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February 10, 2020

NFL again struggling to hire minority coaches, coordinators — and the Eagles aren't helping

Philly one of two NFL teams not to hire a black head coach or coordinator in last 20 years as NFL diversity backslides

By any measure, the Eagles franchise and owner Jeffrey Lurie are as progressive as they come, so what you're about to read may come as a bit of a surprise. The Eagles, along with the Saints, are the only two NFL teams that have not hired an African-American full-time head coach, defensive coordinator or offensive coordinator in over 20 years.

Last week, the Eagles promoted Press Taylor from quarterbacks coach to “pass-game coordinator,” and filled out their coaching openings, revealing that the squad will not have what will be defined as a “traditional” offensive coordinator, with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland continuing as the “run-game coordinator.”

That wasn't totally unexpected, considering the Taylor promotion had been rumored recently.

Somewhat surprising, however, was that they passed over Duce Staley. Again.

And that move comes at a time when the NFL as a whole — not just the Eagles — are struggling to hire a fair number of minority coaches and front office decision-makers.

“We have a lot more to do, and no one is pleased with the results, and no one should be,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s Executive Vice-President of Football Operations and longtime Eagles cornerback, said. “We have to do better. This offseason we’ll spend time evaluating every aspect of league policy, club policies, the Rooney Rule [which states teams must interview minority candidates] and look at education around inclusion.

“It’s important for all to understand that diversity and inclusion is good business."

The last time the Eagles had an African-American as an HC, OC or DC was in Ray Rhodes’ last season as head coach, when the Eagles finished 3-13 in 1998 and Emmitt Thomas was the defensive coordinator.

This is especially relevant now, as sitting inside the NovaCare Complex is a well-qualified candidate in Staley, currently the longest tenured coach on the Eagles’ staff.

The former Eagles running back entered the coaching profession as an intern under Reid during the 2010 season and was made a full member of the staff in 2011. He’s risen to “assistant head coach” under Pederson, while maintaining his running backs coach position that he’s held since 2013 when Chip Kelly promoted him from special teams quality control assistant. 

When Kelly was fired in December 2015, Staley was interviewed for the Eagles’ head coaching job, losing out to Pederson, who opted to keep Staley on as running backs coach but hired Frank Reich as the offensive coordinator over Staley.

When Reich left to become head coach of the Indianapolis Colts after the 2017 Super Bowl season, Staley interviewed for the OC job, which eventually went to Mike Groh. That’s when Staley was given the title of assistant head coach. 

“I couldn’t have gone wrong with either he or Duce,” Pederson said at the time of Groh's hiring. “I talked to both of those guys and I felt comfortable obviously with Mike, being in the coordinator position, sharp mind. He was involved in our passing game quite a bit, and he’s a former quarterback, things of that nature. Made a nice fit for me. And then Duce is promoted to assistant head coach. I respect the heck out of Duce, and what he’s done, what he’s brought, how he’s managed that running back room the last two years, some of the dynamic personalities in that room. He does an outstanding job with the run game, with coach (Jeff) Stoutland.”

When Groh was fired as the OC after this season, Staley, now with two seasons as an assistant head coach that saw him spend more time working on the offensive game plan alongside Pederson and Groh, again had an opportunity to move up. This time, however, he was bypassed in favor of Taylor, who will share in the OC role with Stoutland, although Pederson will continue to handle most of the traditional OC duties, like calling the plays.

That’s three times Staley was passed over for a coordinator or head coaching position with the Eagles. And according to sources familiar with the situation, Staley wasn’t even interviewed for the Eagles’ vacant offensive coordinator position this time around.

Holding an OC or DC position often leads to a head coaching opportunity. But Staley, according to a handful sources, may make a better “head coach than a coordinator.”

Staley, who is highly respected by the players he’s coached and by the Eagles franchise, was described by NFL sources and players as a “great leader,” “a true motivator,” “a father figure,” “an energy guy who can fire his players up to run through a wall for him,” and a “loyal guy who deserves a shot at a head job.”

"Our objective is to create an open, fair and consistent process across all hiring practices. That’s what we want. This includes gender, race, disabilities, and sexual orientation... This is of the utmost importance to the NFL."  —Troy Vincent

Here's how Eagles running back Corey Clement described Staley to PhillyVoice during the team's 2017 Super Bowl season:

“He misses nothing. He’s as old-school as it gets. And if you make a mistake, Duce will let you know it. If you make a great play, Duce will let you know that, too. He’s hard on the running backs, but we love it. He talks to us like men, not like little kids. He’s not a participation-trophy kind of coach. The last time I looked the NFL is full of men, not little boys. Duce will give you straight feedback. He’s loyal. He has our backs. He’s the kind of coach that you would run through a wall for, because you want him to know what he’s teaching is working. He demands respect and he gives it. Yeah, I can see him as a head coach (in the NFL) one day.”

