For years, whenever questioned about the NFL's limited diversity in the head coaching and general manager ranks, officials with hiring power have blamed their decision-making on a limited talent pool.
A small number of coaches and front office executives of color to consider compounds the challenge of ensuring greater diversity at the highest ranks, team owners and presidents have claimed.
However, minority assistant coaches and talent evaluators with head coaching and general manager aspirations have argued that it's simply not true that the league has a talent pool problem.
Frustrated by the way that nepotism and the "good old boy" system historically fuels head coach and general manager hiring decisions, minorities with head coaching and GM aspirations have long lamented the lack of advancement opportunities they have received. They simply need honest consideration and an opportunity to prove themselves.
The leaders of the NFL's Football Operations department agree with that sentiment and have begun taking action by working year-round to scout talent. The department then provides all 32 teams with an annual list of the leading minority candidates for head coaching and general manager consideration.
Teams recently received this year's list, which features 11 vetted head coaching candidates of color, and 20 minorities deserving of consideration for general manager/football operations openings.
League officials hope that the extensive recommendation list helps educate team executives with hiring power on the wealth of diverse candidates they have to choose from, and that this knowledge sparks improvement on the diversity hiring front.
Improving hiring practices has ranked among the priorities of the league office in recent years. In the last two years, the NFL expanded the Rooney Rule to require teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coaching, general manager and coordinator positions. Teams must conduct an in-person interview for at least one external minority candidate for any head coach or GM position rather than simply interviewing them virtually.
The NFL currently has just one official vacant coaching position as the Las Vegas Raiders are led by interim coach Rich Bisaccia, who took over when Jon Gruden resigned after private emails containing offensive, racist, homophobic and misogynistic language came to light. But additional openings likely will follow this offseason. Several teams also could look to make changes in their front office.
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The list of vetted head coach candidates from the league features the following:
Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator, Kansas City
Todd Bowles, defensive coordinator, Tampa Bay
James Franklin, head coach, Penn State
Leslie Frazier, assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, Buffalo
Vance Joseph, defensive coordinator, Arizona
Byron Leftwich, offensive coordinator, Tampa Bay
Jerod Mayo, inside linebackers coach, New England
Raheem Morris, defensive coordinator, L.A. Rams
DeMeco Ryans, defensive coordinator, San Francisco
David Shaw, head coach, Stanford
Mel Tucker, head coach, Michigan State (although his school is in the process of trying to sign him to a 10-year, $95 million contract extension).
The list of vetted general manager candidates is as follows:
Marvin Allen, assistant general manager, Miami
Dawn Aponte, NFL senior vice president of football operations
Brandon Brown, director of player personnel, Philadelphia
Morocco Brown, director of college scouting, Indianapolis
Trey Brown, former director of college scouting, Philadelphia
Ran Carthon, director pro personnel, San Francisco
Jacqueline Davidson, director of football research, Tampa Bay
Ray Farmer, player personnel consultant, L.A. Rams
Dwayne Joseph, director pro scouting, Las Vegas
Champ Kelly, assistant director of player personnel, Chicago
Omar Khan, vice president of football and business administration, Pittsburgh
Reggie McKenzie, senior personnel executive, Miami
Vincent Newsome, senior personnel executive, Baltimore
Roman Phifer, senior personnel executive, Denver
Ryan Poles, executive director of player personnel, Kansas City
Catherine Raiche, vice president of football operations, Philadelphia
Louis Riddick, former director of pro personnel, Philadelphia
Samir Suleiman, director of player negotiations and salary cap, Carolina
Adrian Wilson, vice president of pro personnel, Arizona
JoJo Wooden, director of player personnel, L.A. Chargers
Last offseason saw improvement on the minority general manager front as Atlanta’s hiring of Terry Fontenot, Detroit’s hiring of Brad Holmes and Washington’s selection of Martin Mayhew brought the league-wide total of people of color in top talent evaluator positions to five (joining Miami and Cleveland)
Only two of the seven head coaching vacancies were filled by minority candidates however as Robert Saleh went to the Jets and David Culley to the Texans.
Five NFL teams currently have minorities in head coaching positions (Pittsburgh, Miami, New York Jets, Washington, and Houston).
NFL owners and team presidents don't have to take any of the recommendations, and it's still easy for teams to go through the motions of satisfying the Rooney Rule requirements and then hire a non-minority candidate of their choosing.
But NFL officials and minorities hoping to crack the head coach and general manager ranks hope that the latest efforts help open the eyes of those with hiring power and remove all excuses for a denial of equal opportunity.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Football Operations shares list of minority coach, GM candidates