2013. Vol.3, No.4, 264-267
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/sm) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/sm.2013.34035
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Occupational Mobility Patterns: A Case Study of Leadership and
Access in the National Football League
Carlton Keith Harrison, Scott Bukstein
DeVos Sport Business Management Program, Colle ge of Business
Administration, Univ e rsity of Central Florida , Orlando, USA
Email: email@example.com, carlton.harrison@ucf. e du
Received July 7th, 2013; revised August 9th, 2013; accepted August 20th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Carlton Keith Harrison, Scott Bukstein. This is an open access article distributed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is pr operly cited.
This short report provides an overview and analysis of data on coaching mobility patterns in the National
Football League (NFL). Previous studies in this area have generally focused on the effectiveness of the
Rooney Rule (for example, analyzing the hiring process and proposing new strategies to increase the
number of non-White head coaches) and comparing the win/loss records of White and non-White head
coaches (for example, determining whether non-White coaches are provided with a meaningful opportu-
nity to turn around a team with a losing record). This report focuses on whether Whites and non-Whites
face systemic and socio-cultural access barriers after one or more stints as a head coach in the NFL. The
findings of this study indicate that, historically, NFL teams have been reluctant to hire a non-White indi-
vidual for a head coach, offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator position after a non-White indi-
vidual has previously been fired or has resigned from a head coach position in the NFL.
Keywords: Mobility; Access Barriers; Occupational Mobility Patterns
This short report provides a pre liminary overview a nd analy-
sis of data on coaching mobility patterns in the National Foot-
ball League (NFL). Previous studies in this area have generally
focused on the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule (for example,
analyzing the hiring process and proposing new strategies to
increase the number of non-White head coaches) and compar-
ing the win/loss records of White and non-White head coaches
(for example, determining whether non-White coaches are pro-
vided with a meaningful opportunity to turn around a team with
a losing record). This report analyzes data provided by the NFL
and focuses on whether Whites and non-Whites face systemic
and socio-cultural access barriers after one or more stints as a
head coach in the NFL. Stated differently, this report attempts
to address whether Whites and/or non-Whites only have one
opportunity to prove themselves, and therefore attention must
focus on retention, career progre ssion, contin ued access and “l i fe
after being a head coach” in addition to the Rooney’s Rule
noteworthy focus on initial entry/access for ethnic minorities.
The authors of this short report hope that this report serves as a
case study and platform for other scholars and practitioners to
develop practical recommendations, policies, and processes to
address the broader sociological issue relating to how intangible
factors such as trust, implicit biases, informal networks, and
perceived (in)competence impact occupational mobility.
Concise Review of Literature on Occupational
Social and behavioral scientists have developed various theo-
ries to explain status, power, and upward social mobility (see,
e.g., Davis & Moore, 1945; see also Zweigenhaft & Domhoff,
2006). Previous research on occupational mobility patterns has
generally focused on three approaches: the career or work his-
tory approach, the human capital approach (education and com-
petencies), and the status attainment approach (social capital
and mentors) (see Smith & Abbott, 1983; see also Loy, 1969).
Prior studies on occupational mobility of coaches has focused
on geographical mobility patterns (see Sage & Loy, 1978),
structural barriers and mana geme nt hierarchies (Braddock, S m i t h,
& Dawkins, 2012), and the importance of positioning individ-
ual coaching identities on specific hiring trees of influential
employers and head coaches with icon status, access and op-
portunity (Brooks & Althouse, 1993, 2000, 2007, 2013; Swa-
minathan, Wade, & Schwabb, working paper). For example,
results from quantitative analyses by Day & McDonald (2010)
demonstrated that social capital matters a great deal for promo-
tions, but its impact is contingent on race; network connections
to heterogeneous contacts (racially heterophilous ties, weak ties,
and high status ties) appear to be more effective for African
American coaches than for White coaches.
