PALM BEACH, Fla. -- All 32 NFL teams will hire a minority offensive assistant coach for the 2022 season, part of a series of policy enhancements announced Monday to address the league's ongoing diversity efforts.
The coach can be "a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority," according to the policy adopted by NFL owners during their annual meeting, and will be paid from a league-wide fund. The coach must work closely with the head coach and the offensive staff, with the goal of increasing minority participation in the pool of offensive coaches that eventually produces the most sought-after candidates for head-coaching positions.
"It's a recognition that at the moment, when you look at stepping stones for a head coach, they are the coordinator positions," said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, the chairman of the NFL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. "We clearly have a trend where coaches are coming from the offensive side of the ball in recent years, and we clearly do not have as many minorities in the offensive coordinator [job]."
Some teams already have a coach or coaches in similar assistant roles, which will count toward the program, NFL chief administrative officer Dasha Smith said. But the requirement for all teams represents the first hiring mandate in the history of the Rooney Rule, named after Art Rooney's father and designed to elevate minority hiring at all levels of the league.
There has been progress in some areas, most notably with general managers and defensive coordinators, but there are only five minority head coaches in the league. Commissioner Roger Goodell said in February that the league "fell short" of its goals during the 2022 head coach hiring cycle and pledged to redouble efforts this offseason.
In addition to the offensive assistant coach mandate, the league also:
• Added women to the language of the Rooney Rule at all levels. It will now read that women and/or people of color can satisfy the requirement to interview two external minorities for top positions, including head coach. Women are not required to be interviewed, but they are now included in the fulfillment process. It is possible that a team could interview two white women for an open head coach position to satisfy the Rooney Rule, and then make a hire without ever interviewing a person of color. But from a practical standpoint, Rooney said, that is unlikely.
"The truth of the matter is that as of today, at least, there aren't many women in the pool in terms of head coach," Rooney said. "We hope that is going to change over the years, but for that reason we didn't see it as inhibiting the number of interviews for racial minorities at this point in time. Obviously, we can address that as time goes on, but for now we didn't see that as an issue.
"Really, we are looking at probably the early stages of women entering the coaching ranks, so we may be a little ways away before that becomes a problem."
• Publicized a mission statement to encourage and attract diverse members of prospective ownership groups. The statement read in part: "The membership will regard it as a positive and meaningful factor if the group includes diverse individuals who would have a significant equity stake in and involvement with the club, including serving as the controlling owner of the club."
The statement does not require minority participation in ownership groups. The Denver Broncos will be the first test case. They are in the midst of evaluating interested investors for their sale process. Rooney said it was his understanding that several of the groups had minority participation.
• Announced a Diversity Advisory Committee, part of Goodell's pledge to invite outside experts to evaluate the league's diversity. Among its six members is former Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith. It also includes former New Jersey attorney general Peter Harvey and Pamela Carlton, the founder and president of Springboard.
Goodell had raised the possibility of eliminating the Rooney Rule entirely and starting over, but Dasha Smith said it remains effective in multiple areas.
"It has been very helpful to our diversity efforts overall," she said. "While we haven't seen the results we want to certainly with the head-coach position, we have this season seen results that showed progress, particularly in the defensive coordinator roles."
A league-record 15 minorities are among the NFL's defensive coordinators for 2022, according to league data. Overall, minority coaches now make up 39% of the league total, up from 35% in 2021. There are also a league-record 12 women on coaching staffs.