The ball is in your hands, NFL owners. Still.
Would you really tie draft picks to the hiring of minority candidates for head coach, GM and quarterback coach positions?
We’re about to find out on Tuesday, when team owners will consider two resolutions during a virtual league meeting — significantly, the measures passed muster and are brought forward by both the league’s workplace diversity and competition committees — aimed to bolster minority hiring.
What a noble cause. The regressive pattern is reflected over the past three hiring cycles, when just three of 20 head coaching hires were minorities. This year, Washington’s Ron Rivera (who promptly dumped African-American legend Doug Williams as the top personnel executive) was the only minority hired among the five head coaching jobs after fired in Carolina. That leaves, in a league where more than 70% of the players are African-Americans, with four minority head coaches.
On the GM side, Cleveland’s hire of Andrew Berry made it 2-for-32 for minorities.
We’ve heard Commissioner Roger Goodell, like at the last Super Bowl press conference, speak passionately about a desire to see the numbers increase. He means well. Theoretically, that would at least suggest there is equal opportunity in the NFL “meritocracy.” But that’s the same Goodell who fumbled the chance to make a strong statement about the teeth of the Rooney Rule in early 2019, when he let the Raiders skate without as much as a slap on the wrist for the sham process employed when Jon Gruden was hired. Action, you know, trumps words that we’ve heard from Roger and so many other power-brokers over the years on this matter.
In any event, here we go again.
One of the proposed resolutions would tweak the anti-tampering policy and remove the barrier that prevents coaches under contract who are designated as “assistant head coaches” from interviewing elsewhere for coordinator jobs. Makes too much sense to pass this, with Goodell having the final say in determining whether the offer is for a “bona fide” coordinator job.
Call it the “Duce Staley Rule.” The Eagles running backs coach (also the assistant head coach) had a shot in 2018 to interview for the O-coordinator role on Matt Nagy’s staff with the Bears … but the Eagles blocked him. That was rather foul. Maybe this new resolution will pass as a formidable fix.
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The other resolution, I’d suspect, will be tougher to push through — which is why it’s good that these resolutions were not combined into one.
The radical resolution would incentivize teams to hire minorities by using draft-pick capital, two people with knowledge of the matter confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The people did not want to comment publicly on the matter due to the sensitivity of the issue. Also, two NFL owners on the diversity committee — Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney II and Arizona’s Michael Bidwill — declined interview requests from USA TODAY Sports.
I get it. Draft picks in the NFL can be as valued as the Holy Grail. I’m doubting that there are 24 team owners who will sign up for this latest plan to shake up the hiring process — when all that’s really needed is a level playing field.
As first reported by Jim Trotter of the league-owned NFL.com, here’s the deal:
If a team hires a minority head coach, it moves up six slots in the third round. If it’s a minority GM (or whatever the title for the top football executive), the third-round pick advances 10 slots.
So, a minority GM/head coach combo — like the Dolphins have, by the way, with Chris Grier and Brian Flores — could push a team up 16 spots in the third round. That’s some serious incentive.
Also, if a minority quarterbacks coach is hired, it would net the team a compensatory pick in the fourth round. And teams losing minorities to become a head coach or GM would gain a third-round compensatory pick; losing a minority for a coordinator job is worth a fourth-round compensatory slot. And if the minority GM and/or coach makes it to a third year, the fourth-round pick rises five slots.
The incentive plan is surely pushing the matter like never before — even further than the Rooney Rule instituted in 2003, given the draft picks.
As creative of a proposal as it is, it’s pretty much like a Hail Mary pass. Throw it up and see whether it strikes pay dirt.
If this resolution succeeds, also think about the stigma that would be unfairly heaped onto, say, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy if he happens to land a head coaching gig. Some people will think (wrongly) that he only got the job because of the draft capital, that it was an “affirmative-action hire,” even though we know full well that Bienemy has paid just as many — or more — dues as Nagy, Bengals coach Zac Taylor, Packers coach Matt LaFleur or Brown coach Kevin Stefanski have en route to their opportunities.
You think that a coach hired with with a draft-pick incentive will walk into his new building with the proper respect? I doubt it.
If the NFL wants to do something with draft picks, it would be better off taking away picks from teams who make a mockery of the Rooney Rule with sham interviews.
You’d hope — and we’ve been keeping hope alive — that a prospective head coach (or GM) who happens to be African-American would just be considered fairly on the merits. Yet racial bias is an X-factor that is too often suspected in the final analysis, just as it is in a society at large that still reeks of injustices and inequities (as the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates) in many aspects of life.
Yes, the resolution underscores how desperate for solutions that proponents within the league are — and I’m sure that Troy Vincent, bless him, is pushing hard as the progressive executive vice president for football operations — for increasing opportunities. More power to them. So many other tweaks, pressure and assorted lip service in recent years have hardly changed the disturbing results.
That’s where this incentive plan comes from. They’ve got to try something. There’s nothing to lose beyond the reputation of NFL owners who too often appear to be unconcerned about the racial optics associated with their key football leadership positions.
But this Hail Mary pass will be hard-pressed to change those perceptions.