Taylor, too, received praise. The 32-year-old coach was described by sources as “a hard worker,” “intelligent,” “someone who thinks outside of the box,” and “connected, as Carson Wentz’s good buddy.” Taylor is qualified for his promotion, but that doesn’t erase the fact that something is missing here in hiring African-American coaches — not just with the Eagles, or the Saints, but throughout the NFL.

The NFL takes minority hiring practices very seriously. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league itself is trying to do its part. It has created numerous initiatives for teams to look at who they are hiring. But the NFL does not control the hiring practices of individual teams. It’s up to the respective NFL teams to do that.

The NFL is making a conscious effort to increase the amount of minority coaching hires.

“Our objective is to create an open, fair and consistent process across all hiring practices. That’s what we want," Vincent said. "This includes gender, race, disabilities, and sexual orientation. Today, we’re talking about the football side of the house, but we have to look at our entire employment ecosystem.

“This is of the utmost importance to the NFL. This should be a reflection of our fanbase, players, coaches, and of the broader society. It’s vitally important that we work alongside the clubs in collaboration with these efforts. We also have to practice what we’re preaching at the league level to meet the challenges inside our own offices.

“We have to make sure LA, New York and New Jersey are all doing their part. It’s important that we live out what we are asking clubs and the broader membership to exercise. Just as someone gave me an opportunity, others desire the same. The Commissioner, myself and others are challenged with finding solutions every day.”

The Eagles recognize this, even if it hasn't translated directly to on-field hires. In 2018, Lurie was honored by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a non-profit that promotes equality and diversity in hiring in the NFL and the group that established the Rooney Rule, by being named the Paul "Tank" Younger Award winner. And if a team with an owner like Lurie, who wins awards for his team's diversity hires, can fall into the trap of failing to hiring any minorities to top coaching positions, what does that mean for the rest of the NFL? 

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Former New York Jets’ head coach and former Temple defensive back Todd Bowles was the last African-American to hold one of the Eagles’ sacred roles in the coaching hierarchy when he became the interim defensive coordinator on October 16, 2012, to replace the fired Juan Castillo, another minority, as the team’s DC in Andy Reid’s disastrous 4-12 last season with the franchise.

But Bowles wasn’t hired to be a coordinator. He was initially hired by Reid to be the defensive backs/secondary coach and was only promoted to the position on an interim basis.

It also has to be noted that in both instances the Eagles and Saints have not had a whole lot of turnover on their coaching staffs during the last two decades.

Reid was in Philly for 14 years, and for 10 of those 14 years, Jim Johnson was the DC until cancer took him on July 28, 2009. Reid also had three OCs during his tenure here (Rod Dowhower 1999-2001, Brad Childress 2002-2005 and Marty Mornhinweg 2006-2012) who were previous NFL head coaches or became head coaches. In Reid’s last year, he had one future NFL division-winning head coach (offensive quality control coach Matt Nagy) and one future Super Bowl-winning head coach (quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson) on his staff.

Similarly in New Orleans, Payton, who is arguably a Hall of Famer and is currently third among active coaches with a .630 winning percentage (behind Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin), has had long-tenured assistants, including OC Pete Carmichael, who has been with the Saints for 11 of Payton's 13 seasons. However, they have gone through five different defensive coordinators during his tenure.

  • Eric Bieniemy (OC, Chiefs)
  • Byron Leftwich (OC, Bucs)
  • Leslie Frazier (DC, Bills)
  • Joe Woods (DC, Browns)
  • Todd Bowles (DC, Bucs)
  • Patrick Graham (DC, Giants)
  • Vance Joseph (DC, Cardinals)
  • Ken Norton Jr. (DC, Seahawks)
  • Raheem Morris (DC, Falcons)
  • Andre Patterson (DC, Vikings)

But that doesn't change the fact that since Rhodes and Thomas left Philly in 1998, the Eagles have had no African-American coaches that were hired for prime positions.

Of the 32 NFL teams, there are only four minority head coaches, and three are African-American: the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin, the Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores, and the Los Angeles Chargers' Anthony Lynn (the Washington Redskins’ Ron Rivera is the other minority head coach). Of the 32 NFL general managers, there are only two African-Americans, the Dolphins’ Chris Grier and the Cleveland Browns’ Andrew Berry, who came from the Eagles.

