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NFL to discuss plan to increase minority coaching candidates on offense

The Fritz Pollard Alliance will meet with league officials at the NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS — After the just completed hiring cycle, in which only one person of color filled an NFL head-coaching vacancy, the group that helps oversee compliance of the Rooney Rule will meet with league officials during the scouting combine in hopes of improving the pipeline of minority candidates on offense.

In conjunction with top league decision-makers here for the weeklong event, the Fritz Pollard Alliance is determined to develop a plan to increase the number of minority coaches who work on offense, believing that’s the best way to bolster diversity at the highest level of coaching. Commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged that the NFL has too few coaches of color on that side of the ball. During an era in which owners prefer to pick offensive coaches to fill openings, well, that’s a problem.

Once again this cycle, owners leaned heavily toward offense to fill their top coaching positions.

In Cleveland, the Browns promoted former offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who developed a good rapport with standout rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. The New York Jets recycled former Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. Before he became a head coach, Gase rose to prominence as an offensive coordinator.

After only one season calling offensive plays for the Tennessee Titans, Matt LaFleur will lead the Green Bay Packers next season. The Cincinnati Bengals hired former Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. The thing is, Taylor held that position for just one season, is only 35 and has never been a primary playcaller in the NFL.

In the most curious move of the process, the Arizona Cardinals hired failed former college head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who has been billed as an offensive guru. During six seasons at Texas Tech, his alma mater, Kingsbury went 35-40, never won more than eight games in a season and never had a team ranked in the final polls.

New Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, the only nonwhite coach to take control of a team this cycle, formerly called defensive plays for the New England Patriots.

Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs began last season as the league’s only African-American offensive coordinator. During the 2018 season, the Cardinals promoted Byron Leftwich from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. In January, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Leftwich as their offensive coordinator.

The NFL, a league that’s 70 percent African-American, continues to fall short in hiring people of color to fill key decision-making positions. There’s still work to do, said N. Jeremi Duru, co-counsel of the alliance.

“We felt there were some other candidates who had a good shot at the head coach position, and it’s disappointing that they didn’t get jobs,” Duru said. “But what I will say is that, this past hiring cycle, we actually had outstanding process across the board. Clubs were interviewing multiple candidates of color.

“We heard back from many candidates of color, hearing that they felt that they had meaningful interviews. It’s disappointing that some of the guys who really deserve a shot in the league weren’t able to get jobs, but I actually feel quite confident that they’re going to be head coaches in this league soon.”

Four African-Americans — Marvin Lewis of the Bengals, Todd Bowles of the Jets, Vance Joseph of the Denver Broncos and Steve Wilks of the Cardinals — were among eight head coaches ousted in the annual purge that occurs the day after the regular season ends. Lewis, Bowles, Joseph and Wilks joined former Browns head coach Hue Jackson, who was fired in October. That’s five black coaches dismissed in one season.

In place since 2003 for head coaches and expanded in 2009 to include general manager jobs and equivalent front-office positions, the Rooney Rule — named after former Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, the onetime head of the league’s diversity committee — mandates that an NFL team interview at least one minority candidate for these jobs. The NFL in December moved to strengthen the Rooney Rule. Beginning this season, teams are required to interview a minority candidate from outside their organizations or candidates from a league-approved list.

But with offensive coaches in high demand, the NFL’s challenge is to create an opening to help more coaches of color get into the mix.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.