Time-Out! How Diverse Are NFL Coaches?
Who’s going to win the Super Bowl for diversity?
With the Super Bowl approaching (reminder: It’s this Sunday!), more eyes are on the NFL now than any other time of the year. This year, however, the big game is not the only reason for the heightened attention: The Houston Texans’ recent firing of head coach Lovie Smith after just one year has reopened the question of whether the league discriminates against coaches of color. This debate has a long history, stretching back to civil rights investigations that led to establishment of the Rooney Rule in 2003. In honor of Black History Month and the Super Bowl, let’s take a look at where the NFL currently stands with respect to coach diversity.
How do NFL coaches compare to those in other sports? We find that the share of coaches of color in the NFL is significantly lower than in other male professional leagues in the US, and that this gap has even been expanding across time. While other leagues have made steady progress towards more diverse coaching staffs, the NFL’s coach diversity has stagnated.
When we zoom in on currently-active coaching staffs and compare specific leagues, we can see that the NFL’s coaching staff is considerably less diverse than those of the NBA and MLS. A few factors may explain this difference: For one, it is possible that certain sports tend to attract people from different racial groups at different rates. For example, since the majority of hockey players (and fans) are white, the majority of hockey coaches, who are often former players, would likely be white.
While this explanation may hold for the NHL, it does not appear to explain the NFL’s relative lack of diversity. In fact, as the plot below shows (player data is from TIDES), the NFL has the largest discrepancy between the diversity of its players and that of its coaches. Evidently, players from certain racial backgrounds are less likely to end up in coaching careers after they hang up the jersey.
Racial discrimination – against coaches and even players – may explain this phenomenon. Teams in the NFL have been accused several times of discriminating against Black coaches during the hiring process, with former Miami Dolphin Brian Flores going so far as to sue the league last year for that reason.
But players’ former positions could also explain these disparities. For example, since a majority of quarterbacks have been white, if quarterbacks are more likely to become coaches than players in other positions, that would contribute to the NFL’s coach-player disparity. This would raise the question of why a disproportionate share of quarterbacks are white, which could be a product of discrimination early on in players’ careers.
Diversity differs markedly among the teams in the NFL, with shares of coaches of color ranging from under 13% to just over 43%. Interestingly, coaching staff diversity appears to vary by region, with 5 of 8 of the NFL teams in America’s Midwest and Rust Belt - including diverse cities like Chicago and Cleveland - falling in the lowest diversity quartile.
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On the other hand, despite their recent controversy, the Houston Texans have the second most diverse coaching staff. And if the Super Bowl were a competition in team diversity, the Philadelphia Eagles would beat the Kansas City Chiefs handily.
- Coaching talent in the NFL has continued to be less diverse than in other male professional leagues in the US, and the league has not made progress in closing this gap in recent years.
- The NFL has the largest disparity between the diversity of its players and that of its coaching staff among major men’s professional leagues.
- NFL teams vary considerably in the diversity of their coaching staff, with the Philadelphia Eagles having a more diverse staff than the Kansas City Chiefs.