Race plays role in hiring of NFL head coaches, new study by Kennesaw State researchers reveals

KENNESAW, Ga. | Feb 7, 2022

As the National Football League faces a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in hiring, a new study by Kennesaw State University researchers has examined the role that race plays in the hiring of NFL coaches, finding significant evidence that Black assistant coaches are less likely to be selected for top jobs.

The study, “Race and the Probability of Becoming a Head Coach for NFL Coordinators Since the Introduction of the Rooney Rule: Why Isn’t Eric Bieniemy a Head Coach yet?” was published last week in the Review of Black Political Economy.

Joshua Pitts

“Our study found evidence consistent with discrimination in the hiring of Black head coaches in recent years, particularly that Black offensive and defensive coordinators have been less likely to become head coaches than otherwise similar non-Black-coordinators,” said Joshua Pitts, associate professor of sport management and economics and the study's lead researcher.

The study gives special attention to the case of Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and concludes that Bieniemy’s probability of becoming a head coach for the 2021 season would have increased from 42.5% to 57.2% if he were not Black, Pitts explained. 

“The Brian Flores lawsuit demonstrates how this is an ongoing and prevalent issue in the NFL,” Pitts said. “What we have found is that the NFL doesn’t look to hire running backs, like Bieniemy who features prominently in Flores’ lawsuit, as head coaches, yet we’ve also been able to factor many variables in our study. Even after accounting for numerous characteristics of coordinators, we still find evidence consistent with racial bias in the hiring of head coaches.”

Their findings are most notable since 2018, showing evidence that Black coordinators have been less likely to become head coaches, regardless of whether they ever played in the NFL. Their research also reveals several other race-related reasons for the lack of head coaching opportunities for Black coaches in the NFL.

The model used by the researchers explores the hiring practices of NFL head coaches since the 2003 inception of the Rooney Rule – an NFL policy that requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates when hiring – through 2020.  

Led by Pitts, the study also involved co-authors John D. Johnson, associate professor of sport management of Kennesaw State, and Brent Evans of Georgia College and State University.

“I have always been interested in race and gender in sports and how those factors influence economic outcomes,” said Pitts, who has published research studies on racial position segregation in intercollegiate football, predicting performance outcomes of NFL playoff games, high school quarterbacks’ performance at the collegiate level and the determinants of draft position for NBA prospects. 

To read the full study: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/00346446221076866?fbclid=IwAR2RMFy9kuq4L2pNflgRNABagX2u2mxG7CKKz8RcAm8m2UrKQn2bPwfxooQ

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.