FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 13: The NFL logo on the turf at Gillette Stadium prior to the start of the game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

A 10-Year Snapshot of NFL Coaching

What can we say about the NFL’s hiring of coaches of color?

The push for greater representation of coaches of color within the NFL has been well documented, especially since adoption of the Rooney Rule1 in 2003. The Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University, with the help of the Paul Robeson Center at the University of Central Florida, sought to answer this question.

1The Rooney Rule requires teams hiring a head coach to interview at least one person of color.

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Racial Breakdown of NFL Head Coaches – 2009 vs 2019

To start, we looked at the bookends of our snapshot – what was the number of coaches of color and white coaches in the NFL in 2009 and 2019? There were five head coaches of color and 27 white coaches in 2009, and there were four coaches of color and 28 white coaches in 2019. The average number of coaches of color in the NFL per year was 2.23 before 2003 and has increased to 3.76 since 2003. However, the net change is negligible, especially considering the last league expansion to 32 teams (Houston Texans) occurred in 2002, and the previous expansion (Carolina Panthers and Jackson Jaguars) was in 1995.


NFL Head Coach Hires by Former Position

Experience is known to be important in hiring, so we gathered data on prior coaching experience. This figure displays the position the coaches held just before being hired as head coach. “Other” reflects coaches that came from other positions such as special teams or linebackers or quarterbacks coaches.

Our data confirms prior research that found NFL offensive coordinators are the most frequent former positions of hired head coaches, followed in order by NFL defensive coordinators, NFL head coaches (of other clubs), college head coaches, and other positions.

Since 2009, nearly 40% of head coaches hired were former offensive coordinators, and at least 77% of those offensive coordinators each season were white. Another 29% of the head coaches hired had previous head coaching experience.


Racial Breakdown of NFL Head Coach New Hires by Former Position

There is a large discrepancy between numbers of white coaches and coaches of color, and offensive coordinator is the most common path to head coach. In the decade we covered, 91% of offensive coordinator hires were white. These tables dig deeper to look at position just prior to being hired as head coach for white coaches and coaches of color, between 2009 and 2019.

Coaches of Color Prior Position
NFL Head Coach 8.3%
NFL Offensive Coordinator 33.3%
NFL Defensive Coordinator 50.0%
NFL Linebackers Coach 8.3%

White Coaches Prior Position
NFL Head Coach 29.5%
NFL Offensive Coordinator 43.2%
NFL Defensive Coordinator 20.5%
College Head Coach 6.8%

Head coaches of color (12) were most commonly NFL defensive coordinators (6), followed by offensive coordinators (4) head coach of another club (1), and a linebackers coach (1).

White coaches (44) were most often offensive coordinators (19), followed by NFL coaches at other clubs (13), defensive coordinators (9), and college head coaches (3).


The Playing Experience of NFL Head Coaches by Race

Playing experience is another relevant factor in hiring coaches. Below, we show the previous football playing experience of NFL head coaches. All coaches of color (12) or 100% had previous playing experience at the college or professional level, and 46% played in the NFL. Among white coaches (44), 91% played at the college or professional level, and 32% played in the NFL.

Coaches of Color Highest Playing Level
No Post-High School 0%
NFL 41.7%
College 50.0%
Other League 8.3%

Coaches of Color Highest Playing Level
No Post-High School 9.1%
NFL 22.7%
College 59.1%
Other League 9.1%


Hiring Age of NFL Head Coaches, Offensive Coordinators, and Defensive Coordinators

As a trend, clubs hiring younger head coaches, but newly hired coaches of color were older on average (51.4 vs. 48.4), and the majority of coaches under 40 were former offensive coordinators and white.

Head Coaches
White 48.4%
Coaches of Color 51.2%

Head Coaches Under 40
White 86.0%
Coaches of Color 14.0%

Newly hired white coaches were found on both ends of the age curve; Dick LeBeau (DC) was the oldest newly hired coach at 77, and Sean McVay (at 31) was tapped by the Los Angeles Rams.2 Head coach positions on average had a narrower hiring age range – typically between 40-59 years old. Only three 60+ coaches (Bruce Arians, Romeo Crennel, and Vic Fangio) were hired in the decade we covered. Newly hired defensive coordinators were older, on average, but in this position, coaches of color were hired younger on average. Offensive coordinators had a wider age range with many younger coaches, who were often former quarterback coaches. Figure 5 shows the average age of hires at head coach. It also shows summaries for hires of these positions under 40 years old.

