Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, explained why changed to … [+]
Despite an overwhelmingly minority player base, the National Football League has a diversity problem in its coaching, front office and executive ranks. Only four of the league’s 32 head coaches were minorities. There was only one black team general manager, two offensive coordinators and two quarterback coaches.
The NFL knows it has workplace diversity issues, and it feels that measures to the league’s longstanding Rooney Rule announced two weeks ago will help solve this problem.
“Research, data, facts have told us, have told the general public,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, told me over the phone this week, “that the Rooney Rule has been embraced in letter but not in intent.”
He said that team owners went out and assessed what was broken with the Rooney Rule and came up with a comprehensive plan to fix things led by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, whose father Dan spearheaded the original rule. The league will now require teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coaching openings, up from one, and one external minority candidate for coordinator openings, up from none. The Rooney Rule now extends to the managerial and business side of teams as well, with minority and female interviews now required for positions including team president and senior executives in departments like sponsorship, IT, security and sales.
“That’s significant,” Vincent said.
Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers is one of just four current minority NFL head coaches. AP … [+]
The NFL also changed anti-tampering policies so that teams could no longer deny its coaching staff external interviews for other positions. There’s also now an organizational flow chart for each team so that roles are now formally laid out and reviewable by commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Research has shown that over time, men of color have been disproportionately been affected by the lack of interviews or being denied an interview,” Vincent said.
Over the years, there’s been this stigma or perception behind the lack of minority interviews for head coaching positions in the NFL. Minority coaches had previously viewed interviews as their being used to check a box or fill a Rooney Rule quota. There was always one particular reason or another that the minority candidate almost never got the gig.
“The first step is to eliminate the excuses,” said Len Elmore, a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a college basketball broadcaster and a lecturer at Columbia University in its sports management department. His resume also includes former NBA player, Harvard Law graduate, Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney, sports agent, president of the NBA Retired Players Association and member of the University of Maryland’s board of trustees. “Oftentimes those excuses are exactly ‘we can’t find enough qualified people,’ or ‘we’re looking for the best fit for our organization.’ Many times, those are codes anyway.”
Len Elmore calls the game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Xfinity … [+]
Vincent said that training and education on implicit and unconscious biases are now mandatory for league employees, himself included.
“These owners, they want to do better,” he said. “We want to do better.”
Additionally, all 32 teams will now have a one to two-year minority coaching fellowship to identify and train a larger pool of minority candidates, an initiative Vincent called a long-term play. The Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran a similar program last year, Vincent said, and he hopes change will soon come to the assistant coaching ranks.
“Today with only two black quarterback coaches and two black offensive coordinators in the NFL after 100 years of play, that’s not where we want to be,” he said.
Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs is just one of two minority offensive coordinators in the … [+]
The NFL also has the NCAA Coaches Academy and league owned and All-Star games like the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Bowl to identify minority coaching and front office talent. But those have been going on for years, decades in the case of the aforementioned college games, and yet there’s been little to no tangible progress, which has caused the NFL to install these new measures.
Elmore thinks that there should be mandatory association between former players and coaches who start out in the college ranks. The NFL, he said, should partner with College Football Playoff teams directly, not the NCAA, because “they’re the ones that control the dollars anyway.”
“Another excuse is I don’t know anyone,” Elmore said. “You take that away quickly when you have people on a mandatory basis interface with each other. Learn who we are. Let’s do it informally as well as formally. That kind of breaks down the inherent but subconscious biases that people have.”
Though there was support for giving draft compensation to teams for hiring a minority general manager, head coach or assistant coach, Vincent said plenty of teams had other suggestions and addenda to this potential rule, so it was tabled for later discussion. He didn’t rule out the implementation of draft compensation, an issue collectively bargained with the players and required players association approval, in time for the start of the 2020 regular season.
Former NFL Coach Tony Dungy said there could be “unintended consequences” for tying draft pick … [+]
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“By no stretch of the imagination was there any thought about degrading, using individuals as bribes, pawns,” Vincent said. “Coach Dungy said it right, we should not be rewarding people or have a system that rewards people for doing the right thing. But we do believe there’s merit in rewarding people for identifying and developing minority coaching talent.”
Any Rooney Rule plan, Elmore said, has to expose teams’ excuses and take them away from team ownership.
“It makes them look tone deaf,” he said. “The ownership and everybody wants players to be part of a community, and they want to keep the team concept, the team character intact. But how is that possible on a realistic basis when your owner keeps putting up pretext for hiring people of color?”
Buffalo Bills owner Kim Pegula is a member of the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee. Photo by … [+]
The fact that NFL team owners including Buffalo’s Kim Pegula, Chicago’s George McCaskey, Atlanta’s Arthur Blank, Arizona’s Michael Bidwill, Philadelphia’s Jeffrey Lurie and the Giants’ John Mara helped implement the new Rooney Rule additions shows how dedicated they are to furthering racial diversity in the league’s coaching ranks, Vincent said.
“The hope is to get away from that stigma and that perception, because perception is someone else’s reality,” he said. “And we have to acknowledge that. But we have to remember. This plan was developed from ownership.”
Vincent hopes that the best candidates will be hired regardless of race and that over time, more minority candidates are in important team and league positions because of the new Rooney Rule implementations.
“We haven’t had a plan like this before,” Vincent said. “We should produce and have better outcomes.”