At this week’s NFL annual spring meeting, a JV meeting compared to the bigger March affair, the NFL is doing something different to address the paucity of minority coaches. (There are four Black head coaches, and two other minority coaches, among the 32 teams.) About 60 minority and women coaches and executives who work for teams will attend the Coach and Front-Office Accelerator program today and tomorrow at the meetings in Atlanta.
The meeting is in response to the slow pace of minority hiring of NFL coaches and GMs. The glacier broke apart a bit recently, with four Black GMs hired over the last 17 months (Brad Holmes in Detroit, Terry Fontenot in Atlanta, Ryan Poles in Chicago, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in Minnesota) and three minority coaches hired this year: Lovie Smith in Houston, Mike McDaniel in Miami and Todd Bowles in Tampa Bay.
But in the coaching ranks, where the lack of minority hires has been acute, only three Black coaches were hired in the four hiring cycles from 2018 to 2021, and the desire to do more to push Black candidates for jobs has been the focus of NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent. When we spoke Sunday, he told me there’d been an effort as far back as 1998 to get more contact between prime minority candidates and owners, but the efforts fell short in the years that followed. So today in Atlanta, the minority coaches and front-office people will sit in on regular meetings to learn the flow of NFL business better, and they’ll be at a cocktail reception with the decision-makers tonight. On Tuesday, there will be what I’d call a 75-minute speed-dating session, with all the candidates moving between owners/decision-makers in organized 10- to 15-minute sessions.
“Is this the answer? No,” Vincent said Sunday. “Is it part of a solution? It may be. We need to get people who make the decisions on future head coaches to get to meet [Colts offensive coordinator] Marcus Brady, [Browns defensive coordinator] Joe Woods, [Detroit defensive coordinator] Aaron Glenn and [Packers defensive coordinator] Jerry Gray, and so many others. [Those four coaches are Black.] This is a new day. It’s not about forcing anyone to hire anyone. It’s about exposing good coaches to those who make the calls.”
Vincent said Zoom conversations are good, but in-person stuff is better. “So much of a coach’s impact is his ability to lead, and you don’t feel leadership in a Zoom. You feel leadership sitting with a man, talking to him,” Vincent said.
It’s a sensitive thing, with replacement-theory in the news so much these days. Should the NFL be doing so much for minority candidates and not as much for white ones? Vincent is sensitive to it, but in his mind, three Black hires in a four-year period (2018 through ’21) made it imperative for the league to try to do more to promote inclusion.
The NFL can’t look for results next year, and maybe not even in 2024. This has to be a long-term commitment. This kind of exposure—owners encountering Black candidates they’ve never met—has to continue every year in some form. And if Roger Goodell sees poor attendance from current owners this year at these events, dispatching mid-level execs to the session instead, he needs to make it more of a priority.
“My hope,” Vincent told me, “is that some owners and decision-makers will come back from this meeting and say, ‘I met some people I did not know, and who I was very impressed with.’ They go back to their team and say, ‘I want to get these people on our radar when we might have a decision to make.’ That’s why these kinds of meetings are important.”
It’s a good step. Time will tell if it works.