The National Football League announced a new rule on Monday that requires all 32 teams to hire an offensive coach who is "a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority" for the 2022 season.
Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, the chairman of the NFL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, said on Monday that the rule is designed to increase opportunities for women and people of color to get hired in top positions because offensive coordinator jobs have been “stepping stones” to top positions in the league, including head coach.
“We clearly do not have as many minorities in the offensive coordinator [job],” Rooney said.
“It’s really an effort to try to bring more talented minority coaches to the offensive side of the ball, both within the league and hopefully attract those talented individuals from the college ranks,” he added.
NFL chief administrative officer Dasha Smith said teams that already have a woman or a person of color in similar roles will count towards that policy, ESPN reported.
The new policy is part of a series of moves designed to boost the league’s diversity amid criticism that the league’s efforts over the past few years have fallen flat.
Since 2003, NFL teams have been required to interview at least two minority candidates when hiring for prominent positions through a policy known as the Rooney Rule. But the policy was newly expanded to include women “on all levels,” according to ESPN.
The rule does not require that the female candidates interviewed be women of color, so a team could potentially interview two white female candidates to meet the requirement.
Rooney said that since women are in the "early stages” of entering the coaching ranks, it “may be a little ways away” before including women to the definition of “minority” candidates could hinder opportunities for people of color.
"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," he said, according to ESPN. "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.”
In addition to the hiring mandate, The NFL announced on Monday the formation of a new diversity advisory committee to review club hiring policies and issued a statement from the 32 teams addressing efforts to diversify club ownership.
“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 said.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo last month, saying that the results of the NFL’s efforts to diversify the coaching staff are "unacceptable."
"We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs which have produced positive change in many areas, however we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches the results have been unacceptable,” Goodell said in the Feb. 5 memo. “We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines and initiatives relating to diversity, equity and inclusions."
The memo also acknowledged concerns expressed by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who announced on Feb. 1 that he is suing the NFL over alleged racial discrimination after being fired in January, despite an 8-1 finish to the season.
Flores was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers last month as their senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach for next season, but has vowed to continue his lawsuit against the NFL in which he alleges that the league has a history of racist hiring practices, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black head coaches.
Goodell said the NFL understands Flores’ concerns and as “the legal process moves forward, we will not wait to reassess and modify our strategies to ensure that they are consistent with our values and longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
But in its initial response to Flores’ lawsuit, the NFL said in a Feb. 1 statement that “diversity is core to everything we do” and claimed that his allegations are “without merit.”
In a league where players are more than 70% Black, there are only two minority owners and only five minority head coaches, including two Black head coaches – the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Houston Texans’ Lovie Smith.
Tomlin, who has been outspoken on the NFL’s lack of diversity, expressed doubt at an owners meeting on Monday that the new hiring practices will lead to change, according to ESPN.
“I haven’t been in any discussions and no, I don’t have a level of confidence that would lead me to believe that things are going to be better,” Tomlin said. ”I’m more of a show me guy as opposed to a guy that sits around and talks about things.”