Ground breaking report revealed that black NFL head coaches are held to a higher standard than their white counterparts.

On September 30, 2002, Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. and Cyrus Mehri issued a ground-breaking report – Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities – revealing that black NFL head coaches are held to a higher standard than their white counterparts, and are consequently denied a fair chance to compete for head coaching jobs.

The report opened the NFL’s eyes to its teams’ unfair hiring processes. One month later, on October 31, 2002, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the formation of a diversity committee, headed by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, to address the NFL’s minority-hiring practices. Within two months, the League announced a diversity plan, which included the requirement that each team interview at least one minority candidate prior to selecting a head coach. The Rooney Rule has already positively impacted the League.

On March 10, 2003, the Fritz Pollard Alliance was formed as an affinity group of NFL minority coaches, scouts and front office personnel. During the last couple of years the FPA has worked with the NFL to develop hiring guidelines for front office and scouting positions as well as talent development programs. The FPA advocates for policy changes in the NFL hiring practices and working in partnership with the NFL to create opportunities for minority candidates.



The Rooney Rule

Established in 2003, the Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations opportunities.

Cyrus Mehri, counsel to the Fritz Pollard Alliance and an advocate for minority coaching opportunity, discusses the impact of the Rooney rule in the NFL and the progress it has created on the NFL Network’s Total Access with Rich Eisen.

Dave Anderson of the New York Times commented that the Rooney Rule provides African American candidates a fairer shake. He said:

“It didn’t come easy, diversity never does. But at last, the National Football League has sharpened the teeth of its guidelines to provide at least a fairer shake to African-Americans who aspire to be one of its 32 head coaches.”

Super Bowl XLI

A Historic moment with two African-American head coaches going head to head in the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl XLI was the first time two African-American head coaches were coaching in the event. Featuring the Indianapolis Colts lead by coach Tony Dungy and the Chicago Bears lead by coach Lovie Smith. The Colts defeated the Bears, 29-17, overcoming a 14-6 first quarter deficit to outscore their opponent 23-3, in the last three quarters resulting in Tony Dungy being the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Both coaches led their teams out of long Super Bowl appearance droughts. The Colts made their first appearance in a Super Bowl game since winning Super Bowl V in the 1970 season during the team’s tenure in Baltimore. Meanwhile, the Bears made their first appearance since winning Super Bowl XX in 1985. It was only the second time that two pre-expansion era (pre 1960) teams met in the Super Bowl.

Dungy was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996 to 2001, and head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from 2002 to 2008. On December 18, 2008 after securing his tenth straight playoff appearance with a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dungy set a new NFL record for consecutive playoff appearances by a head coach.

Super Bowl XLI marked the second Super Bowl appearance for coach Smith, his first appearance was with the 2001 Saint Louis Rams as their defensive coordinator. He began his professional coaching career as a linebacker coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under the guidance of Tony Dungy.


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Mike Tomlin

Tomlin became the second African-American head coach and the youngest head coach ever to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory.

As the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin was the third youngest head coach in any of the four major professional sports. As the tenth African-American head coach in NFL history, and first in Steelers history –  he lead his team to victory in Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 making Tomlin the youngest head coach ever to do so.

Jerry Reese

Reese’s first two seasons at the top of the franchise’s football operations included a 22-10 regular season record, a victory in Super Bowl XLII and an NFC East championship.

Jerry Reese was hired as the General Manager of the New York Giants on January 16, 2007 and was with the organization until 2017. In his first draft as GM of the Giants, seven of his eight picks contributed immediately and helped build the Giants into a Super Bowl team.


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