In an effort to foster improved opportunities and build relationships, the NFL is holding its inaugural diversity networking event next week in Atlanta in advance of the spring owners’ meetings.
More than 60 diverse head coach and general manager prospects, as many as two nominated per team, will meet with ownership representatives from all 32 franchises.
The intent is to upgrade hiring practices and create a better pipeline for becoming a more inclusive league by allowing owners to meet diverse job candidates. The program is called the “NFL Coach and Front Office Accelerator.”
“The NFL is committed to diversity and inclusion, and this program is the latest in a series of steps designed to improve our hiring practices and create opportunities for advancement,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “The program helps ensure that clubs receive exposure to high-performing, up-and-coming NFL talent and candidates get a chance to learn the business on a working level from team owners and executives.”
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank added, “I think the Accelerator is some of the most important work the league and our committee will do all year because the potential of the program is exponential. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for emerging leaders, owners and team leadership to get to know each other better over these two days, and the relationships formed in this setting will be integral to future hiring cycles.”
The NFL currently has one minority owner: Shad Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars). Additionally, the league only has five minority head coaches: Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Ron Rivera (Washington Commanders), Lovie Smith (Houston Texans), Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins), and Robert Saleh (New York Jets).
During the NFL owners’ meetings, the league started a new diversity advisory committee that includes former Texans general manager Rick Smith.
The NFL is now requiring that all teams have a minority or a female as an offensive assistant because there’s a trend toward hiring offensive coaches as head coaches. That position would be funded partially by the league through a stipend. The NFL also requires that all teams interview a woman for leadership positions, as the Minnesota Vikings did with Philadelphia Eagles vice president Catherine Raîche for their general manager position. Raîche is expected to be hired as the Cleveland Browns’ assistant general manager.
“It’s a recognition that at the moment, when you look at stepping stones for a head coach, they are the coordinator positions,” said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, the chairman of the NFL’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, during the annual NFL owners’ meetings. “We clearly have a trend where coaches are coming from the offensive side of the ball in recent years, and we clearly do not have as many minorities in the offensive coordinator [role].”
If a coach is already in that role, that will count, per NFL chief administrative officer Dasha Smith. Additionally, Women are now included in the Rooney Rule. Women and/or people of color can meet the requirement that teams interview two external minorities for top positions, including head coach and general manager. There isn’t a requirement to interview them.
“The truth of the matter is that as of today, at least, there aren’t many women in the pool in terms of head coach,” Rooney said. “We hope that is going to change over the years, but for that reason we didn’t see it as inhibiting the number of interviews for racial minorities at this point in time. Obviously, we can address that as time goes on, but for now we didn’t see that as an issue. Really, we are looking at probably the early stages of women entering the coaching ranks, so we may be a little ways away before that becomes a problem.”
In general, the NFL is not satisfied at all.
“We have been listening to people inside and outside the football community on how we can improve,” Rooney II said. “We have seen progress on the general manager front in terms of hiring and in the number of minority coordinators. We are not seeing the kind of progress we would like to see on the head coaching front.”
Partnering with the Fritz Pollard Alliance
The NFL partnered with the Fritz Pollard Alliance to try to improve results.
“We’re invested in the outcome,” former Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Michael Huyghue said.
“This is a process,” NFL chief diversity officer Jonathan Beane stated. “We are working to enhance our DEI efforts. This is the beginning. There’s a lot of work to be done. We’re preparing to leave no stone unturned and that we get results.”
While the NFL now has an all-time high of 15 minority defensive coordinators, an increase to seven minority general managers, six minority assistant general managers, and an all-time 12 women coaches, the league is disappointed in its numbers of head coaches and offensive coordinators.
The NFL is encouraging that diversity is increased in ownership with prospective ownership groups. However, the NFL said that it would not be lowering the 30% equity stake requirements in terms of funding.
“The membership will regard it as a positive and meaningful factor if the group includes diverse individuals who would have a significant equity stake in and involvement with the club, including serving as the controlling owner of the club,” the league said in a statement.
Goodell, in a previous memo to all 32 teams’ chief executives and presidents, acknowledged that the league has a long way to go in terms of improving diversity.
In the wake of former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filing a class-action lawsuit against the NFL that alleges discrimination in the interview and hiring processes and in his dismissal from the AFC East franchise, Goodell spoke out.
“Racism and any form of discrimination is contrary to the NFL’s values,” Goodell wrote. “We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs, which have produced positive change in many areas. However, we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches, the results have been unacceptable. We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines, and initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including as they relate to gender.
“We understand the concerns expressed by Coach Flores and others this week. While the legal process moves forward, we will not wait to reassess and modify our strategies to ensure that they are consistent with our values and longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Here is the full list of coach and front office accelerator participants.