Other scholars have written about the social phenomena of
racial stacking (determination of athlete playing position based
on racial stereotypes) and centrality (relative distance to the
center of the action on the playing field) to explain how race
impacts the position an athlete plays (see, e.g., Phillips, 1983;
Smith & Harrison, 1996). Scholars have explained how athletes
of color get “stacked” in “non-central” positions that require the
smallest amounts of leadership qualities, interaction, and deci-
sion-making (see generally Yiannakis & Melnick, 2001). These
scholarly studies that focus on how stereotypes and implicit
biases impact decisions with respect to athletes inform the cur-
C. K. HARRISON, S. BUKSTEIN
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 265
rent report’s focus on occupational mobility of coaches. For
instance, in a data-based study, Rosette, Leonardelli, & Phillips
(2008) found the follo wing: 1) White business leaders a re ev al u-
ated as more likely to succeed when such leaders are viewed as
responsible for an organization’s success; 2) White business
leaders are considered more effective and typically experience
better career advancement opportunities than racial minority
leaders; 3) the lack of racial and ethnic minorities in top posi-
tions is due in part to leadership prototypes and leadership cate-
gorization theories; and 4) the unconscious and conscious label
of “the White Standard” by evaluators means evaluators per-
ceive successful leaders as White regardless of the evaluator’s
own race. Furthermore, Greene (2012) examined the “discourse
of privilege” phenomenon that relies on rarely articulated sub-
jective evaluation standards, which operates to exempt indi-
viduals who select candidates for head coach positions from
contemporary norms of fairness and legitimacy.
Methodology and Approach of Current
This report investigated data regarding NFL head coach demo -
graphics, stint and mobility patterns from 1963-2012. This time
period is used because 1963 serves as the first year that the
NFL began to track relevant data on head coach mobility pat-
terns. Based on the NFL database of human resources in terms
of head coaches, these data were analyzed for mobility patterns.
Report data is based on the start of the 2012 NFL season. In-
terim head coaches were not included in the data set with re-
spect to determining the total number of people who have held
head coaching positions in the NFL from 1963-2012. Attempts
were made to verify the number of vacancies filled and indi-
vidual separations, trajectories and occupational patterns of NFL
head coaches based on the data provided by the NFL. If an
individual was a head coach for multiple NFL teams, the report
counts that coach one time in the data set because this report
focuses on an analysis of access, opportunity and coaching
mobility (i.e., the number of individuals who have held head
coach positions) instead of the total number of head coach va-
cancies from 1963-2012.
Findings and Results on NFL Coaching
Based on data provided by the NFL, from 1963-2012 there
have been 124 White head coaches in the NFL, 14 African
American head coaches, and three Latino head coaches. His-
torically, the disparity and skewed representation between Whi te
head coaches in the NFL (87.9%) and non-White head coaches
(12.1%) is indisputable over a fifty-year period (1963-2012). At
the beginning of the 2012 NFL regular season, there were six
non-White head coaches (18.8% of head coaches), as compared
with 26 White head coaches (81.2% of head coaches). At the
time of publication of this report, there were only four non-
White head coaches (12.5% of head coaches in the NFL).
The findings of this study indicate that, historically, NFL
teams have been reluctant to hire a non-White individual for a
head coach, offensive coordinato r or defensive coordinator po si-
tion after a non-White individual has previously been fired or
has resigned from a head coach position in the NFL. For exam-
ple, after separating (i.e., being fired or resigning) from a first
head coach position, seven non-White individuals (41.2% of the
17 total non-White head coaches from 1963-2012) have re-
ceived (and accepted) a second head coach opportunity in the
NFL. However, since 2007 only one non-White individual, Ro-
meo Crennel, has received (and accepted) a second head coach
opportunity. After separating from a second head coach posi-
tion, only one non-White coach, Tom Flores, has received (and
accepted) a third opportunity to be the head coach of an NFL
team. Not a single non-White coach has had a fourth opportu-
nity to be the head coach of an NFL team.
After separating from a first head coach position, 46 White
individuals (37.1% of the 124 total White head coaches from
1963-2012) have received (and accepted) a second head coach
opportunity, as compared with seven non-White individuals.
Twelve White coaches have received (and accepted) a third
opportunity to be the head coach of an NFL team, as compared
with only one non-White coach, Tom Flores. Three White
coaches (Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips, and Marty Schottenheimer)
have had a fourth opportunity to be the head coach of an NFL
team, as compared with zero non-White individuals.
After separating from a first head coach position, 21 White
individuals have held defensive coordinator positions and 19
White individuals have held offensive coordinator positions.
After separating from a first head coach position, one non-
White individual (Romeo Crennel) has held the defensive coor-
dinator position and one non-White individual (Tom Fears) has
been an offensive coordinator. It is important to note that only
two non-White individuals (Romeo Crennel and Tom Fears)
have accepted an offensive coordinator or defensive coordina-
tor position after one stint as a head coach in the NFL, and no
non-White individual has held an offensive coordinator position
after one stint as an NFL head coach since Tom Fears made that
transition in the early 1970s1.
