The number of minority coaches in the N.F.L. is likely to fall by half next season, suggesting that the league’s recent efforts to promote diversity in hiring are still a work in progress.
Two weeks after the end of the regular season, nearly every new head coach hired has been white, which is certain to reignite the debate over whether a league in which roughly three-quarters of the players are black is doing enough to promote people of color into positions of power.
This season, there were eight minority coaches, tied for the most ever. Yet including those fired midseason, five of the eight coaches who lost their jobs were black, leaving just three minority coaches — two black and one Latino — among the 32 coaches in the league.
Thus far, six out of the seven coaches hired by teams have been white.
The sudden reversal of fortune for minority coaches comes after the 32 N.F.L. owners announced in December that they were strengthening rules that obligate teams to consider minority candidates when hiring coaches and executives.
At the time, the league denied that it amended the so-called Rooney Rule, named for Dan Rooney, the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who championed its creation in 2003, because it was not effective enough. The rule requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate in their searches for new coaches.
The N.F.L. declined to comment on coaches hired this month.
With such a small sample size, big fluctuations can happen when a handful of teams have down years. The sudden decline in the number of coaches may look startling, but Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, said that number is bound to rise again.
Lapchick noted that there were a record eight minority coaches in 2011 before the total declined only to have it return to a record eight coaches last year.
“You can’t not notice when that number of black coaches gets fired,” he said. But he added that it was “a part of the natural cycle” of coaches getting fired and hired. “I definitely think it has a chance to go up.”
Lapchick, who compiles a “Racial and Gender Report Card” on the N.F.L. and other professional sports leagues, said having eight minority coaches in a 32-team league, is reasonable. Rather than comparing the percentage of minority coaches to the number of minority players, he uses the percentage of people of color in the entire country as a benchmark.
Cyrus Mehri, the co-founder of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which helped establish the Rooney Rule and monitors its implementation, said his group cannot tell teams which coach to hire. Rather, the key is ensuring that teams give minority candidates an equal shot at obtaining a job, and this year, every team with an opening has followed the rules and interviewed at least one and sometimes several minority candidates.
“You don’t overcome decades of history just by snapping your finger, but we have to say the process was fully followed this year,” he said.
Mehri is focused on strengthening the pipeline of minorities in junior coaching jobs so the pool of candidates for head coaching spots deepens. He noted the percentage of minority offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches is still low. Minorities account for roughly 30 percent of N.F.L. assistants.
“We think the league has a lot of work to do,” he said, though “in the long run, we’re feeling good where things are, and what’s been accomplished.”
Still, the league has been criticized by advocates and former coaches, who have said teams have been skirting the rules.
Last year, it was not clear that the Oakland Raiders conducted any good faith interviews with minority candidates for their vacancy at coach before they ultimately hired Jon Gruden, who is white.
Now that teams have started to fill their coaching vacancies this year, the number of minority coaches may fall by half.
The Arizona Cardinals replaced Steve Wilks, who is black, with Kliff Kingsbury, a college coach. The Green Bay Packers followed by choosing Matt LaFleur as their coach, while the Tampa Buccaneers hired Bruce Arians to replace Dirk Koetter. All three new coaches are white.
The Cleveland Browns followed by hiring Freddie Kitchens, a positions coach with the team who is white. He replaced Hue Jackson, who is black and was fired during the season.
Also last week, the Denver Broncos replaced Vance Joseph, who is black, with Vic Fangio, a longtime defensive coordinator, who is white.
And on Monday, the Jets hired Adam Gase, who had been fired by the Miami Dolphins, to take over the team’s top spot. Gase, who is white, replaced Todd Bowles, who is black.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who fired longtime coach Marvin Lewis, who is black, are reportedly considering hiring Zac Taylor, who is white.
Thus far, the lone exception has been the Dolphins, who are expected to sign Brian Flores, the linebacker coach of the New England Patriots, once his team is eliminated from the playoffs.
If Flores is hired, he would join Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers as the only minority coaches.
There are only a handful of minority general managers as well. Reggie McKenzie, who was named the N.F.L. executive of the year in 2016, was fired midseason by the Oakland Raiders, where he was the chief football executive. Ozzie Newsome, the first African-American general manager in league history, retired after working with the Ravens since they arrived in Baltimore in 1996.
To be sure, coaches are hired and fired for many reasons, including most of all, success on the field. For instance, Joseph was 11-21 in his two seasons in Denver, while Wilks was 3-13 in his one season with the Cardinals.
Teams also change strategic directions, and are increasingly looking for offensive-minded coaches to match the success of high-scoring teams in Los Angeles and Kansas City.
Some black coaches also get other jobs elsewhere. Bowles, for instance, was quickly hired as the defensive coordinator in Tampa.
Still, the N.F.L., where nearly every owner and many top team executives are white, has battled the perception it does not do enough to promote minorities.
Under the new regulations enacted in December, teams looking to fill positions must interview at least one minority candidate from a list kept by the league’s Career Development Advisory Panel, or a minority candidate not currently working with a team. Teams also must keep detailed records of who they interview, which is perhaps a response to criticism from minority candidates who say they are routinely called, but not formally interviewed, by teams trying to do the least possible to fulfill their obligations.
After it was first established in 2003, the Rooney Rule appeared to be having an impact. By 2011, eight N.F.L. teams had coaches of color, the most to that point, or since.
Now, it looks like the league has taken a step back, with the number of minority coaches expected to fall to just four.
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