This NFL hiring cycle has been among the oddest in recent history, as more head coaching jobs continue to open up weeks after the end of the regular season, and still no hires made to this point. Several parties involved in these searches maintain that at least part of the more exhaustive interviewing process this year is due to heightened pressure from the league office to aspire to greater diversity, with only one African American head coach currently under contract.
The NFL has continued to alter and adjust the Rooney Rule in an effort to urge teams to be more open-minded and inclusive in their pursuit of coaches and general managers, and, these sources said, the messaging from the league office has been diligent and forthright in the weeks leading up to the end of the regular season, and as the interviews have begun. Commissioner Roger Goodell has made this a point of emphasis for years, with the results continuing to trend in a less-than-diverse series of outcomes, and owners are fully aware that being mindful in these searches is imperative.
"Part of the logjam (in hirings) is due to the nature of these searches," said one top coaching agent. "There is more pressure than ever on teams to conduct a robust search and do more than give lip service to making diverse hires. I see it reflected in how these owners are going about it. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding in terms of who gets hired, but I have never seen a cycle like this before, with no hires heading into the divisional round, and no one particularly close to a (head coaching) hire that I am aware of. That's just not how this usually happens."
One NFL executive involved in a hire this cycle echoed that sentiment: "There is consistent messaging from (NFL head of football operations) Troy (Vincent) and Park Avenue about the need to be open to speaking to diverse candidates, and not just look for one guy to fit a certain profile."
In recent years hiring cycles have been dominated by owners pursuing quarterback gurus/offensive play-callers, which almost always ensures no coaches of color are hired as head coaches, as the pool of candidates among those ranks are dominated by white coaches. The scope of defensive coaches being given a serious look in these interview processes has expanded from some previous years, including more younger coaches of color. Teams have done a poor job not telegraphing their intent in past cycles, and quickly jumping on a particular coach while giving short shrift to the intent of the Rooney Rule. Demanding these teams interview multiple candidates has certainly created more opportunities for diverse coaches to get an audience with owners (even if only via Zoom in some cases), and the league office will be watching very closely to see how these changes are reflected in the actual hires that will be made later this month and into February.