NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith On Pro Football Head Coaching Diversity The NFL has 32 head coaches, but only four of those coaches are people of color — in a league whose players are around 70% black. NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with DeMaurice Smith of the NFLPA.
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NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith On Pro Football Head Coaching Diversity

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NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith On Pro Football Head Coaching Diversity

NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith On Pro Football Head Coaching Diversity

NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith On Pro Football Head Coaching Diversity

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The NFL has 32 head coaches, but only four of those coaches are people of color — in a league whose players are around 70% black. NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with DeMaurice Smith of the NFLPA.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

What's it going to take for NFL teams to hire more coaches of color? That's what's being asked after the latest round of coaching hires. Out of five head coaching jobs, just one went to someone other than a white man, and this is in a league where roughly 70% of players are black.

For more on this, we're going to speak with DeMaurice Smith. He's director of the NFL Players Association. Welcome to the program.

DEMAURICE SMITH: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: For your members, I assume some of them sometimes move into coaching, and so how is this being talked about in your membership? Why is it important to them?

SMITH: Well, from the perspective of the NFL Players Association, it's two things. One, certainly the majority of the players are players of color, so they see and have questions about who are the people who are our head coaches and offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators. But also, a number of our players move into the coaching ranks with the hopes of being head coaches one day, so this is an issue that directly affects and is of concern to our membership.

CORNISH: In 2003, the NFL adopted the so-called Rooney Rule. This requires teams to interview at least one person of color for the most critical positions, like head coach and general manager. And yet we've actually seen a decline - right? - in the number of...

SMITH: Right.

CORNISH: ...People of color who end up in coaching staff. I've heard a lot of reasons why. What do you think is going on there?

SMITH: I think the first and probably most important reason why we're here is that there really isn't a lot of accountability on ensuring that these coaches get interviewed and, as important, making sure that there is a fair pipeline of coaches who are in a position to become NFL head coaches.

CORNISH: Right. That pipeline issue seems to be very much at the forefront. I've read that a lot of minorities feel like they're funneled into lesser-position coaching jobs - right? - the coaching jobs that don't put you on track to be head coach. And also, I was struck by the number of, basically, sons of coaches that have made their way through the league, right?

SMITH: (Laughter).

CORNISH: Nate Carroll, Brandon Fisher, Adam Zimmers, Scott Turner, Stephen Belichick, Mike Nolan, Blake Williams - I mean, that's a lot of legacy seats, whether they're talented or not, that must affect the pipeline.

SMITH: Well, I think that what you see in coaching in the National Football League, when you refer to something like the last name, is something that we see, you know, probably too much outside of football and outside of the world of sports. But we - you do see better systems of accountability outside of the National Football League when it comes to not only the pipeline, but just accountability to holding yourself true to the rule that you created.

CORNISH: I want to move on to one other issue, which is that until recently, black quarterbacks weren't really getting a shot to lead a team, right? And now there is a crop of stars in Kansas City, in Baltimore. What do you think needs to happen for this same kind of advance in the world of coaching?

SMITH: Well, I think going back to the world where you didn't have a lot of African American quarterbacks, I think the first thing that probably happened was that pipeline of very talented quarterbacks, at least in my lifetime, were starting to get opportunities at major colleges and universities outside of HBCUs, right?

So, you know, we can look back in a few short years ago, where a lot of the talent that was African American talent was concentrated in places away from top universities and colleges. That changed. I think that that had a direct impact on how those quarterbacks made their way into the National Football League. But again, I think that a lot of that had to do with accountability. A lot of that had to do with outside forces making sure that people had opportunities at other colleges and universities than they had before.

The challenge, I think, within the National Football League is quite blunt. They have a rule. The reality is that there is no transparent system and, certainly, there is no labor union that is there to ensure that they are holding themselves accountable to their own rules.

CORNISH: That's DeMaurice Smith, director of the NFL Players Association. Thank you for exploring this issue with us.

SMITH: Thank you.

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