Inside Slant: NFL diversity hirings increase

NFL teams took a substantive and progressive step in diversity hiring this winter after a dip that prompted the league to double down on its interview policies and practices.

Indeed, the Cleveland Browns' front-office shake-up Tuesday ended with Ray Farmer becoming the NFL's seventh African-American general manager. According to John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which works with the league to support diversity and inclusiveness, that figure is a record.

The chart provides details.

The story was decidedly different in January 2013, when the hiring season ended without a single minority hire among 15 general manager/coaching openings. Robert Gulliver, the NFL's executive vice president of human resources, issued a statement acknowledging a "disappointing lack of diversity."

Since then, however, there have been four minority hirings or promotions. The Buffalo Bills elevated Doug Whaley to general manager last May, the Detroit Lions (Jim Caldwell) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Lovie Smith) hired African-American coaches last month, and Farmer was promoted Tuesday.

Speaking by phone Tuesday morning, Wooten said he is encouraged by evidence that NFL owners didn't merely seek to comply with the Rooney Rule, which requires a diverse set of candidates for every general manager and head coach opening.

"The hiring process has been outstanding," Wooten said. "We have seen a real professional manner in which the interview process has been conducted throughout the offseason for coaches and general mangers. We give the NFL great credit for what they're doing and the way the process is being done.

"It's very obvious to us that it's not just about compliance, but it's about commitment. We said early on that we would ask the owners and the general managers and the people in position to do the hiring that they not bring in one single candidate unless they are committed to seriously hiring this person. We think they've done that. We're very, very pleased and we take our hats off to it. We've seen compliance with commitment, and that's what we're all sharing in as we move forward."

We all know the Rooney Rule isn't a perfect process, especially when teams genuinely find the pool of candidates to be lacking. So it's worth noting that both the Browns and Bills found their new general managers from within, presumably after developing their skills and possibly grooming them for those positions.

The Lions and Bucs, meanwhile, hired coaches who took their previous teams to the Super Bowl. The goal here is not to force teams to hire diverse candidates. It's to ensure that qualified aspirants get serious consideration for top jobs. I think we can agree that happened this winter.