Three White individuals have held defensive coordinator po-
sitions and three White individuals have held offensive coordi-
nator positions after separating from a second head coach posi-
tion. Only one non-White individual (Ray Rhodes) has held a
defensive coordinator position and zero non-White coaches h ave
held an offensive coordinator position after separating from a
second stint as a head coach in the NFL.
Since 1980, approximately 30 individuals who have served
as head coaches in the NFL have subsequently accepted a head
coach position with a college football team in the Football
Bowl Subdivision (FBS). All of these individuals have been
White coaches. Stated differently, zero non-White individuals
have successfully transitioned from a former NFL head coach
to a college football head coach since 1980. It is important to
note that there is no reliable data with respect to how many
non-White individuals have pursued (but were not offered and/
or did not accept) these college head coach positions after at
least one stint as a head coach in the NFL.
Fourteen Afri can Ame rican i ndi vidual s have bee n head co ach es
in the NFL since 1963. Six additional African American indi-
viduals have held interim head coach positions (i.e., these indi-
viduals were head coaches for a part of an NFL season) but
were not offered the head coach position for the following full
NFL season. Only five NFL teams have hired two African
American head coaches from 1963-2012. No NFL team has
hired three African American head coaches. Also, the Indian-
1Report data is based on the beginning of the 2012 NFL regular season. Jim
Caldwell, an African American who was previously the head coach of the
Indianapolis Colts, was named Offensive Coordinator of the Baltimore
the 2012 NFL season.
C. K. HARRISON, S. BUKSTEIN
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
apolis Colts became the first (and only) NFL team to hire Afri-
can American head coaches back-to-back when the Colts hired
Jim Caldwell to succeed Tony Dungy in 2009.
Eight NFL head coaches were fired shortly after the end of
the 2012 NFL regular season. Six of these head coaches were
White individuals, and two were non-White coaches. As of the
time of publication of this report, four of the six White indi-
viduals had already accepted another NFL coaching-related po si -
tion (one as a head coach and three as offensive coordinators),
but neither of the two non-White individuals had been named to
a head coach or coordinator position.
Please refer to Tables 1-3 below for an overview of primary
Discussion and Conclusion
A 2002 study commissioned by the late Johnnie Cochran, Jr.
and prominent employment discrimination lawyer Cyrus Mehri,
conducted by Dr. Janice Madden, looked directly at the per-
formance statistics of African American head coaches in the
NFL compared to those of White coaches; the study found that
African American head coaches averaged 1.1 more wins per
season, led their teams to the playoffs 67% of the time com-
pared to 39% of the time for White coaches, averaged 2.7 more
wins in their first season and, in their final seasons, terminated
African American coaches averaged 1.3 more wins than White
coaches who were also terminated (see Greene, 2012). Not-
withstanding this historical data on winning percentages
based on the race of a head coach, the current study found that,
in terms of occupational mobility, the second and third chances
for non-Whites to continue coaching at the positions of head
coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator have
Race of NFL head coaches (1963-2012).
Number of CoachesPercent
NFL opportunity after first head coach position.
NFL Head Coach746
NFL Offensive Coordinator119
NFL Defensive Coordinator121
NFL opportunity after seco nd head coach position.
NFL Head Coach112
NFL Offensive Coordinator03
NFL Defensive Coordina tor 13
been inequitable in comparison to Whites in the NFL from
The findings of the study in this report underscore and un-
cover the complexity of organizational nuances that may influ-
ence the final hiring decisions at the professional and collegiate
levels and determine the fate of non-White coaches to maneu-
ver the hierarchies of leadership positions. Previous analysis on
this concept of fewer career opportunities has focused on Afri-
can American quarterbacks and th e phenomenon of racial st ack-
ing (Edwards, 1973; Lapchick, 1991; Smith, 2007), as well as
the lack of ethnic minorities in other major professional sport
leagues (e.g., Major League Baseball). In addition, researchers
such as Professor Katherine Phillips and colleagues challenge
scholars and practitioners to examine this issue on a deeper
level beyond perceptions, policy and awareness. Phillips et al.
have developed a theory-based argument that supports the cur-
rent report’s research findings with respect to whether variables
such as “institutional inequality” (Davis & Moore, 1945: p. 243;
see also Acker, 2006) and “membership in powerful coaching
families” (Greene, 2012: p. 131) have more of an impact in the
hiring and evaluation processes than do the substantive skill
sets of individuals.
