Tony Dungy calls out NFL owners for 'hurting our league' with hiring cycle choices

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Adam Hermann
·3 min read
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Tony Dungy calls out Lurie, owners for 'hurting' the NFL originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Most of the football world is celebrating the sport as we careen towards Super Bowl Sunday, but on Thursday former NFL head coach Tony Dungy took a different tone about America's favorite sport. In an open letter to NFL owners, Dungy called out what he perceives to be unfair hiring practices, specifically ones that exclude Black and other minority voices from positions of power around the league.

Dungy's letter, published on NBC Sports.com, takes a long-view, historically-based look at the NFL's relationship with Black athletes and coaches. The whole thing is worth a read to better understand Dungy's point of view, and the league's complicated history with Black players. 

But one segment in particular stuck out, in which Dungy called out the most powerful people in football for their role in continually ignoring Black voices in an overwhelmingly Black sport:

"Look at the c-suites of your teams, the medical staffs, and the ultimate decision makers—the head coaches and GMs—and you’ll see those faces don’t represent what your teams look like. And it has been discouraging to see that in the last three hiring cycles of head coaches, things have not been much different. Are we to believe that you’re really doing exhaustive searches, trying to uncover the best coaches, but only two out of the last 20 have been African Americans?

"You should know how much it hurt me in 1977 to graduate from college and not be given a chance to try to play QB in the NFL. It hurt in 1993 to have coordinated the number one defense in the NFL and not get an interview for one of the five head coaching openings that year. But I have to tell you it hurts even more to see African American coaches going through the same thing almost 30 years later.  And it will hurt to see four African American coordinators in this Super Bowl who will be questioning whether they will actually get an opportunity to be a head coach in the foreseeable future. And this is hurting our league."

It's impossible to argue Dungy's facts, and it's extremely hard - and borderline disingenuous - to argue his logic. In a sport with nearly 70% of its player base made up of Black players, there is no logical reason that more Black people haven't landed head coaching jobs over the last 20 years. To hide behind the "meritocracy" argument is to lie to yourself; Adam Gase got a second chance at being a head coach before Eric Bieniemy or Byron Leftwich got a first chance.

The Eagles have a role in this, and should be listening closely to Dungy. Their main hires this offseason were overwhelmingly white, and not overwhelmingly qualified.

I discussed this a little bit late last month:

"Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie likes to think of himself as a progressive man with progressive ideals. Here's what he said at the outset of this coaching search:

"'We are very open, and it's top of mind, to make sure that we have some of the best minority candidates in on the search. It's very important for us, for the league.

"But his team hasn't had a full-time minority head coach, offensive coordinator, or defensive coordinator this century, which puts him squarely in the middle of that hiring pattern."

The Eagles have hired Black coaches to Sirianni's staff, but the true power in the NFL lies largely in four positions outside of the owners: general managers, head coaches, offensive coordinators, and defensive coordinators. There, as they've been for decades, the Eagles are once again lacking any full-time diversity.

From Lurie, to every owner around the league, it's clear the NFL absolutely needs to listen to Dungy and to do better.

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