NFL strikes out on minority coach hiring this season

Kenneth L. Shropshire | 1/31/2013, 9:30 a.m.

My recommendation is for the NFL to spend some time refocusing. At some level the owners involved in hiring during this season need to provide to Commissioner Roger Goodell the answers to the following questions:

1) Why were the available candidates of color not hired?

2) How sincere were the interviews of the people of color you did conduct?

3) What can we take from your experiences to assist in accomplishing the NFL goal of equal opportunity in the hiring of people of color?

The list of candidates of color that are NFL head coaching quality is extensive. Football insiders point to: Lovie Smith, a coach with a Super Bowl appearance under his belt fired by the Bears after missing the playoffs with a 10-6 season; Jim Caldwell, the offensive coordinator at Baltimore and former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, also with a Super Bowl appearance; and Ray Horton, a 19-year NFL assistant who is the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals.

The college ranks had multiple coaches of color ready for the next level as well. They included Kevin Sumlin, twice a finalist for NCAA coach of the year. At Texas A&M his Aggies defeated the national champions, Alabama. The other stellar candidate on that list is Stanford’s David Shaw, who has a made-for-the-NFL résumé at 40 years old with two successful seasons at Stanford as well as NFL experience. He signed a long-term deal with Stanford so there is some validity to discounting him as a viable NFL candidate.

The men hired by NFL teams in this cycle may all be the right people, but the overall outcome is disappointing. Process is a key, and the Rooney Rule imposes inclusion in the process. Now it appears that the NFL needs to dig deeper to capture the success of the past. That is, of course, unless this year was that mere aberration. Is that the lesson, that these types of matters will ebb and flow and some years will be “better” in minority hiring than others? If the formula can be found for sustainable NFL diversity and inclusion success, we should certainly look to tweak that path to success for the rest of society.

Kenneth L. Shropshire is the David W. Hauck Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Faculty Director of its Wharton Sports Business Initiative. He joined the Wharton faculty in 1986 and specializes in sports business and law, sports and social impact, and negotiations. He also practices law as Special Counsel at the global law firm Duane Morris LLP.