Coaching Summit offers positives, but major diversity issues remain

As the NFL wrapped up the third annual Quarterback Coaching Summit, which was held to address the lack of diversity among the league's 32 head coaches, I stepped away with a shortage of two things: hope and patience.

That in no way is a knock against the league office and the Black College Football Hall of Fame, which staged the two-day virtual event for roughly 90 pro and college coaches. The information and discussions were critically important for those aspiring to climb the professional ladder. 

What struck a nerve was, after several years of backsliding on diversity hires, with only three of the last 20 head-coaching vacancies being filled by a person of color, many of the owners still don't seem to take the imbalance seriously. What else to make of the fact that despite their poor recent track record -- and at a time when people are marching across the world for racial equality and social justice -- only 22 of the 32 clubs were represented at the Summit?

"It's difficult. We don't have a consensus around rules changes and we're starting [to] talk about one of the most divisive topics in our country: race," said NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent. "But to see the commitment that the workplace committee and others from the competition committee, from the [NFL Management Council Executive Committee], their efforts to drive change to eliminate policies -- to get some of those policies passed through ... there was overwhelming support.

"I look at it as progress. Would we love to have all 32? Absolutely. But we went from two clubs to 22. And in hoping to share, we've got to do our part. I would say myself and my colleagues here, we failed. We failed to promote and continue to promote these men that we saw over the last two days. We failed to amplify, to show them in a different light. We have to do a better job of sharing the information to the clubs, making sure that every club, every president, every general manager has all of the information. It's been a work in progress, we'll continue to fight, but we do have club ownership leadership that is driving change. And we know it's not going to happen overnight."

In fairness to Vincent, he and his team didn't fail. They've done their part. If NFL ownership was truly taking this issue seriously, particularly in the climate around the country right now, there would have been 32 owners at the table here. It's even worse that John Mara of the Giants, Art Rooney II of the Steelers and Kim Pegula of the Bills were the only controlling owners present; Texans partner Javier Loya also participated.

If the demonstrations in the streets in the past month have shown nothing else, it's that this is a point in history when people are being judged by their actions, not their words. The league's actions to this point:

  • Zero Black controlling owners.
  • Zero Black club presidents.
  • Two Black general managers.
  • Three Black head coaches.

Those statistics are troubling in a league in which the player pool is roughly 70 percent Black, but the concern also extends to the league office, where only two of the top 11 positions are represented by people of color. It is easy to say you are about diversity and inclusion, but the follow-through must be there for the words to have credibility. Which brings me back to the Summit.

There were a number of positives. It was illuminating and insightful to hear Rooney, Mara and Loya discuss their approach to hiring. It was eye-opening to hear Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy discuss leadership and building a winning culture. It was fascinating to hear 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh identify his 10 lessons of coaching, many of which actually apply to life. There also were breakout sessions that the media were not allowed in, in which Chargers coach Anthony Lynn did a mock interview for a coordinator spot, just as Pegula did a mock interview for a head-coaching position.

All of that was well and good for helping to prepare minority coaches to climb the ladder. But it did not address one salient reality, in my opinion: The lack of diversity among head coaches is tied directly to the lack of diversity in the room where the hiring takes place.

Typically that room features the owner, the club president and the general manager, who often puts together the list of finalists and whose voice consistently has the greatest influence on the owner. The fact that there are no Black controlling owners, no Black club presidents and only two Black general managers speaks to why the scales are unbalanced.

In recent years we've been told the issue revolves around the pipeline. We've been spoon-fed a narrative that owners are seeking young, creative, offensive-minded coaches and there simply aren't enough minorities who fit that description. That explanation is not only lazy, it is untrue, as past Summits have pointed out.

For instance, in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game a year and a half ago, offensive coordinators for each team were Black. Not only that, but each was working with a quarterback who was projected as a possible No. 1 overall draft pick: Tua Tagovailoa for Alabama and Trevor Lawrence for Clemson. Yet despite eight NFL head-coaching vacancies that offseason, neither Michael Locksley of Alabama nor Tony Elliott of Clemson -- who was the Tigers' co-offensive coordinator at the time -- received a single interview with an NFL team.

The snubs clearly weren't because of their credentials, so what could it have been? I'm still waiting for an answer. In the meantime, we are told to be patient, that change takes time. It's easy to preach patience when there's no figurative knee on your neck.

Owners are firing head coaches at an average of six per year since 2000. Stated another way, that's nearly 20 percent of the teams changing their on-field leader each offseason. But few of the opportunities to fill those vacancies are going to minorities, which is why it's hard to have patience or hope that things will change anytime soon.

"We hear this word over the last few years that nobody's in the pipeline," said Doug Williams, who along with James "Shack" Harris co-founded the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. "I hope after today with [the media] listening in that we get away from the pipeline and realize we got a bunch of guys in line. All they're asking for is an opportunity."

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