Column: Black coaching hires still at dismal level in NFL

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Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, right, and Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott get together following an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. The Bills won 17-10. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A year ago, Richard Lapchick was at least willing to consider it might be cyclical. Not any longer.

Not after all but one of the coaching vacancies in the NFL have been filled. Not after — in a league where 70% of players are minorities — blacks have been hired for only two of the 19 open head coaching spots over the last three years.

“It’s very discouraging that this continues to happen,” said Lapchick, the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida. “It’s not like there are no qualified candidates. These people are out there and ready.”

They may be ready, but NFL owners apparently aren’t. Despite the adoption of the Rooney Rule in 2003 to increase the number of black head coaches, there are only three among the four minority head coaches (Washington’s Ron Rivera is Hispanic) currently employed in the league.

And, with only the Cleveland Browns still looking, that number won’t be changing much — if at all.

“There’s not much to be optimistic about from this year’s results for sure,” said Lapchick, who annually gives sports leagues grades on their efforts to diversify. “This is a serious cause for concern that we’ve now gone three years with the lowest numbers we’ve had in a long time.”

Just why those numbers are so low is open to debate, especially since the NFL has made efforts over the past two decades to promote minority hires. The Rooney Rule not only mandated that teams interview coaches of color for coaching vacancies but was later updated so that the general manager job was included.

And before last season, the rule was toughened so that teams couldn’t skirt the requirements with sham interviews.