NFL's accelerator program gives minority coaches optimism that new system works

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Getting lessons on how to manage a crisis and deal with the media will help Houston quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson and New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka when and if they interview for NFL head coaching jobs.

That's exactly what the NFL 's coach accelerator program is designed to do.

This three-day program coincides with the league's spring meetings, which end Wednesday. Their current teams also are starting the third and final phase of the offseason, which kept the 28 assistant coaches very busy.

“We're ball coaches, so it's kind of funny,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We had a 15-minute break in the sessions, and almost every coach pulled up their iPad, was checking OTAs film and sending notes.”

This is the NFL's fifth accelerator program since 2022 designed to put minority candidates for head coach, general manager and other front office jobs with the people who make hiring decisions — team owners. The previous program was held last December for front office and GM candidates.

This session included a former NFL head coach in Brian Flores, whose lawsuit against the league and three teams currently is working through federal court.

Former Stanford coach David Shaw also is among the 28 coaches attending with this the first session for 19 of them.

Optimism is even higher after four minority coaches were hired this offseason to bring the number of coaches of color for the 2024 season to nine. That's the most in league history. The NFL now has six Black head coaches, including Johnson's boss DeMeco Ryans coming off his first season in Houston.

Johnson thanked the Texans' organization for seeing the value in the program and giving him the time to take part.

“It's something that you can’t put a price tag on it man,” Johnson said. “It’s a great opportunity to grow and meet other coaches and interact with owners and whatnot. So I really appreciate the program.”

The accelerator program is an extension of the Rooney Rule, originally created in 2003. Pittsburgh owner Art Rooney II said they're pleased with the progress.

“We’re not where we want to be, not where we need to be,” Rooney said. "But, I think we are seeing the commitment across the league to making a difference here.”

The NFL also announced Tuesday on the first day of the league's spring meeting a new program called “NFL Source” to expand its commitment to diversity among suppliers.

The program developed over the past three years will standardize how the league and its teams connect with businesses, specifically to create a level playing field for businesses run by women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities or LGBTQ+ to compete and get contracts.

Atlanta owner Arthur Blank hired one of the four minority coaches this offseason in Raheem Morris.

Blank noted his franchise has been committed for years to expanding opportunities, exceeding a goal using almost 40% minority representatives in building Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

This program will help the NFL and its teams have access to certified suppliers.

"We have to make sure we have the discipline to follow all of that, and we’re anxious to be part of the program going forward,” Blank said.

The NFL also announced the renewal of 10 grants approved recently by the Player-Owner Social Justice Committee as part of the league's Inspire Change social justice initiative.