NFL insider notes: Critical voices mount about lack of diversity in coach hiring, plus more on coach carouselDeMaurice Smith
The critical voices are mounting within the NFL community – and outside of it as well – about another head coach hiring cycle that seems to be lacking in diversity. Notwithstanding whatever the Texans and Eagles decide, there is a mounting chorus from current and former players, current and former coaches, the Fritz Pollard Alliance and the NFL Players Association about the state of affairs in these hiring processes, and how flawed they remain for people of color.
DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFLPA, spoke to me this week about the ongoing issues – at a time in which we honor the work of the great Martin Luther King Jr. – including the union’s role in continuing the push for the decision-makers in this sport to be more representative of the men who by and large play it professionally. The NFLPA is very attuned to the dynamics, and whatever impact the expansion of the Rooney Rule is or isn’t having. The Players Association aims to work with the league in shaping ownership groups, team presidents, general managers and coaches who represent a far wider spectrum of backgrounds and experiences.
“It’s something that we’re following closely this year,” Smith told me on Inside Access, which I cohost on 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore. “Earlier this year the NFL did reach out to the NFLPA to ask for assistance in its overall effort of increasing diversity, and we’re going to be presenting some things to the league right around the Super Bowl. But I wanted to have a pretty good look at what happened this year before we did that. And in order to complete the circle – a lot of this has to do with justice.
“What is fair? How do we make sure that teams and front offices and people who cover our sport are subject to accountability on the decisions that they make? And I believe that a lot of the things, or a few of the things, that the leagues have done in the past have been good. And I think there are still a lot of people who go out of their way to apologize for the league, or to defend the league over hiring decisions or processes, that are indefensible.”
It’s fair to say the Houston Texans and their circuitous search and the way they have handled the candidacy of top Chiefs assistant coach Eric Bieniemy has garnered the attention of the NFLPA and the Fritz Pollard Alliance. It remains to be seen if that franchise, which has dealt with no shortage of race-related issues the past four years, makes a diverse hire (they have also interviewed Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier), but it is certainly on Smith’s radar as the union prepares for its meeting with the NFL next month.
“What we intend on delivering to the league is something that takes a comprehensive look about how these decisions are made,” Smith said (you can hear the entire interview here) “and how do we increase the level of transparency and accountability. And, frankly, until you do that you can make the right moves but if people believe that you have reached those conclusions in the wrong way, there’s not going to be any trust or faith in a system. And I believe that’s the system we should be striving for.”
The tone of Rod Graves, head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, has certainly become sterner this year as well. Graves told me he was “cautiously optimistic” about this hiring cycle being different when I spoke to him on the final day of the NFL regular season, but that is no longer the case. Graves released a statement on Tuesday unlike any I can recall in recent history about the hiring practices that read in part: “The issue is not the in the sufficiency of numbers; the problem is in the limited number of leadership opportunities given. The disparity in opportunities is mind-boggling.”
Smith would agree, and we can expect to hear much more about this issue, and potential further alterations to The Rooney Rule, in the months to come. There is growing sense among many I spoke to that, ultimately, as much as the NFL continues to dangle a carrot in terms of additional draft pick compensation for teams that make diverse hires, it might truly require a stick (stripping teams of draft picks when they go three hiring cycles without making a diverse hire) to get the attention of NFL owners.