In 2001, the XFL had two black head coaches among its eight franchises, or 25% of its head coaches. In the previous NFL season, out of 30 teams, there were two full-time head coaches of color, representing less than 7% of the league. The 2020 XFL season had three out of eight black head coaches; that would be 37.5%. The 2019 NFL season saw four minority coaches out of 32, for just 12.5%.
On Wednesday, the XFL announced its roster of eight head coaches for its third season. Four of the eight (an even 50%) are African American. To start the 2021 season, five of the NFL’s 32 head coaches were minorities — 15.6%. Small sample sizes aside, the XFL has always been ahead of the curve in providing opportunities for black head coaches, in increasing percentages with each restart; these are opportunities that don’t always seem to be available at the top level of professional football.
There are more than just numbers, however. If you look at the coaching experience of XFL head coaches by race, the results are startling: White head coaches have 114 years of experience among the four (just Wade Phillips, Bob Stoops and Jim Haslett have to 113 years alone), including 34 years as head coach at the collegiate or professional level. Contrast that with the four black head coaches, who collectively have 38 years of coaching experience and only 14 as a head coach — all those years belonging to Reggie Barlow.
The NFL’s lack of diversity among its head coaches is not a new story; The Rooney Rule was instituted in 2002 in hopes of solving the problem. Teams needed to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions. The rule did not have the desired effect, to the point that it has since been changed to require teams to now interview two minority candidates for head coaching positions, as well as one for coordinator openings. The NFL is so desperate for teams to increase its minority presence in the front offices that if a team loses a person of color to another team for the position of head coach or general manager, the team she was hired on is rewarded with a third round. compensatory choice in the next draft.
A study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida showed that by 2021, more than 70% of NFL players were people of color. This makes the lack of diversity in positions of power in the league all the more damning: the percentage of NFL assistant coaches who are African-American fluctuates between 35 and 40 percent depending on the year. African-American general managers make up 16% of the league; there are only two black team presidents.
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ lawsuit against his ex-employer, the NFL, and others has laid bare the problems with the NFL’s hiring practices in great detail. Flores and others who have since joined the lawsuit, Ray Horton and Steve Wilks, describe a fictional process in which black coaches are only interviewed to satisfy the Rooney rule, rarely shaken fairly.
The XFL will not have this problem. Dany Garcia, born to Cuban parents, and Dwayne Johnson, whose father was black and mother Samoan, have made diversity and inclusion a big part of what they want to do with the league. In an interview with SI.com shortly after buying the XFL out of bankruptcy, Garcia said she wanted to surround herself with “…people who want to do good, who seek diversity and inclusion. It is extremely important.
According to an ESPN.com article in August 2020, “Garcia said diversity and inclusion will be ‘a relevant and responsible conversation’ across the league… ‘we will have the best people in the best positions, and it will be diverse and inclusive and that’s how it should be.
The word “inclusiveness” appears as one of the four pillars of the XFL brand, as revealed two weeks ago. In its description, the word “opportunities” is also used. For many coaches of color, being part of the XFL is an opportunity they might not have been afforded otherwise.
Rod Woodson played in the NFL for 17 years and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the NFL Hall of Fame. He went to 11 Pro Bowls as a player, is a Super Bowl champion, an NFL Defensive Player of the Year and six times was an NFL All-Pro. Yet his coaching history doesn’t match his pedigree between the lines. He was a trainee coach twice under the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Scholarship Program – once even after coaching cornerbacks for a season. He spent two years as an assistant defensive backs coach and two years as a defensive backs coach in the NFL. After the 2017 regular season, he was let go by the Raiders when they hired Jon Gruden as their head coach. Last season, Gruden was fired when emails came to light in which he used racist and homophobic language.
Terrell Buckley played in the NFL for 14 years and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He was a first-round pick (fifth overall) in 1992 and won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. He has recorded more than 50 interceptions during his career from the position of defensive back. His coaching career was dotted with minor assistant jobs, such as assistant safety and wide receivers, weight room coach and graduate assistant – the latter after previously serving as an assistant coach. . He never made it past coaching at the college level until he was hired from his job at Ole Miss to come to the XFL.
Hines Ward played in the NFL for 14 years and for the past six years has been an NFL Hall of Fame semi-finalist. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion and former Super Bowl MVP. He made the Pro Bowl four times during his illustrious career, during which he finished with exactly 1,000 career receptions. Ward spent two years as an offensive assistant with the New York Jets and had just completed his first year as a wide receivers coach with Florida Atlantic University when the XFL appealed. Prior to the XFL, however, Ward interviewed for the head coaching position with the Houston Texans in January. He was the second minority candidate to interview the Texans, thus satisfying the Rooney rule.
Reggie Barlow played in the NFL for seven years and won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was a Pro Bowl substitute in 1998 after leading the league in punt return yardage. He became a quarterbacks coach at Alabama State in 2005, where he mentored future NFL quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. He was promoted to head coach in 2007, where he served for eight years. A contract dispute led to Barlow leaving the college after the 2014 season. He took the reins at Virginia State in 2016 where he coached for five additional seasons. Barlow won two Black College National Championships, one at each school, as a head coach. In 2022, Barlow was part of the first-ever Reese’s Senior Bowl Minority Coaching Scholarship program, where selected HBCU coaches would join the coaching staff of NFL teams chosen to lead Senior Bowl teams, “to connect HBCU coaches with the decision of NFL-makers in the hope that it leads to future career opportunities.
While professional success doesn’t necessarily guarantee someone the right to rise through the coaching ranks, or make someone an effective coach, it’s hard to believe that these men in particular couldn’t be an asset to a coaching staff somewhere in pro or college. Game. The fire to coach, to be a leader of the men, is clearly still burning as they have accepted jobs with the XFL. A few may arrive with chips over their shoulders, ready to prove those who ignored them wrong.
Maybe one day the NFL won’t need a Bill Walsh minority scholarship coaching program. Or a scholarship for HBCU coaches at an all-star game. Or Rooney’s rule. Or even a league like the XFL to raise the profile of minority coaches. Both the Gruden emails and the Flores lawsuit have taught us that the NFL has a long way to go, despite the mechanisms in place, to put minority coaches on an equal footing with their peers. The XFL, however, won’t have such a problem; these opportunities, the pursuit of diversity, are ingrained in the DNA of the property and the league itself.