Then-Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley in 2019

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The ongoing conversation about discrimination in NFL hiring hit home recently when the Eagles passed over longtime staffer Duce Staley, who is Black, as the pick for their new head coach. The team instead brought on Nick Sirianni, a white, 39-year-old with no prior head coaching experience.

Racial diversity among Eagles coaching staff has improved decade over decade since the turn of the millennium, according to a Billy Penn analysis, but progress has dipped in recent years.

In Philly and across the league, statistics show teams have largely failed to hire Black candidates for head coach and other positions, despite reforms like the Rooney Rule.

That regulation, named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney and instituted in 2003, has failed to sufficiently address the NFL hiring gap, critics have said. The rule has been revised at least twice, with mandates to improve a fellowship program and a new provision added last May that requires teams to:

  • Interview at least two head coach candidates from outside their organization
  • Interview at least one candidate of color from outside the franchise for any open offensive, defensive or special-teams coordinator position

A fan and player favorite, Staley was in fact interviewed for the Eagles’ head coaching position this year, along with three other Black candidates and a Lebanese-American candidate. But after the Eagles passed over Staley the second time in six years, he reportedly asked to be let out of his contract. The team obliged, and he took a job with the Detroit Lions.

Last year, Staley was one of six Black people on Philly’s coaching staff, a group that made up 22% of the total — which is about what the Eagles have averaged over the past decade. That’s up from an average 15% Black coaching staff the decade prior.

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From 2000 to 2009, the Eagles averaged about four Black members on its coaching staff, including interns and fellows. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, that number went up to about six or seven Black coaching staff members.

In addition, at least one Latino coach, Juan Castillo, was with the team until 2012. Eugene Chung, a Korean American joined, in 2010. Neither remain on staff now.

A high point for representation came in 2016, when 28% of the team’s coaching staff was Black, including new hires Dino Vasso, Phillip Daniels and Chris Wilson. In 2020, that number dropped to 22%, with six Black coaches — two of whom were new hires — out of 27 positions total.

Vasso on Tuesday reportedly left the Eagles for the Texans. Defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel left the franchise for another team. Another Black coach, defensive line coach Nathan Ollie, also left after the 2020 season.

The Eagles did bring on Michael Clay, who is now the youngest coordinator in the league.

At least one former staffer was ruffled by the choice to bring in Sirianni at the top, reportedly saying to NFL Media’s Jim Trotter that the team hasn’t hired a Black head coach, “yet they have a gigantic picture of MLK in the lobby of the practice facility.”

Philly’s last Black head coach was Ray Rhodes, who led the team from ’95 to ’98. Staley joined the team as a player under Rhodes’ leadership in 1997 and began his decade-long coaching tenure as an intern in 2010.

Diversity reforms have failed to move the needle

Recent changes to the Rooney Rule also seek to bolster the NFL’s fellowship program designed to help train coaches of color.

Fellowship opportunities previously offered through the 1987 Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship, now called the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship, failed to positively impact Eagles’ tenured coaching track.

In several of the early years analyzed between 2000 and 2009, Bill Walsh fellows accounted for most if not all of the Black coaching staff representation.

Ricky Hunley and James Franklin comprised two of three total Black staffers in 2000. In 2001, fellows Greg Knox, Dick A. Brooks and Isaac Collins were the only Black people on staff.

While some retained NFL coaching gigs post-fellowship — Hunley spent about a decade bouncing around in the league and Franklin had a year with Green Bay — the opportunity apparently failed to manifest into long-lasting NFL positions for any of Philly’s fellows. All returned to college coaching, which made up the bulk of their careers.

Most notably, Franklin has been the head coach at Penn State since 2014 where he reportedly earns at least $6 million a year.

The Eagles’ downward trend in diversity is also reflected across the league, which saw a decrease in high ranking coaching and management positions filled by people of color between the 2016-2017 season and the 2019-2020 season.

Two of the seven NFL head coach jobs that opened up at the end of 2020 went to non-white men: the New York Jets hired Lebanese-American Robert Saleh and the Houston Texans nabbed David Culley, an Eagles coach from ’99 to 2012.

Black men, in contrast, reflect an average of 60% of NFL players. People of color accounted for 70% of the player population in 2019, a decline from the 2016 season.

In a heartfelt farewell letter, player turned coach Staley said he’ll be an Eagle for life.

“I want to thank all of you for welcoming me and allowing me to be part of your family for 7 years as a player and 11 years as a coach,” he wrote. “I am very sad to leave this great organization and city and fans, but I am looking forward to the growth opportunities that lie ahead.”

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Layla A. Jones

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...