2Sean McVay was the youngest hired offensive coordinator at age 28.


Racial Breakdown of New-Hire NFL Head Coaches

Playing experience is another relevant factor in hiring coaches. Below, we show the previous football playing experience of NFL head coaches. All coaches of color (12) or 100% had previous playing experience at the college or professional level, and 46% played in the NFL. Among white coaches (44), 91% played at the college or professional level, and 32% played in the NFL.


Historical Record of Diversity in Head Coach Hiring by NFL Clubs

This chart shows each NFL club’s record of hiring head coaches of color within their franchise history in the modern NFL era. Oakland and Tampa Bay have each hired three coaches of color. No team in the NFL has hired consecutive coaches of color, and 12 (37.5%) of the clubs have not hired a permanent coach of color (Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Dallas, Houston, Jacksonville, Los Angeles Rams, New England, New Orleans, New York Giants, Tennessee, and Washington– Atlanta, Buffalo, and Washington have had interim head coaches of color). From 2009-2019 four of those twelve clubs have had one coach tenured at least nine years, which reduces the likelihood of new hires of any race.

Teams Coaches of Color Coaching Tenure Outliers
Arizona Cardinals Dennis Green 2004-06
Steve Wilks 2018
Atlanta Falcons
Baltimore Ravens John Harbaugh 2008-
Buffalo Bills
Carolina Panthers Ron Rivera 2011-19
Chicago Bears Lovie Smith 2004-12
Cincinnati Bengals Marvin Lewis 2003-18
Cleveland Browns Romeo Crennel 2005-08
Hue Jackson 2016-18
Dallas Cowboys Jason Garrett 2011-
Denver Broncos Vance Joseph 2017-18
Detroit Lions Jim Caldwell 2014-17
Green Bay Packers Ray Rhodes 1999 Mike McCarthy 2006-18
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts Tony Dungy 2002-08
Jim Caldwell 2009-11
Jacksonville Jaguars
Kansas City Chiefs Herm Edwards 2006-08
Romeo Crennel 2011-12
Los Angeles Chargers Anthony Lynn 2017-
Los Angeles Rams
Miami Dolphins
Minnesota Vikings Dennis Green 1992-2001
Leslie Frazier 2011-13
New England Patriots Bill Belichick 2000-
New Orleans Saints Sean Payton 2006-
New York Giants
New York Jets Herm Edwards 2001-05
Todd Bowles 2015-18
Oakland Raiders Tom Flores 1979-87
Art Shell 1989-94, 2006
Hue Jackson 2011
Philadelphia Eagles Ray Rhodes 1995-98
Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Tomlin 2007-
San Francisco 49ers Mike Singletary 2009-10
Seattle Seahawks Tom Flores 1992-94
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tony Dungy 1996-01
Raheem Morris 2009-11
Lovie Smith 2014-15
Tennessee Titans
Washington Redskins

Racial Breakdown of NFL Offensive Coordinators – 2009 vs. 2019

We also examined the pipeline feeding head coaching positions. Most often, the previous position of a newly hired head coach is NFL offensive coordinator, followed by defensive coordinator. There were two offensive coordinators of color in the NFL to start the 2019 season (one per conference). The figures below show all of the NFL offensive coordinators broken down by race in both percentage and total number, in 2009 and 2019. In 2009 there were three offensive coordinators of color (all African American) and 29 white offensive coordinators. At the end of 2018-2019 there were one offensive coordinators of color ( African American) and 30 white offensive coordinators.

NFL Offensive Coordinators by Race, 2009

NFL Offensive Coordinators by Race, 2009


Racial Breakdown of NFL Defensive Coordinators – 2009 vs. 2019

These figures show NFL defensive coordinators broken down by race in both percentage and total number. There are three more coaches of color in defensive coordinator positions in 2019 compared with 2009.

