Nearly two decades ago, with few coaches of color in the NFL, the league knew that something had to be done.
Spurred on by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Dan Rooney—then the team's owner and a longtime trailblazer for diversity in the league—the National Football League adopted a policy that now colloquially bears his name. The Rooney Rule, which took effect in 2003, sought to correct inequities at the top of pro football's hierarchy by requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching vacancies.
It has been nearly 20 years, and the NFL has lost yardage. As the league prepares for the Super Bowl later this month, Mike Tomlin of the Steelers is the only Black head coach. The Washington Commanders' Ron Rivera, who is Latino, and the New York Jets' Robert Saleh, of Lebanese descent, are the only other nonwhites in top coaching positions among the league's 32 franchises.
Brian Flores, who led the Miami Dolphins to their first back-to-back winning seasons in decades, and David Culley, who had been the Houston Texans' head coach, were fired in January. Both are Black. Earlier this week, Flores filed a class action suit against the NFL, the Dolphins, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants. His lawsuit alleges discrimination in his firing and in his interviews for the head coaching jobs with the other teams.
Yesterday, news broke that the San Francisco 49ers had fired assistant head coach and tight ends coach Jon Embree, who is Black. Former NFL player Solomon Wilcots reported that the team let Embree go after he refused to take a 60% pay cut. Embree had been with the Niners since 2017.