NFL hosts diversity seminar ahead of owners’ meeting
“I don’t have all the answers,” Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction, this opportunity. We’ll see how we build from here and go from here. But I think this event is a big step in the direction of being able to build relationships within the NFL circle.
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The seminar came as the NFL continues to grapple with its diversity practices following a disappointing hiring cycle. The league and teams are facing a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores.
“This [issue] has been on the role,” said Jonathan Beane, NFL Director of Diversity and Inclusion. “We have been focusing on this for some time. … I would say whatever happens, whether it’s a hiring cycle that’s not going very well, any kind of other situations that happen in the game as far as the clubs or in regards to the Flores situation or whatever else, just for us, let’s just know that we have to dig deeper and we have to have that level of urgency to get it right.
Two of the 10 NFL head coaching vacancies this offseason have been filled by black coaches. The Houston Texans hired Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers promoted Todd Bowles from defensive coordinator to head coach when Bruce Arians retired. Smith and Bowles joined Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers as the league’s only black head coaches. The Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel, who is multiracial, to replace the fired Flores as coach.
Two other black coaches, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, later joined the lawsuit against Flores, who accuses the league and teams of discrimination in hiring and retaining minority coaches. The league and teams named in the lawsuit have denied the specific allegations, but commissioner Roger Goodell and other league executives said the NFL must do everything it can to address its minority hiring issues. .
“Here we are very intentional in focusing on the head coach and general manager because we know that’s an area where we need to improve,” Beane said. “We already have the talent that is in the league, but it needs to be exposed. Connections must be built. So, as we enter the hiring cycle, you think about the great people you just met regarding who your next general manager or head coach might be.
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The league and owners passed a measure in March that requires every team to have a minority assistant coach in a prominent role on its offensive staff. The NFL also appointed a committee of outside advisors and approved a resolution endorsing diversity in franchise ownership.
“I’m an optimistic person,” Brady said. “So part of that is just who I am, my makeup of who I am. I always seek greatness. I always have this positive vision that things will change. There are a lot of good people in the NFL in higher positions. Although things are not improving right now, like this event happening right now, there are people in place who are working towards this progress. I just hope it eventually breaks down the barriers and it starts to change.
Among the participants were offensive coordinators Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs and Byron Leftwich of the Buccaneers, two of the most high-profile black assistant coaches to have been passed over for head coaching opportunities in recent hiring rounds.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank spoke to the group Monday morning. Later in the day, owners Art Rooney of the Steelers, Clark Hunt of the Chiefs and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots took part in a question and answer session with coaches and minority leaders. Goodell also addressed participants in this session. The proceedings were to include a Monday evening reception where minority coaches and executives could interact with team owners.
“We hope that bonds will develop between these great leaders that we have brought here from the coaching side and from the front office with club owners and club decision-makers, that relationships are formed, that the great talent who is in front them is recognized, which then leads to huge opportunities,” Beane said.