It's been nearly a year since former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed his racial discrimination lawsuit against the National Football League, and sources around the league are tense that another hiring cycle could come and go with few -- if any -- Black men filling vacant head-coaching roles.
The NFL currently has five open head-coaching positions and it's likely to stay that way without a surprise firing or retirement after this weekend. Last year the league saw just three of its 10 open jobs go to men of color. And since the start of the 2012 regular season, 80 percent of all available head-coaching jobs have gone to white men.
Despite the league's efforts to strengthen and promote the pipeline of diverse coaching talent and improve the Rooney Rule, many around the league are questioning whether the NFL is headed for another poor showing in the coming days when the first hires are likely to be made.
An agent who represents coaches and executives told CBS Sports one NFL team trying to fill a high-ranking position said it had done deep dives on only half the candidates for whom they requested to interview, making the agent wonder if some of the interviewees were box-checks.
In an effort to bolster diversity in high-ranking positions, the NFL now requires teams to interview two external minority candidates during the search process. But the further requirement has made some around the league wonder whether their interview is legitimate.
"Is it Rooney?" a different agent asked when weighing whether to allow his client to take an interview for a high-ranking vacant position.
One head coach looking to fill a vacant coaching position told CBS Sports he spent part of a day this past week assuring the minority candidates on his list that the interest was legitimate and the interviews could be taken seriously.
"These are viable candidates," the head coach stressed.
A lack of diversity at the league's top positions has long been an issue for the NFL and, more specifically, of NFL team owners. The league has seen an increase in team presidents and general managers (both at eight, an all-time NFL high), but team owners have shown a resistance to hiring Black men as their head coaches.
A report this week from USA Today revealed that, since 2003, just four men have made up nearly a quarter of all publicly reported non-white interviews for head-coaching jobs. Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has unfortunately become the face of this, with his interview Thursday with the Colts bringing the total of teams he's interviewed with for a head-coaching position to 15.
Bieniemy only began interviewing for head-coaching jobs in 2019. Nine teams haven't had a head-coaching vacancy since then, meaning that he's interviewed with 15 of the 23 teams that have had an opening with no job offer.
The NFL was put on notice last February when Flores, recently fired from the Dolphins and recently interviewed by the Giants, filed a class-action suit against the NFL, Giants, Broncos and Dolphins, alleging, among other things, racial discrimination.
Two months later, Ray Horton and Steve Wilks joined the suit. Horton, a longtime NFL coach, alleged he was intentionally put through a sham interview in Tennessee in 2016 when the job had already been handed to Mike Mularkey.
Wilks served as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for just one year before owner Michael Bidwill fired him following the 2018 season
"Like many situations when Black Head Coaches are hired in the NFL, in retrospect it is clear Mr. Wilks was hired as a 'bridge coach,'" the lawsuit reads. "A 'bridge coach' is understood to be a coach who is not given a meaningful opportunity to succeed and is simply 'keeping the seat warm' until the team is better positioned to succeed, at which point a new coach is brought in.
"True to form, Mr. Wilks was not given nearly the time nor authority to develop the team or culture for the Cardinals -- certainly nothing at all commensurate with the time and opportunities afforded to white Head Coaches throughout the League."
Wilks served as Carolina's interim coach this season, going 6-6 after the Panthers fired Matt Rhule following a Week 5 loss. Wilks came within a game of winning the NFC South while playing three quarterbacks and without Christian McCaffrey, whom the Panthers traded at midseason.
Still, he hasn't gotten a head-coaching interview request this cycle outside of the internal interview in Carolina.
Flores, meanwhile, was able to latch on with Mike Tomlin's Steelers this past offseason. The Browns have interviewed him for their vacant defensive coordinator position, and Thursday the Cardinals put in a request for Flores for their head-coaching job.
Flores now has a decision to make: to decline the interview from a team his co-plaintiff is suing for racial discrimination, or to accept it and potentially become an NFL head coach once again.
The lawsuit remains in the court system as both parties wait for the judge to rule on whether it heads to arbitration as the NFL wishes or open court.