The NFL’s latest hiring cycle has produced a diverse group of head coaches. The five that have been finalized and the one pending — the Philadelphia Eagles are zeroing in on Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni — will all be first-time head coaches. Two were most recently defensive coordinators, one a tight ends coach and another a legendary college coach with no NFL experience.
Despite several initiatives and incentives to hire minority candidates, only the New York Jets with Robert Saleh chose that course. Moreover, only the Houston Texans vacancy remains.
Count Amy Trask, the league’s first and still only female to serve as a team CEO, among those who are dissatisfied with a continuing trend.
“I’m thrilled with some of what we have seen and disappointed with some of what we have seen,” the former Raiders exec said Friday while appearing on NFL Now. “I don’t think it should take rules to compel people to do the right thing but there are rules in place and one can only hope that these teams continue to do the right things without being compelled to do it, but we have not seen that enough.”
The count of minority head coaches now stands at four, only half the record-high of eight from three years ago and a figure that contrasts heavily with the demographic of the players. Three of the seven general manager openings went to Black candidates, marking a possible sign of progress. There are now five minorities in that role.
But as NFL Network’s Steve Wyche pointed out, two of the newest GMs were appointed just after their new teams hired a head coach while the other joined a team with its head coach in place, raising questions about what authority they’ll have.
“Each of the 32 teams has a different structure,” Trask reminded. “At the end of the day, a team owner has full and final authority and full and final responsibility.
“The league is simply a compilation of 32 separate businesses owned by 32 separate ownership groups. So people can talk about what the league should do, and that’s important, but it’s up to each of these team ownership groups to do the right thing.”
While owners bear the most responsibility, they’re not alone in putting minority candidates in position to advance. Wyche asserted that onus falls on head coaches as well.
“A lot of these coordinator positions — the direct pipeline to head coaches — those are not being filled by diversity candidates,” he said. “You’re seeing this right away with just about every coordinator that’s been hired except for a few situations, that’s the issue. Even the head coaches of color don’t have coordinators of color. … I think also it’s on the owners but there’s a responsibility to these top personnel people and these head coaches to get some more diversity in the legitimate pipeline, not what we’re calling the pipeline now, to get them to positions of power and decision-making positions as well.”
Being a star coordinator doesn’t promise anything, of course. A recent proxy is Eric Bieniemy, who’s headed the Kansas City Chiefs’ electric offense the past three seasons. One question raised with him, the fact that he doesn’t call plays, clearly wasn’t a concern for the Detroit Lions with Dan Campbell or the Eagles with Sirianni. Additionally, NFL neophyte Urban Meyer has already said he will not be the Jacksonville Jaguars’ play-caller anyway.
That Bieniemy has gotten resounding referrals from Andy Reid also hasn’t seemed to resonate with front-office decision-makers.
“Let me put it this way, if I owned a team and I was looking for a head coach and Andy Reid says to me, you oughta look at this guy, you oughta hire this guy, you know I’m listening to that,” Trask said. “Recommendations are important. … I’m just stupefied that people are not listening to Andy on this. I know I certainly would.”
Perhaps pushing back the hiring window, a suggestion made by Sean Payton, would help candidates in Bieniemy’s shoes. He was considered for all of this cycle’s seven vacancies, only to see multiple posts filled before he could even interview while the Chiefs embarked on another deep playoff run.
“There is absolutely no good reason not to postpone interviews until after the Super Bowl,” Trask said. “No team should be allowed to interview anyone until after the Super Bowl. It is not fair to the teams who are in the playoffs and it is not fair to the coaches who are coaching for the best teams that go the deepest in the playoffs.”
It’s one measure that would benefit everyone equally.
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