Phillips and her colleagues were inspired to research this
topic after the fate of college head football coaches like Ty
Willingham at Notre Dame, who compiled a 21-15 record but
was fired after three years on a five-year contract, thereby be-
coming the first coach in the university’s history at the time to
have his contract terminated in the middle of his tenure. Phillips
explained, “We had a few ideas before the project, but the pro-
ject started shaping itself. We started thinking that African
Americans are not getting the credit they deserve; they do not
always have the doors opened; and when they get there they are
evaluated differently” (Kellogg Insight, 2008: p. 1). Similar in
part to this report’s focus, these researchers asked the question
does the phenomenon of discrimination differences and differ-
ent evaluative criteria with respect to job performance happen
in business and whether one “can one show that these differ-
ences exist and have an impact on people’s ability to ascend to
leadership positions and stay there?” (Kellogg Insight, 2008: p.
Whites and non-Whites experience different mobility pat-
terns of success and failure as they move from organization to
organization in the NFL (see Rosette et al., 2008). While the
Rooney Rule has been effective in allowing ethnic minority
candidates more initial access than was previously realized at
the time—the culture of NFL male networks, cryonism (i.e.,
showing favoritism to friends and colleagues without regard to
actual competencies and qualifications), and the “who knows
you” culture requires that a serious analysis of the situation
continues to occur. For now, the data in the current report af-
firm that some standard is in place for certain coaches to jump
from team to team in head coaching or coordinator roles. Is that
standard racist? That should not be the focus—the focus should
be on changing the culture and figuring out why the same at-
tributes that normally dictate “the reshuffling effect” for White
coaches does not transfer over for non-White coaches with the
same pedigree (or even better pedigree) after their first or sec-
ond separation from a head coaching position in the NFL. The
data in the current report support the research by several col-
leagues mentioned earlier in this report that non-White coaches
face a different reality in terms of “playing the game” and “ sta y-
ing in the game.”
C. K. HARRISON, S. BUKSTEIN
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 267
The public discourse in terms of fans and outside observers
of the NFL’s diversity and inclusion issues and policies such as
the Rooney Rule remains limited, ill-informed and in need of
some factual information on how diversity is defined, catego-
rized and analyzed. As is often the case, numerous fans per-
ceive that contemporary society is “post-racial” and that there is
no need to address racial, gender and other social issues that
impact sport in society. The high representation of non-White
football players in particular distorts the public perception that
equality has been realized. Access to leadership and top man-
agement roles in professional and college sport is not the same
as access to physical participation at the competitive levels on
the field of play. In the future, a strong push to strategically and
systematically educate fans of the NFL could help contribute to
a national and global culture that understands the true evidence
relating to equality and the t rue meaning of equali ty.
The Rooney Rule has unquestionably helped to shape a cul-
ture of opportunity in terms of those individuals that make it to
the final interview process from a wider candidate pool. How-
ever, while the Rooney Rule “combats unconscious bias and
increases the chances of selecting the best person for the job”
(Proxmire, 2008: p. 9), there remains a need to improve both
the policy and the process. The Rooney Rule has provided
many non-White head coach candidates with access to a mean-
ingful interview. The next step is to provide non-Whites with
access to information about the culture of the NFL and with
access to the powerful formal and informal networks (that is,
social capital) that impact whether an individual might have a
second or third opportunity in the NFL. The Rooney Rule may
enable a non-White individual to have an opportunity to secure
that initial head coach position, but intangible factors such as
trust and perceived competence may have even more of an
impact on future occupational mobility (second and third coach-
ing opportunities). Therefore, in addition to working to increase
the number of non-Whites who make hiring decisions (team
owners and general managers), it is imperative to work on im-
proving “the perception of competence” of non-White sport
business professionals by both Whites and non-Whites (Shrop-
shire, 1996: pp. 129-30). Stated differently, even if there is an
increase in non-White general managers and team o wners, neg a-
tive race consciousness associated with the coaching capabili-
ties of non-Whites may still exist and persist (see Shropshire,
1996). Strategic diversity management is a business imperative
(see Thomas, 2010), as a more diverse and inclusive (and in-
formed) workforce will make the NFL an even stronger or-
ganization and brand.
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