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NFL officials concerned teams still abusing Rooney Rule, ‘low’ confidence minority head coaches hired in 2023

Rooney Rule

As the 2022 NFL coaching carousel begins with five head-coaching vacancies around the National Football League, there are reportedly renewed concerns regarding the league’s hiring practices and how clubs are following the Rooney Rule.

The NFL established the Rooney Rule in 2003, created in response to criticisms levied against teams for the lack of head-coaching diversity. It’s undergone numerous changes in the years since, most recently in 2022.

Related: NFL coaching candidates 2023

Former Miami Dolphins head coach sued the NFL in February 2022, accusing the league of discriminatory hiring practices and indirect violations of the Rooney Rule. Ray Horton and Carolina Panthers coach Steve Wilks joined the lawsuit, providing their own allegations of teams bringing in for head-coaching interviews that were only meant to satisfy the rule.

Among the allegations, Flores said the Denver Broncos conducted a sham interview with him in 2019 for their head-coaching vacancy.

He also included alleged text messages from Bill Belichick, congratulating him on being chosen as the next Buffalo Bills head coach. However, Flores had yet to officially interview with Buffalo and Belichick later texted that he meant to send the congratulatory message to Brian Daboll.

Months later, the hiring process used by teams is once again being watched closely. When the Indianapolis Colts fired head coach Frank Reich in November, owner Jim Irsay named Jeff Saturday as interim coach. Saturday had no professional coaching experience, chosen over multiple qualified candidates on the Colts’ coaching staff.

While Indianapolis didn’t violate the Rooney Rule, which doesn’t apply to interim coaches, Saturday is now becoming the favorite to keep the job. The Colts have spoken to multiple minority candidates, but Irsay’s public comments about Saturday potentially becoming the full-time coach add validity to Flores’ lawsuit.

The Houston Texans also play a role in the criticism levied against the NFL. David Culley and Lovie Smith were fired in consecutive seasons, making the Texans just the second. franchise in NFL history to have one-and-done head coaches back-to-back.

There is also a perception that Culley and Smith were hired to be fired and brought in as head coaches in rebuilding years with the organization never planning to stick with them long-term. It’s only strengthened a fear that many NFL executives reportedly have this offseason.

NFL officials not expecting more minority head coaches in 2023

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

According to Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, multiple league sources tied to the coaching carousel are concerned that Black coaching candidates are still only being interviewed to meet the NFL’s quota. There is also very little confidence that owners will hire minority candidates in 2023.

All five teams with head-coaching vacancies have either interviewed or scheduled interviews with minority coaching candidates this year. However, early reporting indicates many of them won’t become head coaches in this cycle

Despite his unexpected success as the Panthers’ interim coach, Carolina is reportedly targeting Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos are focused on Sean Payton, Jim Harbaugh and Dan Quinn.

The Colts are sorting through a number of candidates, but Irsay gets the final say and he seems to prefer Saturday remaining head coach.

As for the Texans, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is the early front-runner after being a finalist in 2022. If Houston replaces Smith with Gannon, there will be only two Black head coaches in the NFL.

The Arizona Cardinals, one of just two NFL teams seeking a new general manager, are expected to promote either Adrian Wilson or Harris to replace Steve Keim. In either instance, there would then be eight black general managers in football. Arizona will be conducting head-coaching interviews with Flores, Sean Payton, DeMeco Ryans and Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.