The message was clear as the third annual NFL Quarterback Coaching Summit ended Tuesday: There is a strong group of Black assistant coaches ready to be discovered and elevated into larger roles, and it is up to NFL owners to get to know them.
This year’s summit, which was conducted online over two days, was geared toward highlighting and teaching the diverse talent in the NFL and college ranks in hopes of solving the NFL’s lack of minority coach hiring, particularly on offense. Twenty-two teams participated this week, the most ever at the summit and up from just two teams in 2019.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said the goal is getting all 32 teams to participate next year.
“The pipeline is full. The most important thing is to open up the valve,” said Doug Williams, Washington’s senior vice president of player development and the MVP of Super Bowl XXII. “We got guys who are lined up to be head coaches today. We have three guys that have been head coaches and other guys who are ready to become head coaches that are out there that we believe should be head coaches right now — four or five of them.
“From a minority standpoint, it always had to be nobody is in the pipeline. I think the problem has been nobody has been looking into the valve. The last two years we have shown that there are a lot of coaches out there that are capable of being quarterback coaches, position coaches, head coaches, coordinators. It’s just the matter of an opportunity. What has to happen from an ownership standpoint, I think they have to look a bit deeper. Same for coaches, general managers.”
The current climate in the U.S., with the recent deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police combined with commissioner Roger Goodell’s apology on behalf of the NFL for not doing a better job of listening to players’ concerns on racial inequality, has put new significance on the purpose of this year’s quarterback coaching summit.
Vincent said that given the “ugliness of the country,” he hoped this could be an opportunity for change in the league, with more Black leadership hiring and in the way athletes who protest are viewed. He said “there’s a better understanding” among owners and the league office, and added that the country has a better understanding of several individuals, including former quarterback Colin Kaepernick and what he was “speaking about, what he was standing for, what he was kneeling for along with some of the other players — Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins.”
The call for more Black leadership isn’t new. But it was renewed after the Super Bowl week statement from Goodell noting a real need for change and action in minority hiring, and the recent changes to the Rooney Rule that the league hopes will make an impact.
In the NFL, there are three Black head coaches (Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores) and two Black general managers (Dolphins’ Chris Grier, Cleveland Browns’ Andrew Berry). Only one Black head coach, Flores, has been hired over the past two seasons. There are two Black offensive coordinators (Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Bieniemy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Byron Leftwich) and two Black quarterback coaches (Los Angeles Chargers’ Pep Hamilton, Indianapolis Colts’ Marcus Brady).
Those numbers are among the main reasons events such as the quarterback coaching summit were started. New York Giants co-owner John Mara said during Monday’s session that he hoped there would be more events like this summit to get to know Black coaches better.
Many of the session leaders in this year’s summit were owners and head coaches, including Steelers owner Art Rooney II, Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula, Mara, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel, Bucs coach Bruce Arians and Lynn.
Some of the session and panel topics included the lack of minority coaching opportunities, how to prepare for different aspects of a coaching job like building a staff, collaborating with other coaches, leadership and winning culture, fundamentals of the QB position and job interviews. There were also mock interviews for head coach, offensive coordinator and QB coach positions on Tuesday, along with breakout networking sessions on Monday.
All four of the Black offensive coordinators and QB coaches — Bieniemy, Leftwich, Hamilton, Brady — presented in the summit. Given the NFL’s current trend of pushing offensive coordinators and QB coaches for promotions, they also appear to be up-and-coming candidates for a top job. Bieniemy, in particular, is coming off a Super Bowl LIV title with the Chiefs and has interviewed for head-coaching gigs over the past two years.
Former NFL head coaches Jim Caldwell, Hue Jackson, Leslie Frazier — all experienced candidates looking for another opportunity — also presented in the summit. Many of the other participants included proven NFL position coaches and collegiate coaches looking for insight on how to progress in their career.
There were other important nuggets from some top executives and owners during some of the sessions:
Baltimore Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome said he was pleasantly surprised during last year’s QB summit by how many current and former Black offensive coordinators and coaches there were in the college and NFL ranks. He collected the list, shared it with coach Jim Harbaugh and watched those coaches last fall. He figured many NFL owners would be surprised to see the size of the pipeline.
Rooney suggested teams slow down in their hiring process to create a more diverse pool of candidates while expressing hope that changes to the Rooney Rule will help hiring numbers turn around.
Mara revealed that in the past he, like many other owners, had been searching for the hot, young offensive mind — such as Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan — but that he now has switched his focus to finding a CEO coach rather than one who specializes in offense or defense.
Although the virtual nature of the summit didn’t provide opportunities for personal interactions with owners and executives, the feedback from summit participants on the ownership and coaching sides was that the overall experience was positive.
Vincent revealed that part of the league’s seven-point mobility plan is networking opportunities. He said the league’s research showed that key learnings from interviews revealed a “limited informal relationship in a relationship-based industry.” The league hopes to have more informal networking opportunities for minority candidates in the future potentially at league meetings, the NFL combine and all-star games.