MIAMI -- Roger Goodell took the podium inside the Downtown Hilton Wednesday and touted a number of positive marks (a record 187.3 million fans, for example) the league reached in 2019.
Then he got down to a more serious matter: front-office diversity, or lack thereof, currently in his NFL.
The league just recently completed its latest hiring cycle and didn't produce a single African-American head coach, even with qualified minority candidates like Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh involved in the process. Minorities holding important front office roles are even less prevalent. The Browns hired Andrew Berry this week as their new general manager which brings the league to a total of two minority GMs in the NFL.
The league's mandate that each organization must interview at least one minority candidate for such openings -- known as the Rooney Rule -- appears to have grown ineffective and outdated. It's time for a change, Goodell said.
"Clearly, we are not where we want to be on this level," Goodell said. "We have a lot of work that's gone into not only the Rooney Rule but our policies overall. It's clear we need to change and do something different.
"There's no reason to expect we're going to have a different outcome next year without those kinds of changes and we've already begun engaging in those changes. Not just with our diversity committee, not just with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, but others. And trying to figure out what steps we could take next that would lead to better outcomes. It's clear we're all committed to doing that, and we have to make those changes. We will have a series of meetings which we've already scheduled over the next month to get that kind of dialogue going, to continue the dialogue to try to determine what are the solutions so we can have those better outcomes."
With each of the aforementioned coaches squaring off in Sunday's Super Bowl, we should expect them to get future opportunities to interview in the coming years. But this is about more than just a couple of candidates. This is about advancing the league as a diverse group of 32 clubs for decades to come.
Other items of note from Goodell's media session:
»With the lingering talk of a potential 17-game slate in the new collective bargaining agreement, Goodell refused to negotiate via press conference, but did highlight the progress the league has made in talks with its players union.
"We've been having incredibly productive dialogue. I think we've made a lot of progress at now seven or eight months since we began those discussions more formally," Goodell said. "In those discussions, it's been open dialogue. It's thoughtful. I think we've addressed difficult issues that face our league going forward and looking forward. I think both the players and management and everyone at the negotiation have worked to try to find creative solutions to make the NFL better and that's what you want.
"The process will close when the process closes when all of us feel comfortable that we've reached an agreement, that we want to go forward with it. I don't know when that will be but I think it's more important to get it right."
»As for the potential for a 17-game season, Goodell used a keyword in describing what might happen on that front: "restructure." A longer schedule can't be discussed without also mentioning the league's player safety initiatives, and though concussions were slightly up in 2019 (compared to a statistical low in 2018), Goodell feels such efforts -- including over 50 rule changes in the last 10-15 years and the development and upcoming introduction of six new helmet models next year -- are making the game safer.
The statistical data gathered from years of research is also helping the league's efforts toward making a safer, healthier year-round schedule for all NFL players, Goodell said.
"Safety has been at the forefront and our No. 1 priority of our players. ... We're working on research, we got data that proves which techniques should be taken out of the game, so it affects how we change our rules," Goodell explained. "For us the data is the key component to what we want to do is changing the season. We don't look at it as just, we have a 17th game. We look at the entire season, the offseason, training camp, how we prepare our players to get ready for the season, how we practice during the season. So all those changes and taking techniques out of those games has made our game safer. As you point out, the No. 1 injuries are the lower-extremity injuries.
"We have continued to apply the same model we give down to concussions to reduce them by 30 percent. You mentioned that concussions are up but they're up only slightly and statistically from a low last year, close to 30 percent. ... So we believe we have made the game safer, we've made it better, and we believe we can restructure the season in a way that will be smart for the future of the game. If those discussions are in the context of our labor negotiations, they're in the context of working with our medical people, and we've shared all that. We continue to have that kind of dialogue with our players and we'll continue to have that."
»Goodell had nothing but great things to say about the league's experiences abroad, both in London and in Mexico City. Games in Mexico will continue to take place for the next two years, he announced Wednesday.
"We had a great experience this past November down in Mexico," Goodell said. "It was just a great event and we loved being there. We look forward to being back and we are proud to be able to say we're going to be there for two more games over the next two years. Our fan base down there continues to grow and become more passionate. Our partners down there have been extraordinary and we want to continue that. We want to build on that."
There was also a question about a possible timeline for establishing an NFL franchise in London, instead of just bringing two NFL teams overseas for a weekly game for half of the season. Such a reality seems less likely, even with multiple premier venues available thanks to the construction of Tottenham's new stadium, because of the logistical limits. After all, there's a reason most of the teams playing in London enjoyed a bye week immediately after it in 2019.
