NBA veteran Al Harrington says NFL hiring policies 'embarrassing'

Al Harrington: NBA has done a 'way better job' than the NFL with diversity (2:21)

Former player and current assistant coach with the Cape Town Tigers Al Harrington shares his thoughts on diversity in the NBA and NFL coaching ranks. (2:21)

Former NBA veteran and Cape Town Tigers assistant coach Al Harrington has criticized the NFL for failing to emulate basketball's attitude towards hiring Black coaches.

While acknowledging that more work still needs to be done to promote diversity in basketball coaching, the former Indiana Pacers power forward claimed that the problems in his sport are not as severe as those in football.

Harrington, who will coach the Tigers at their Basketball Africa League debut in April, told ESPN: "I think there's always work to be done, but you see the diversity [in basketball coaching], right?

"The NBA never had this issue that the NFL has constantly. With the NFL, to me at this point, it's kind of embarrassing.

"I take my hat off to the NBA. They've done a way better job than the NFL has even tried to do."

Harrington's 16-year NBA career saw him turn out for the Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards. Shortly after he retired from basketball in 2015, he had a three-month spell assisting a depleted Nuggets coaching staff.

However, his current role with the Cape Town Tigers is his first coaching job with significant responsibilities. The Tigers have qualified for the second season of the BAL, an annual continental tournament organized by the NBA and FIBA.

Harrington has good reason to feel that the opportunities for a Black coach are greater in basketball than football. There are currently 14 Black head coaches in the 30-team NBA: Nate McMillan (Atlanta), Ime Udoka (Boston), J.B. Bickerstaff (Cleveland), Dwane Casey (Detroit), Tyronn Lue (Clippers), Willie Green (New Orleans), Doc Rivers (Philadelphia), Monty Williams (Phoenix), Chauncey Billups (Portland), Alvin Gentry (Sacramento), Wes Unseld Jr. (Washington), Jamahl Mosley (Orlando), Stephen Silas (Houston) and Jason Kidd (Dallas).

Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers) and the recently-appointed Lovie Smith (Houston Texans) are the only Black NFL head coaches in the 32-team league. The new Dolphins coach, Mike McDaniel, identifies as biracial, while Robert Saleh (New York Jets) is of Lebanese descent and Ron Rivera (Washington Commanders) is partially of Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage.

Brian Flores, who was fired by the Miami Dolphins in 2021, filed a lawsuit this month against the NFL, New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and Dolphins, alleging racial discrimination.

Harrington suggested that paucity was a result of the ineffectiveness of the Rooney Rule, which was established in 2003 to ensure ethnic-minority candidates were interviewed for NFL head coaching and major operational positions. At the time of its adoption, there were three Black head coaches in the league.

Harrington said: "We were talking about this Rooney Rule 15 years ago. Still, it's the same conversation.

"They [the NFL] are trying to say that they have five minority coaches. I respect that, but at the end of the day, we want to start [with] specifically Black [coaches], because it's 70% Black players [in the NFL], not minority players.

"Those are cute ways in which they are trying to get around the issues. Until they stop doing that, there are always going to be problems."

Harrington, who has established himself in business through his cannabis company, Viola Brands, says he dreams of one day owning an NBA franchise. Despite foreseeing his long-term future in entrepreneurship rather than coaching, he says he was convinced to try his hand in the BAL by his former trainer, Tigers part-owner Raphael Edwards.

The Tigers will play their first BAL game against Petro de Luanda in Cairo on April 10. If they seal a top four spot in the six-team Nile Conference, they will proceed to May's playoffs in Kigali, Rwanda.