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Three NFL teams have already fired their head coaches and general managers this season, and as the weeks wind down there will inevitably be more who’ll follow.
Vacancies always lead to discussions and lists of who could fill them, and this year there has been an emphasis on more of those roles being filled by Black men or men of color, since there continues to be a dearth of diversity in top jobs across the league despite a supposed effort to change that.
It was a topic again Monday, when NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent chatted with reporters. The league informed teams that due to COVID-19, the first round of interviews for head coach, coordinator, general manager and assistant GM openings must be done virtually.
Vincent told media he believes that method will allow teams to engage with a broader range of candidates and “we hope to see different results in this next hiring cycle.”
Even if Vincent and commissioner Roger Goodell sincerely want to see change, they’re not the ones ultimately making those hires. It’s the team owners, also known as the people who pay Goodell and Vincent’s salaries.
And it’s those people who have been quite resistant to making the GM and head coaching ranks more colorful. Rooney Rule and the numerous alterations to it be damned, only three of the past 20 head coaching hires were non-white.
Take Arthur Blank. We’re not picking on the Atlanta Falcons owner because he’s not the only team owner for whom this is the case, but he’s one of the very few who has faced and answered questions on this topic. Last month Blank was a guest on “Huddle & Flow,” the podcast from NFL Network reporters Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche, and said he’s “colorblind” when it comes to making hires — itself a problematic word, because it’s no more possible to notice someone’s skin color than to notice if they’re unusually tall or short in stature. But just one of the 19 top executives listed on the Falcons’ website is not white.
So Blank says the right things, but his franchise’s top decision-makers don’t reflect his words.
That’s not the only reason it’s worth harboring doubt that virtual interviews will mean more men of color get interviews, or whether the league is truly committed to diversifying the leadership ranks.
Earlier this year, the NFL and the Black College Football Hall of Fame held its third annual Quarterback Coaching Summit, a two-day event for around 90 college and pro coaches that offered information and discussion on advancing in the ranks.
The summit was entirely online, just a couple of weeks after Goodell’s “Black lives do matter” video in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, and still only 22 of the league’s 32 teams had a representative take part.
A third of teams couldn’t bother six months ago for an online-only event, but we’re to believe that’s going to change now?
Another thing: Some doubt if Vincent and those in league offices are taking their efforts seriously.
A league source recently shared a list on NFL Football Operations letterhead titled “Football Coaching & Executive Ready List — Week 8” that had Black candidates for head coaching, offensive and defensive coordinator, and general manager. Cleveland Browns vice president of football administration Chris Cooper is white but somehow landed on the list, and the name of another candidate, Las Vegas director of pro personnel Dwayne Joseph, is misspelled. Those details matter, and if a list is being haphazardly thrown together or filled with Vincent’s friends who might not necessarily be the best candidates, it’s not going to help get the results the league says it wants.
Ironically, the man listed above Cooper on the Browns’ front-office roster, VP of football ops Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, is Black and someone who rose through the ranks with San Francisco before joining the Browns this year.
Adofo-Mensah is not on the list compiled and circulated by the NFL as a potential GM candidate. Neither is Pittsburgh’s Brandon Hunt, the longtime pro scouting coordinator for the league’s last undefeated team, or DuJuan Daniels, the Raiders’ assistant director of player personnel who went to six Super Bowls, rising the ranks within New England’s front office.
There are strong GM candidates on the list to be sure, like New Orleans’ assistant GM Teddy Fontenot, and Jerry Reese and Rick Smith, both of whom deserve another chance to run a front office.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The candidates are there. If team owners look beyond their buddies and biases and stop paying search firms, and if league advocates actually advocate for the strongest options, they’ll find them.
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