In a league where 70 percent of the players coming through are now African American (up from just 52 percent in 1985), there are currently just 10 African American coordinators for roughly 64 positions (15.6%) and three head coaches among the 32 (9.4%). The numbers don't get much better when you go into the assistant coaching ranks, where the New York Times reported that just 30 percent of NFL assistant coaches were minorities as recently as a year ago. 

*In the Eagles recently announced assistant coaching hires, two of the five new coaches are minorities, as well as one of the three who received promotions.

That's not the direction the NFL wants to see itself heading, considering only two years ago the NFL had a record eight minority coaches, including seven black coaches. And that lack of diversity in hiring in recent years has directly led to the NFL earning its lowest grade ever from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, and the lowest in 15 years when it specifically comes to hiring minorities: 

The National Football League achieved a B for racial hiring practices and a C+ for gender hiring practice in the 2019 NFL Racial and Gender Report Card, released Wednesday by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. This gave the NFL a combined B- grade.

The NFL's score for racial hiring practices was 82.3%, 6.7 percentage points lower than last year's score of 89.0%. This was the league's lowest point total in the past 15 years. The greatest impact on the decline was how few people of color hold the positions of head coach and general manager. This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the percentage of players of color on NFL rosters.

The score for gender hiring practices was 76%, an increase of two percentage points from the score achieved in the 2018 report card. The overall grade for the NFL decreased from 81.6% in 2018 to 79.3% in 2019, resulting in a B-. The overall score is the lowest the league has recorded since 2004.  []

While the numbers suggest things are moving in the wrong direction, the NFL insists it's doing what it can. And in some ways, you can see those results, as the NFL league office received a better grade than its franchises in diversity hiring, earning an A- by having 28% people of color and a B- with women representing 36% of the workforce. That last part is an area in which the Eagles have made strides, even being featured in The Wall Street Journal for having a senior leadership made up of more than 50% women. 

Around the league, however, the problems still remain.

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Those who work at the NFL offices in New York and at think tanks in Florida aren't the only ones who have noticed. It's reached the players as well. 

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman spoke out about the dearth of African-Americans as HCs, OCs and DCs during Super Bowl week. He put the onus on the media and why the media doesn’t hold NFL owners accountable for their hiring practices.

"Everybody feels comfortable asking a player a hard question about, ‘Man, why aren't these black coaches getting jobs?’ Ask the dudes who hire them. Ask the dudes who have all the power in the world to hire and fire these men. Then you'll get the answers." —Richard Sherman

“I put more of the responsibility on you—on the media,” he said. “Because you're asking people who have no say in it. You're asking players, we literally have no say in who gets hired, who gets fired. We have no say in whether we get hired or fired. But the people who have say, we don't pressure. The owners, we don't call, we don't push to get them; when you have them in the media, nobody asks them the hard questions because you don't want to rub them the wrong way, you don't want to get on their bad side.

“So, I almost say it’s your fault that we don't have those answers, because none of you are asking the hard questions. Everybody feels comfortable asking a player a hard question about, ‘Man, why aren't these black coaches getting jobs?’ Ask the dudes who hire them. Ask the dudes who have all the power in the world to hire and fire these men. Then you'll get the answers. Or maybe we're not looking for the answers in those dudes, because we kinda know what they are.”

In 2003, the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule, named after Hall of Fame former Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner Dan Rooney, which requires NFL teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football positions, like coordinators.

It doesn’t mean they have to hire them.

Goodell addressed the issue during Super Bowl week.

“Clearly, we are not where we want to be on this issue,” Goodell said. “We have a lot of work that's gone into not only the Rooney Rule, but our policies overall. It's clear we need to change and do something different. There's no reason to expect that we're going to have a different outcome next year without those kinds of changes, and we've already begun engaging in those changes.

“Not just with our diversity committee, not just with the Fritz Pollard alliance, but others, and trying to figure out what steps we can take next that would lead to better outcomes. So, we will have a series of meetings, which we've already scheduled, over the next month to get that kind of dialogue going, to continue the dialogue and to try to determine what the solutions are, so we can have those better outcomes.”

The NFL Workplace Diversity Committee is completely committed to change, Vincent stressed. Addendums may be added to the Rooney Rule involving coordinator and entry-level coaching positions.

“This is a priority topic going into the NFL Combine and offseason,” Vincent said. “Every club will examine their role, process, and the shared responsibility we all have with inclusion efforts, and how to address it.

“We have work to do.”

This topic — among others — will no doubt be a hot one when members of the Eagles front office and coaching staff join others from around the league in addressing media members at the NFL Combine later this month. The Eagles did not offer a comment when contacted about this story.

Long-time Eagles beat writer Mark Eckel contributed to this story.

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