What can we say about the NFL’s hiring of coaches of color?
See the most updated version of this Field Study that includes data ranging from 2003, at the inception of the Rooney Rule.
The push for greater representation of coaches of color within the NFL has been well documented, especially since adoption of the Rooney Rule 1 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.
*December 2020 Update:
As an update to these analyses, we examined the coach hiring and firing data from the 2019-20 NFL season. Overall, the patterns described in the original study did not change with the additional season’s data. In the 2019-20 season, there was one outgoing head coach of color and three outgoing white head coaches. It is noteworthy that Ron Rivera, who was fired by the Carolina Panthers, was subsequently hired by the Washington Football Team for the 2020-21 season. This is an atypical example of a head coach of color getting a “second chance.” This second chance for a head coach of color was not observed in any of the ten seasons included in the original data set.
Also maintaining the patterns of the original study were the main pipelines for head coaches, namely offensive coordinator (OC) and defensive coordinator (DC) positions. Of the 12 open OC positions, none were filled with an OC of color and one position was left unfilled. Of the 13 open DC positions, four were filled with a DC of color, resulting in a net loss of one DC of color. Greater opportunity for coaches of color in the DC position compared to the OC position was also observed in the original data set.
1 The Rooney Rule requires teams hiring a head coach to interview at least one person of color.
Racial Breakdown of NFL Head Coaches – 2009 vs 2020*
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.
*This chart reflects the December 2020 update which includes the 2019-20 season.
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 or in some other professional league.
Coaches of Color Highest Playing Level
|No Post-High School||0%|
White Coaches Highest Playing Level
|No Post-High School||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.
|Coaches of Color||51.2%|
Head Coaches Under 40
|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.
2 Sean 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 2009-19 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|
Dennis Green 2004-06
Steve Wilks 2018
|Baltimore Ravens||John Harbaugh 2008-|
|Carolina Panthers||Ron Rivera 2011-19|
|Chicago Bears||Lovie Smith 2004-12|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Marvin Lewis 2003-18|
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|
Tony Dungy 2002-08
Jim Caldwell 2009-11
|Kansas City Chiefs||
Herm Edwards 2006-08
Romeo Crennel 2011-12
|Los Angeles Chargers||Anthony Lynn 2017-|
|Los Angeles Rams|
|Miami Dolphins||Brian Flores 2019-|
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
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
|Washington Football Team|
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 2018-19 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, 2019
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 2009-10 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 2009-10 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.
|Asst. HC NFL||14.3%|
|Asst. HC NFL||9.5%|
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.
Tom Fears (LA Rams) was the first Latino American head coach in the NFL (1967), and Joe Kapp was the first Latino NCAA Division 1-A coach at a predominantly white program (1982), University of California-Berkeley. Tom Flores (Oakland Raiders) was the first Latino and coach of color in the modern NFL era (after the 1970 NFL-AFL merger). Art Shell (LA Raiders) became the first African American head coach in the modern era (1989), and Willie Jeffries was the first African American NCAA Division 1-A coach at a predominantly white program, Wichita State (1979).
Rather than exploring the question in the snapshot of a single year, we examined this issue with an in-depth approach. We analyzed who was hired and fired and looked for patterns over a ten-year window, from the 2009-10 NFL season through the 2018-19 season (including the firing/hiring period in early 2019). The data below is not exhaustive, and we will continue to build on this research, searching for more patterns and additional questions. The number of total cases (of coaches in this decade) is not sufficient to make reliable correlations or to use strong statistical measures. The purpose of sharing these findings is to offer data, and this report does not extrapolate on how or why these trends are occurring.
There were two phases of this initial round of research. The first was data collection and analysis done by the Paul Robeson Research Center for Innovative Academic and Athletic Prowess (PRRC). This was followed by an analysis of the PRRC data, as well as a secondary data collection and analysis that considered both data collections by the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University.
PRRC, under the direction of Dr. C. Keith Harrison, compiled data from all changes at head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator levels in the NFL. The data includes information on the race/ethnicity of both fired and hired coaches, prior coaching positions, and future coaching positions (in the case of the coach leaving the position).
The Global Sport Institute added age, playing experience, and basic descriptive statistics. It is our goal to show trends, and in future steps, provide potential explanations and discussion points for next steps in terms of research and considerations for sustainable change. We see these findings as supplementary and complementary to the important and groundbreaking Race and Gender Report Cards, produced by Richard Lapchick and The Institute for Diversity and Equity in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.
All figures are as of August 2019, prior to the start of the 2019-20 NFL season, in order to capture firing and hiring outcomes of the 2018-19 season. Figures do not represent anything that occurred during the 2019-20 season. For example this does not include mid-season firings or firing made on this 2019 Black Monday.
The number of head coaches of color has gone up and down over the years since the Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003. In the last decade, 14 coaches of color left head coaching positions, and 12 were hired. In 2009 there were seven African American head coaches in the NFL (a record number). Before the start of the current season, there were three African American head coaches. In the 2018-19 season, five African American head coaches were released, and one was hired. However, these numbers do not tell the full story.
In general, using the terms “coaches of color” or “minority” is problematic because the hiring patterns are very different between non-white coaches when we look deeper. Based on the data, there are no trends for Latino-, Native-, or Asian and Pacific Islander – American coaches because there has been one or zero of each. There were no Latino American head coaches in 2009, and there are none today, but there was one from 2011 – 2019. There are no Native American or Asian and Pacific Islander American coaches, nor have there been in the history of the league.
Overall, head coaches of color are hired at older ages, have more significant and relevant playing experience, and do not receive equivalent “second chances” – when an African American head coach has been fired in the NFL, it has been more difficult for them, as compared to white and Latino American coaches, to obtain another head coaching position at the same level.
Point 1 shows the big picture of NFL head coaches broken down by race for every season from 2009-10 through 2018-19 (including post-season coaching changes). Points 2 – 14 show factors that contribute or offer context to this big picture. Several factors involve offensive and defensive coordinator positions, which head coaches often hold before and after their head coach stints. Other factors include football playing experience, age when hired, franchise hiring histories, and new hire data.
Update December 2020: As an update to these analyses, we examined the coach hiring and firing data from the 2019-20 NFL season. Overall, the patterns described in the original study did not change with the additional season’s data. In the 2019-20 season, there was one outgoing head coach of color and three outgoing white head coaches. It is noteworthy that Ron Rivera, who was fired by the Carolina Panthers, was subsequently hired by the Washington Football Team for the 2020-21 season. This is an atypical example of a head coach of color getting a “second chance.”
This second chance for a head coach of color was not observed in any of the ten seasons included in the original data set. Also maintaining the patterns of the original study were the main pipelines for head coaches, namely offensive coordinator (OC) and defensive coordinator (DC) positions. Of the 12 open OC positions, none were filled with an OC of color and one position was left unfilled. Of the 13 open DC positions, four were filled with a DC of color, resulting in a net loss of one DC of color. Greater opportunity for coaches of color in the DC position compared to the OC position was also observed in the original data set.