Two steps forward, one step back: NFL will have zero non-white offensive coordinators

In February for Black History Month, USA TODAY Sports is publishing the series "29 Black Stories in 29 Days." We examine the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials continue to face after the nation’s reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. This is the fourth installment of the series.

Something remarkable happened during this NFL hiring cycle. The league hired four coaches of color in a single cycle, a record for the NFL. The league was rightfully lauded. But then...

Something remarkable happened during this NFL hiring cycle. As things stand now, there will be zero non-white offensive coordinators entering this coming season.

That's right. Zero.

According to research conducted by USA TODAY Sports as part of its NFL Coaches Project, this will be the first time since the implementation of the Rooney Rule in 2003 that the league starts a season without a single offensive coordinator of color.

This particular moment for the league is typical NFL. There's one historic achievement that is worth celebrating followed by another that sets the league back. Both within weeks of each other. Two steps forward, one to the rear when it comes to race is the NFL motto. It should be etched on the Lombardi Trophy.

Why is this story important? It's definitely changing (slightly) but the offensive coordinator position is the most glamorous in football when it comes to assistant coaches. This axiom still applies: the closer to the quarterback, the more important the coaching position. So coordinators and quarterback coaches/passing game coordinators remain the place where many teams looking for head coaches will go to first. Not all the time but in many instances.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and former offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Leftwich hasn't been able to get another coordinator job since he was fired in 2023.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and former offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Leftwich hasn't been able to get another coordinator job since he was fired in 2023.

Black coaches have been traditionally excluded from this position. For this coming season, at least, they are being excluded yet again.

"It's a hard climb for a Black guy," Lionel Taylor, who was the first Black offensive coordinator in NFL history, told USA TODAY Sports in 2023.

Taylor, who was first named the position in 1980 with the Los Angeles Rams, added: "People say, ‘Well it was a long time, things are so much better,’ and this and that. That’s an excuse. You say you’re climbing the ladder but you haven’t made it. That’s the way I look at it."

"That position has plagued us," NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said last year. "A lot of that is from the false narratives of who these men were and what they were capable of doing − these myths that exist. We’ve still got a lot of work to do here. But the efforts of building, focusing in on building the pipeline, we believe will have some long-term implications."

Meanwhile, 18 of 32 defensive coordinators, or 56%, are non-white. Fourteen of the 18 are Black.

Again, go back to offensive coordinators. There will be a significant number of owners and general managers who will look to almost exclusively hire from the offensive coordinator pool. They may interview defensive coordinators but they'll want to hire from the offensive side of the ball and having no people of color holding the top spot on offense is devastating for the league.

In 2022, the league instituted a policy requiring each team to have at least one woman or minority offensive assistant coach. Commissioner Roger Goodell, at his Super Bowl press conference on Feb. 5, said the lack of offensive coordinators of color isn't an indication that policy is failing.

"... I think these programs take a while," Goodell said. "Offensive assistants are young. They need the ability to have exposure to the experiences to grow, to be able to get the kind of experience to become offensive coordinators and then head coaches. I think it's too early to say it's not working. I don't accept that at this stage."

There's another part of this that's important. It's not just the lack of hiring. It's another problem that's plagued the league, and the NFL can't seem to find a way to solve it. White offensive coordinators like Luke Getsy, Kellen Moore and Ken Dorsey, among others, move around the league more freely. They hop from one offensive coordinator position to another with little issue. Moore, for example, since 2019 has been the offensive coordinator for the Cowboys, Chargers and now Eagles.

The opposite is true with Black offensive coordinators such as Byron Leftwich, Marcus Brady, Thomas Brown and Brian Johnson. If you remove Leftwich's interim stint as an offensive coordinator, he's only gotten one shot at the position, last with the Buccaneers in 2022. Leftwich won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.

Brady was offensive coordinator for the Colts in 2021-2022 but hasn't held the same position since. He's been an offensive consultant and senior offensive assistant with the Eagles and is currently the passing game coordinator for the Chargers (but again not the coordinator).

Brown was the offensive coordinator for the Panthers last season and is now the passing game coordinator for the Bears. Johnson was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles last year and is now the assistant head coach/offensive pass game coordinator in Washington.

This is where we are. Steps forward, several back. Maybe one day that will change but it might be a long time.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL offensive coordinators are all white; a horrible look for league