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NFL Head Coach Firing Primer: The League Could Be Facing a Crisis When It Comes to Minority Coaches

Based on the NFL head coaches who are likely to lose their jobs soon, the league could have the fewest number of minority coaches in charge since the pre-Rooney Rule days.

If 2018 follows the recent trends, the end is nigh for four or five more NFL head coaches after this weekend. An average of six-and-a-half coaches have been fired each season for the past four years, and with Cleveland and Green Bay already taking care of business, the rest are soon to follow. 

We’ll get to the hot seat tracker below, but first, a look at a crisis the league may soon be facing in both coaching and personnel decision-makers. The NFL could soon have its fewest black head coaches since the pre-Rooney Rule days. And the outlook is just as grim at general manager.

The 2018 season had eight head coaches of color (seven black and one Hispanic), which tied the mark from ’11 for most ever. If no black coaches are hired during this cycle, the league would go into next season with just two black coaches—the lowest since 2002, two years before the Rooney Rule was instituted.

Hue Jackson, Vance Joseph, Todd Bowles and Steve Wilks all started this season as NFL head coaches. One has already lost his job, and the other three likely won’t have jobs next week—and Marvin Lewis could quite possibly join that group as well. That leaves Anthony Lynn, Mike Tomlin and Ron Rivera as the last minority men standing, and the latter two have warm seats themselves.

The top minority candidates for head-coaching jobs include former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell (who’s already been interviewed for the Packers job), Minnesota defensive coordinator George Edwards, New England defensive coordinator Brian Flores, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Dallas defensive backs coach Kris Richard and—if he’s even interested—Stanford head coach David Shaw. In a league seeing an offensive explosion like never before, there are only two black offensive coordinators: Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich in Arizona, both in their first year.

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This speaks to the miserable job done across the league in building a pipeline of qualified non-white candidates. (There’s also the issue of teams violating the spirit of the Rooney Rule and interviewing a minority for the sake of fulfilling the rule.) When I spoke to the mayor of Pittsburgh this summer about the city’s institution of the Rooney Rule, it was clear he not only wanted to hire a diverse staff but also build a system where diversity was bred from the lower ranks to the top. It’s a concept that has eluded the NFL.

Now take a look at the general manager spots. Reggie McKenzie was pushed out in Oakland, and Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Newsome steps down from his post as soon as the season is complete. That leaves Dolphins GM Chris Grier as the last (black) man standing.

Of the 13 men the NFL’s career development advisory panel recommended (as reported by Pro Football Talk), six are black men: Jerry Reese, McKenzie, Louis Riddick, Martin Mayhew, Will McClay and Doug Williams.

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Without some diverse hires in the coming weeks, NFL teams will be turning back the clock on their most important off-the-field positions.

Now, for your hot seat tracker.

On fire

Vance Joseph, Denver; Todd Bowles, N.Y. Jets; Steve Wilks, Arizona; Joe Philbin*, Green Bay; Gregg Williams*, Cleveland; Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay

Joseph has led the Broncos to consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 46 years in franchise history. (Well, so has executive John Elway, but he’s not going anywhere.) Bowles’s goose has been cooked since that embarrassing home loss to Buffalo against a starting quarterback with less than two weeks’ experience in the system. Arizona hasn’t been shy this month about leaking that it will fire Wilks. Despite Aaron Rodgers saying he likes Philbin and Williams doing almost all he can to earn the job, it’s likely neither man gets the permanent post this winter. And Koetter could (should?) be the fourth Bucs coach since Jon Gruden to not make it to his fourth season in Tampa.

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Heating up

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati

He had the Bengals atop the AFC North five weeks into the season before things fell apart. Cincinnati has been competitive enough since Andy Dalton was placed on IR with a season-ending thumb injury, but it’s another season with no playoff wins for Lewis and the Bengals. It’s been reported Lewis’s two-year extension from last year is actually a one-year deal with a team option for 2019. If Cincinnati’s notoriously thrifty owner Mike Brown decides to go in a different direction in a few weeks, he can do so without paying a coach to not coach his team.


Adam Gase, Miami; Doug Marrone, Jacksonville; Jay Gruden, Washington; Ron Rivera, Carolina; Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh

I’ve listed these coaches in order of warmest to coldest. The future of the Dolphins is totally up in the air, and it doesn’t seem Stephen Ross is letting anyone be privy to his thoughts before the season finale. Might Tom Coughlin descend down the stairs and take over a Jaguars team in need of a disciplinarian? There’s a host of people to blame in Dan Snyder’s organization for the years of ineptitude. Gruden may not be No. 1 on that list, but any time you work for a guy like that, you never know. Rivera is the coach of a team that’s about to become the first in NFL history to start 6–2 and finish 6–10, but all indications from my sources in Charlotte are that first-year owner David Tepper will be patient and give Rivera another shot in 2019. And where’d he learn that patience? From his time in the Steelers’ organization, where Tomlin may miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013 but still has eight 10-or-more-win seasons in his 12 years as head coach.