Denver Coaches, Dan Rooney, Bill Walsh and Diversity

With the passing of Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s a good time to take a look at the Rooney Rule, Bill Walsh’s Coaching Diversity Fellowship and see how both programs have affected the Denver Broncos and its coaching staff.

After head coaches Tony Dungy and Dennis Green were fired in 2002,  civil rights attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri released a study showing that black head coaches were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired than their white coaches. They threatened to sue the NFL if action wasn’t taken to show progress being made representing diversity in NFL coaching.

While two-thirds of NFL rosters are made up of minorities, in 2002, only two head coaches were minorities.

Former NFL players Kellen Winslow and John Wooten then put together an action committee for diversity in the NFL and Rooney was named Chairman. Since then, an NFL owner’s action committee has been added to focus on diversity in coaching.

It’s purpose is to promote workplace diversity since there was a disappointing result from the original Rooney Rule. The objective is for each team to pledge they would interview at least one ‘qualified’ minority coach for vacant head coaching positions, with each owner pledging to interview at least one minority applicant. All owners voluntarily participate and are under no obligation to hire anyone they interview.

While the Rooney Rule and its Scouts’ Honor has given minorities a chance at interviewing, it’s actually Bill Walsh’s program that has pumped out the qualified candidates for the NFL.

In 1987, Walsh established the Minority Coaches Fellowship program to broaden inclusiveness. A few years later, the NFL adopted Walsh’s program. Beginning at Stanford, Walsh brought a specific perspective with him to the NFL. He observed that as assistants gained experience, they were promoted internally and externally, and they brought one another along as they moved up the coaching ladder.

The program has morphed into internships by exposing minority college coaches and ex-players interested in coaching to opportunities. This includes attending summer NFL training camps.  The program has tutored more than 1,700 minority coaches with all 32 teams participating.

The ‘graduates’ of Walsh’s fellowship program have been on teams with 22 winning Super Bowls, including the Broncos.

Ironically, two of the graduates of this program were Green and Dungy, who’s employment controversies would lead to the Rooney Rule.

Former Broncos Defense Coordinator Ray Rhodes, was a product of Bill Walsh mentoring. He and Mike Shanahan, former coach under Bill Walsh, reunited in Denver.

What makes Walsh’s program thrive is it is a networking organization with internships as its focal point that reaches every level of the NFL. Coaches helping other coaches. There is one purpose, candidates apply and learn from the best, who then graduate and recommend other candidates.  It’s a successful model that is impacting coaching staffs across the NFL.

In Denver, we currently have four coaches who were involved in the Minority Coaches Fellowship Program: Running Backs coach Eric Studesville, Wide Receivers Coach Tyke Tolbert, Tony Coaxum, and Samson Brown.

Because of Rooney and Walsh, we have men like Vance Joseph, Joe Woods and the above coaches leading  our team. With Rooney’s passing today it reminds us the NFL has lost a second pioneer and will be missed. Unfortunately, there is far to go to leveling out the disparity between the amount of minority players and the men coaching them.

Lets hope we continue to see an upward movement.

RIP–Bill and Dan.

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