NFL Defensive Coordinators by Race, 2009

NFL Defensive Coordinators by Race, 2019


Racial Breakdown of New-Hire NFL Offensive Coordinators and Defensive Coordinators

This figure reflects the newly hired offensive coordinators per season broken down by race. For each season with coaching changes, the percentages reflect the number who were white and who were coaches of color. At least 77% of hired offensive coordinators each season were white.

Racial/Ethnic Breakdown of NFL New-Hire Offensive Coordinators

Note: In this figure, all coaches of color were African American

 

Racial/Ethnic Breakdown of NFL New-Hire Defensive Coordinators

Ages of New Hires of Offensive and Defensive Coordinators Broken Down by Race

This figure shows the average age of hires at defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator positions. Overall, white head coaches and offensive coordinators are hired at younger ages than coaches of color. Defensive coordinators are hired at older ages on average than head coaches and offensive coordinators. Newly hired defensive coordinators of color are younger, on average, than white defensive coordinators. Offensive coordinators have a wider hiring age range with many younger coaches.

Hiring Age of New-Hire Defensive Coordinators
Defensive Coordinator Average Age DC Under 40 Frequency Percent
White DC 51 White DC 9 69%
DC of Color 48 DC of Color 4 31%
Total Average Age 50 Total 13 100%
Hiring Age of New-Hire Offensive Coordinators
Offensive Coordinator Average Age OC Under 40 Frequency Percent
White OC 45 White OC 43 93%
OC of Color 45 OC of Color 3 7%
Total Average Age 45 Total 46 100%

Changes in NFL Offensive Coordinators and Defensive Coordinators of Color

Since the start of the 2009-2010 season, there have been thirteen coaches of color that left offensive coordinator positions and ten coaches of color hired as offensive coordinators. This figure represents the hiring and resignation or firing of offensive coordinators of color each year. The blue represents the number of offensive coordinators of color who resigned or were fired that year. The orange is the number of hired offensive coordinators of color that year.

Changes in Offensive Coordinators of Color in the NFL

The defensive side looks different: thirty-four coaches of color have left defensive coordinator positions, and thirty-seven new defensive coordinators of color have been hired since the start of the 2009-2010 season. Below displays the hiring and resignation or firing of Defensive Coordinators of color each year. The blue represents the number of defensive coordinators of color who resigned or were fired that year. The orange represents the number of hired defensive coordinators of color that year.

Changes in Defensive Coordinators of Color in the NFL


Next Positions for Outgoing NFL Head Coaches

Where do head coaches land after leaving their job? This is important to understanding how or whether they re-enter the applicant pool and their potential for a second chance at being a head coach.

The next positions for outgoing head coaches of color were less varied compared to outgoing white head coaches. Outgoing head coaches of color most often became NFL defensive coordinators (36%). Outgoing white head coaches most often became defensive coordinators (22%), offensive coordinators (21%), and head coaches of other NFL clubs (14%). Exiting white head coaches were hired for other NFL head coaching positions at twice the rate of coaches of color (14.3% vs. 7.1%). They also went on to offensive coordinator positions in the NFL at nearly three times the rate of coaches of color (20.6% vs. 7.1%). In the last ten years, one outgoing head coach of color has gone on to another head coaching position, compared to nine white head coaches.

*We acknowledge that some coaches go into/back into broadcasting but we didn’t include this as a measure of relevant job experience.

HC NFL 7.1%
HC NCAA 7.1%
OC NFL 7.1%
DC NFL 35.7%
Asst. HC NFL 14.3%
Special Clubs 7.1%
Specian Adv. 14.3%
DB Coach 7.1%

None 11.1%
HC HFL 14.3%
HC NCAA 3.2%
OC NFL 20.6%
DC NFL 22.2%
DC NCAA 1.6%
Asst. HC NFL 9.5%
QB Coach 1.6%
Special s 1.6%
HC Canada 9.5%
TE Coach 1.6%
DB Coach 3.2%

As we come back to the beginning of the cycle, it is important to remember that coaches with an offensive background are more likely to obtain head coaching positions than coaches with a defensive background, and coaches of color are disproportionately defensive coaches.

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