In an effort to increase the number of Black head coaches and executives, the NFL introduced its first Coach and Front Office Accelerator. Held in Atlanta, the program featured Black, Hispanic, and women head coaching candidates from each NFL team.
“A few years ago, there were different opportunities where we gave leaders across all clubs the opportunity to interact with ownership,” says Belynda Gardner, senior director of diversity equity and inclusion at the National Football League. “At the [draft] combine this year, it was something that was heavily talked about. We need the opportunity for owners to be aware of these young, Black coaches and player personnel, some of who include women. We need them to know that there are really good candidates across the board.”
In order to avoid anti-tampering rules that prevent candidates from meeting with owners, the NFL lifted the policy for the two-day event.
Currently, there are only three Black NFL head coaches and five Black NFL general managers.
This offseason, the Houston Texans hired Lovie Smith, who led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl in 2007, as their head coach. Todd Bowles was promoted to head coach by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Bruce Arians stepped down from the position. And since 2007, Mike Tomlin has led the Pittsburgh Steelers as the team’s head coach.
The low numbers of Black head coaches come nearly 20 years after the NFL established the Rooney Rule which requires every team to interview at least one or more diverse candidates.
“The Rooney Rule played an important role that has certainly put us in a place of ensuring that there’s diversity at all levels of the league,” says Jonathan Beane, senior vice president, chief diversity & inclusion officer at the NFL. “It’s not enough. There’s more work that needs to be done. We need to continually reevaluate our policies and procedures. We also have to put together programming like this, which ensures that there’s access and opportunity to decision-makers. So you have that opportunity to get that big job. And then we have to, we have to find all we have to humble ourselves and we have to listen to everyone and find all different things we need to do to get better. I am convinced that in five to 10 years, we are going to see a different makeup of our leaders.”
In March, the NFL implemented a rule where every team would be required to have a person who is Black, Hispanic, or a woman as an assistant coach on its offensive staff.
Troy Vincent, executive vice president of football operations at the NFL, understands how a lack of access could limit opportunities for Black candidates to secure a job as an NFL head coach.
“There are barriers to mobility and access,” Vincent says.“Oftentimes, you don’t have an opportunity to really engage with the final decision maker outside of a Zoom call. That’s a barrier. We have addressed some of the other barriers. One day the goal is to work towards not having a mandate to interview people of color or minorities or women. We should be in a different place where you’re just looking to interview the best people.”
As a former NFL player, Vincent knows that, at times, there can be a disconnect between athletes getting an opportunity on the field versus getting an opportunity in leadership roles off the field.
“We just have to be an inclusive sport for all,” Vincent says. “As athletes, we say, ‘You can celebrate me or us when we’re on the field and in uniform. We can be your hero during those three hours, but when I take my uniform off, it’s when you don’t see me anymore.’ We want you to be able to celebrate us outside of entertainment because we all are leaders…We know it’s been done before. Now we have made some progress on the general managers’ front, but the eyeballs of our game come through the head coach, the quarterback, and the referee. We’ve normalized the Black quarterback. He’s just QB1 now. We’ve seen the progression and the advancement that we’ve made with Black referees. We got to address this issue as Black head coaches.”