"A timeline has not been set in London for a franchise," Goodell said. "We have grown incredibly quickly in London. As you know, the support there has been extraordinary both in the public sector and the private sector. Our fans, our clubs. I think we now have 31 of the 32 teams that have been to London. All of them come back raving about the experience. We look at our job as to make sure that London can continue to grow, and continue to build on the fans that we have now. That's something that is our number one priority. Our second priority would be, could we have a franchise ready for market? As you know, putting in a new stadium, Tottenham, this year, was a great experience for the four clubs that played there. I was in attendance for one of those, it was terrific. We also have Wembley Stadium, so the flexibility of scheduling with two stadiums has been a huge plus for us.
"But I think we still have to get back to the point of, can we do it in a competitive way? Can we do it so that all 32 teams, not just the team in, if there was a team in London, can be done in a competitive fashion? That's number one for us."
»With many cities building new stadiums and seeing Super Bowls awarded shortly after their opening, the thought is a Super Bowl could be headed to Las Vegas. Goodell said Wednesday it is his intent to have the next Super Bowl location (LIX in 2025) finalized by the end of the calendar year, but the league would like to see how Las Vegas handles the draft first.
"The reception has really been tremendous," Goodell said of the Raiders' move to Las Vegas. "You can see it with the fans and their reaction, not only ticket sales but the business community and how they are wrapping their arms around this team. We think it's going to be a great success. We're anxious to be there.
"As you know, we will be having the draft there, which will be a good start. As I said when I was out there, I think we should get through the draft before we focus on the Super Bowl. But that is coming quickly and our attempt to move to the next Super Bowl probably will be done before the end of the calendar year here in 2020."
»Speaking of new stadiums, Goodell mentioned two other locations of interest: Los Angeles and Buffalo. SoFi Stadium is set to open for the 2020 season as the new home of the Rams and Chargers, and Goodell said the openings of new facilities in Los Angeles and Las Vegas will have an impact on how the NFL begins its 2020 season, which will also include a celebration of the league's 100th birthday on Sept. 17.
"We are thrilled to be back in Los Angeles for two teams and we're thrilled to have a great, new stadium which is going to set a new benchmark for stadiums," Goodell said. "The same with Las Vegas, a new market there, we're launching the Raiders in Las Vegas. I was out there just a week ago; the stadium is extraordinary. I think it's going to be a great new home for the Raiders. Our job is to put the biggest stage together for all of those teams at that moment.
As for Buffalo, Goodell mentioned the potential of renovations to New Era Field, or a possible new facility constructed at a different location for the Bills as ideal solutions for the club's aging home. He made it clear the NFL wants the Bills to remain in Buffalo, but it'll be up to the group to settle their stadium issues collectively -- the Bills' current stadium lease expires after the 2020 season -- "over the next several months, if not sooner."
» The last facility Goodell discussed Wednesday was the one playing host to his league's biggest game: Miami's Hard Rock Stadium.
Goodell referred to the facility as "a new stadium" because of the extensive renovations completed in 2016, which included building an open-air canopy over the majority of seating inside the stadium, among other substantial upgrades. The new-look stadium is the crown jewel of the city's hosting efforts, which Goodell pointed to as the reason why Miami is hosting its 11th Super Bowl, the most in NFL history.
"They know how to do this, they have an experienced team that is hosting the Super Bowl Host Committee and we believe that we'll be back here many times going in the future," Goodell said of Miami. "It's just a great spot for the Super Bowl and we thank all the people here for all the work they've done."
"Patrick Mahomes anywhere in the NFL is good for me," Goodell said. "I gotta tell you, not only is he an incredible player, but he is an incredible young man. Wherever he plays in the NFL, he's going to have an impact, and I'm proud to have him as a Kansas City Chief. I would guess there's 31 other teams that wouldn't mind having him either. He's just made us better, and he's made the Chiefs better as evidenced by the fact that they're here in the Super Bowl."
» The world continues to mourn the tragic passing of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna along with the seven other people who died in Sunday's helicopter crash. Goodell reflected Wednesday on Bryant's contributions and the person he was, as well as the NFL's loss of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman, who died Tuesday night at the age of 58 after a battle with brain cancer.
"I don't think just Los Angeles is mourning the loss of Kobe Bryant. Kobe was a special person," Goodell said. "I did have the opportunity to meet him. He obviously brought a lot to our world and I think all of us not only feel for the tragic events to his family but as well as everyone else who was a passenger on that helicopter. It's hard to understand and it's hard to process.
"I'm proud of, as the story unfolded unfortunately on Sunday, the way our players, the way our league responded, including a moment of silence during the [Pro Bowl] game, put his picture up and the way the fans responded to that. We did that again on Monday night when we started here on Monday night (Super Bowl Opening Night). So we as a league have been very responsive and I think respectful of somebody who contributed so much to sports. We also lost one of our own legends last night, Chris Doleman, who I personally was very fond of and meant a great deal to me and the league. I think both of those individuals will be seen on Sunday in some fashion in a respectful way."