Steelers’ Mike Tomlin on Black head coaches: NFL hasn’t ‘been able to move the needle’

'I normally don’t talk publicly during the offseason, but this is a critical issue for us.'

Mike Tomlin is speaking out about the lack of diversity among NFL leadership.

The Pittsburgh Steelers head coach specifically expressed his frustration over Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy being passed to fill a head coaching vacancy. Seven teams changed coaches during or after the 2020 season, per Pro Football Talk, and each team reportedly requested a total of 58 interviews, including with Bieniemy.  

“Bieniemy is a real head-scratcher for me,” Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Every offensive coordinator Andy Reid has had in the last 20 years got a head job. One of those guys, Brad Childress, hired me in Minnesota in 2006. Now, Andy has the best offense he’s ever had and [Bieniemy] can’t get a job?” 

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Tomlin is one of only three Black coaches within the NFL, along with Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins and David Culley of the Houston Texans. When Tomlin was hired in 2007  there were six Black head coaches in the league. More than 60 percent of NFL players are Black.

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers

“I normally don’t talk publicly during the offseason, but this is a critical issue for us,” Tomlin said in the interview. “As important as this is for us in the NFL, it’s also important for us as a society. It deserves all the attention it gets.”

His comments have stirred up debate about the NFL’s decades-old Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when filling head coach and general manager positions. Many believe the NFL is making a mockery of the Rooney Rule.

“I don’t have an answer for you as to how to make it better,” Tomlin told the publication. “The optimist in me says things will get better, but there’s been no evidence in the recent cycles to back that up. Without evidence, all we have is hope. We just haven’t been able to move the needle.”

Tomlin also addressed criticism for not having a Black coordinator during his 14-years helming the Steelers. 

“I always do what is best for our organization,” he said. “I believe in hiring from within in most cases. …I’m highly sensitive to it, but I don’t regret (not having a Black coordinator). I’ve had some good (Black) coaches leave for other jobs.”

Former NFLer Shannon Sharpe heard what he had to say, but he’s not buying it. “Mike Tomlin is in position to hire black coordinators and he hasn’t in 14 years, so I’m not going to let him throw stones at everyone else,” he wrote on Twitter. His post accompanied a video of Sharpe putting Tomlin on blast during a segment on Undisputed — check out the clip below.

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Last year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell noted that the Rooney Rule is not sufficient in addressing the league’s lack of diversity. 

“Clearly, we are not where we want to be on this level,” said Goodell. “We have a lot of work that’s gone into not only the Rooney Rule but our policies overall. It’s clear we need to change and do something different.”

“There’s no reason to expect we’re going to have a different outcome next year without those kinds of changes,” he added.

President Joe Biden has also commented on the lack of Black coaches in the NFL. During an interview that aired at halftime of the 2021 Super Bowl last month, Biden said in part, “I don’t understand why they cannot find — because they exist, so many African American coaches that are qualified, that should be in the pros, in my view.”

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