathy for the former Miami Dolphins head coach.
Tomlin, who like Flores is African American, did so because Flores is "a good coach." That Flores had sued the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, Giants and Broncos — claiming racist hiring practices, did not dissuade the long-time Steelers coach in any way, Tomlin said.
A member of the league’s powerful competition committee and one of the most influential coaches in the sport, Tomlin spoke strongly about the lack of minority head coaches in the NFL. He, Houston’s Lovie Smith, Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who is biracial, the Jets’ Robert Saleh and the Commanders’ Ron Rivera are the five minority head coaches among the 32 teams. About 70% of the players are Black.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.