ATLANTA — So, about the supposed dearth of minority quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators …
The narrative that there is a lack of such people in the pipeline of prospective head-coaching candidates suffered what should be a crippling blow the last two days at the Quarterback Coaching Summit at Morehouse College, where leaders from the NFL’s football operations department and the Black College Football Hall of Fame brought together three dozen people of color who hold those titles on the college or pro level.
The participants came from Clemson, Maryland and Grambling, from South Florida, Cal and William & Mary, from Navy, Florida and Alcorn State, to name some. They also came from the NFL and XFL, hoping to either share their experiences or gather tips on how to improve their chances of climbing the vocational ladder.
They left firm in their conviction that the lack of opportunity for minorities to become NFL head coaches of late has more to do with the lack of demand than the lack of supply. It also has to do with ignorance, as former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome appeared to admit when he looked out at the audience and said:
"I didn’t know there were this many African-Americans coaching quarterbacks. It was a lack of awareness on my part. I had no idea. But I will be taking this back to Baltimore with me."
Newsome held the pamphlet listing all of the attendees overhead and shook it. His pledge was powerful, because general managers typically have the owner’s ear, and if the GM is unaware of potential minority candidates, it’s extremely unlikely an owner will know of them, complicating the already difficult process of finding the right person to lead the franchise on the field.
Some clubs excel at this task because they have a clear picture of the traits they want in a hire. For instance, the Steelers have had only three head coaches over the last five decades, while the Ravens have had just two since 1999 and the Patriots have had only one since the turn of the century. However, for other teams, there has been constant turnover, in part because they chase the "hot" candidate or the trendy name. That has contributed to 113 head coaches being fired since the start of the 2000 season, 60 of whom were dismissed after three or fewer seasons, 32 after two seasons or fewer and 11 after one year.
On the surface, the search for head coaches from the ranks of offensive coordinators or quarterback coaches appears to make sense, because the league has liberalized many of the rules to favor the passing game, which in turn has made quarterback development even more critical. But as one panelist mentioned Monday night, coaching might be 10 percent of a head coach’s responsibilities during the week. The rest of his time is spent dealing with player and roster issues, the media, owners, scheduling, etc.
Former NFL head coaches Marvin Lewis (who coached the Bengals from 2003 to 2018), Jim Caldwell (who coached the Colts from 2009 to 2011 and the Lions from 2014 to ’17) and Hue Jackson (who coached the Raiders in 2011 and the Browns from 2016 to ’18) were among those providing insight and tips to the younger participants. Newsome sat on a panel with other former and current GMs, including Rick Spielman (currently with the Vikings), Chris Grier (currently with the Dolphins), Jerry Reese (who worked for the Giants from 2007 to 2017) and Dick Daniels. They took questions about what decision-makers look for in candidates, and the former coaches spoke about the importance of being prepared and the challenges and expectations of the job. Tuesday afternoon was devoted to football, with some of the game’s bright minds at every level pulling back the curtain on their areas of expertise, among them Maryland coach Michael Locksley, Clemson coordinator Tony Elliott, retired assistant coach Jimmy Raye Sr. (who was one of only three black assistant coaches when he broke into the league), Caldwell and Pep Hamilton.
Interestingly, participants were more focused on looking ahead than looking back. But there also was a belief in some areas that coaches of color are being held to higher standards than others. For instance, Locksley was an offensive coordinator or head coach for 10 consecutive years on the college level, beginning in 2005. Yet, when he sought to make the jump to the NFL, he was told that he needed to participate in an internship program to get exposure. "I humbled myself and did it," he said.
Ted White, the quarterback coach of Washington’s XFL franchise, spent time as a player with three NFL teams before quarterbacking clubs in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League. He has done five NFL internships and worked with quarterbacks as an assistant coach or college coordinator for all but two of the last 13 years. Yet, he has been unable to land a spot in the NFL.
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"Coming in, it was more disappointing than anything," he said. "But after hearing guys like Jim Caldwell, Jimmy Raye Sr., Shack Harris, Doug Williams — guys who have actually been through this situation — it’s inspiring, because we feel like we have hope."
"It’s out of our control," said Hamilton, who said his decision to join the XFL (he is head coach of the league’s Washington team) had more to do with timing and family considerations than it did with being passed over for NFL head-coaching opportunities. Hamilton has worked as an assistant for five NFL teams and three colleges. Most recently, he was on staff at Michigan from 2017 to ’18 and worked for the Cleveland Browns in 2016. "The only thing we can do is continue to stack wins and prepare and equip ourselves to make the most of the opportunities that we get."
Who gets those opportunities and when will be decided by people at the top of the organizational chart. The fact that no owner attended the Summit was not lost on some who attended. But the fact that Newsome pledged to take their names back to the Ravens, and the fact that Troy Vincent, the league’s executive president of football operations, spoke so passionately about leveling the playing field, were sources of encouragement.
"We can sell a non-winning white coach, but we struggle to sell a winning black coach," Vincent said, alluding to Caldwell, who has a career record of 62-50 and only received one interview despite there being eight openings this year. Vincent added that Reese oversaw two Super Bowl-winning teams with the Giants but remains unemployed, labeling that a "systemic" problem.
"But I’m not looking in the rearview mirror," Vincent said. "We’re looking forward. It’s about purpose over position. We’re just asking for a fair process and opportunity."
Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter @JimTrotter_NFL.
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