Despite Condoleezza Rice rumors, the NFL is still a stubborn boys' club
The NFL likes to tell itself, and anyone who will listen, that it embodies the purest forms of competition in America. It is a zero-sum game — a winner and a loser — and deems just one of its 32 entities as champion.
In pursuit of that goal, teams employ armies of coaches, scouts, quality control analysts, trainers and everything else they can dream up. They stage closed-door workouts, pore through proprietary data and guard secrets through elaborate security measures.
They seek every little advantage.
Except, for the most part, one.
They exclude half of the available talent pool by hiring, almost exclusively, men. The numbers are slowly changing, there are more women involved in the NFL each year, but for the most part, this is a boys’ club. It’s nonsensical and anticompetitive, but that’s the NFL, no matter what it tells itself.
It’s part of what made a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Sunday so interesting, if perplexing. Schefter said the Cleveland Browns were seriously considering interviewing Condoleezza Rice, most famously the Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, as their head coach.
The Browns immediately denied it and the entire concept made no sense, at least specifically. And that’s even by the standards of the Browns, who are often engaged in nonsensical behavior.
The NFL in general, and the Browns in particular, would benefit from expanding the candidates pool for jobs within their organizations by looking to women that other teams are ignoring. For head coach though? And for Rice, who for all her overwhelming intelligence has never, you know, coached football?
To be an NFL head coach you pretty much need to have been an NFL coordinator (offensive or defensive) or college head coach. In a reach, sometimes teams will hire a position coach for the task.
It’s not that women can’t be NFL head coaches. They can and, presumably, one day will.
The entire idea of Condi Rice — whose football experience consists mostly of being on the College Football Playoff selection committee — becoming a head coach was folly, but it shined a spotlight on what the NFL should consider an opportunity, not a problem.
There are many jobs in football. While the idea of Coach Condi makes no sense, General Manager Condi or Team President Condi or Consultant-Bringing-A-Fresh-Set-Of-Eyes-To-Our-Woebegone-Franchise Condi makes lots of sense.
Especially if it’s not Condi Rice, but the women who have dedicated their careers to climbing the ranks in the sport. It wouldn’t be without precedent.
Amy Trask is the former CEO of the Oakland Raiders and beyond whip smart about the game. Katie Blackburn is the executive vice president of the Cincinnati Bengals. There are a host of women in ownership such as Kim Pegula in Buffalo, Martha Firestone Ford in Detroit and even Dee Haslam in Cleveland.
Smith even spent time in 2016-17 with the Bills as special teams’ quality control coach, the kind of stepping-stone job usually needed to climb the ladder.
As the game evolves from 3 yards and a cloud of dust of the 1960s into high-strategy, advanced data operations such as the Los Angeles Rams, the door should further open for women. “Should” being the operative word.
You don’t need to be a man or have played the game to properly create, analyze and employ modern strategy. A new approach might even yield incredible results.
There was a time when baseball sniffed at non-players in executive roles or scouting positions. With the advent of Moneyball, the entire sport is about statistical analysis, both in team construction and bench strategy. No one cares if you played. For MLB not to employ more women also is dumb.
So, sorry, no Condi Rice on the Browns sideline.
Yet failed franchises such as the Browns might want to try something new and exploit current market weaknesses that ignore the best female candidates.
The advantage is there for the taking. One day some football man is going to be smart enough to take it.
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