As the dust settles during this NFL launch cycle, there are no fewer than seven major coaching positions and three points open for GMs across the league.
Diversity and inclusion have been a major point of the league office in recent years, and the NFL directors I spoke with this week hope that the focus they have placed on diversity will translate into more opportunities for minority candidates in this course after the disappointments of previous years.
“I have expectations where, yes, I expect different results. Why? I’ve put a ceiling on my players. Because the work has been put in,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, told me on the phone Wednesday. “Since the end of the last hiring cycle, we have been putting work together: from identifying people, to developing people, to policy improvements, to marketing, the clubs are working together to make sure that [prospective hires] They get a good time to watch TV. We’ve put work into it.
“There is an expectation to make that happen. I expect the clubs that are hiring to do the right thing for the right reasons because we’ve put the work into them.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but yes, the league is optimistic this recruitment cycle will be different. That was, of course, the hope last year before only two of the seven major coaching jobs went to men of color and three of the seven positions at GM.
Now that Brian Flores has been fired after consecutive seasons of wins and David Cooley is suspended after his first year in Houston, there are three minority coaches in the NFL. Mike Tomlin is the only coach for BlackBerry.
(I want to be fair to those cited in this article. We did this interview Wednesday morning before Cooley was fired. The questions, and perhaps their responses, would have differed a lot if the interview had taken place once the league had been relegated to a black head coach. I know the people in the office of The NFL has gotten past the assertion that they will face a hiring cycle that promotes white men and sees the number of black executives and coaches dwindling.)
The work that Vincent refers to includes the league that requires teams to report their organizational structure at the start of each regular season and to report all interviews for senior positions to the league office. The emphasis in each league meeting on diversity and inclusion, as well as the league’s greater involvement with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, was evidence of this work.
Another amendment was made to the league’s anti-tamper policy which allowed teams to meet with coaches on other teams for their vacant main position in the last two weeks of the regular season. Only Jaguars tried it, and the rule change didn’t extend to GM candidates. (Sources I spoke to throughout the league found this intriguing, and feel it must change moving forward if the league is to be effective. Giants owner John Mara made clear on Wednesday that there is no motive to move on from now-retired general manager Dave Gettleman. Because they could not meet the candidates they wanted).
On Wednesday, Vincent sent a note to charter clubs reminding them of the league’s database of coaches and staff. There are 5,177 trainers and employees in the system, including 3,798 from minorities. His message: Take your time, research the talent pool.
“I think what I’m pleased to see is that we’re starting to see some of the incredible talent that we have, and the pipeline that we have of head coaches and nominees from GM, both former and emerging nominees,” says Jonathan Bean, the league’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “They are starting to get this attention from the media. They are being recognized by the clubs early on. They are being pursued aggressively as you can see through the list of candidates to be interviewed for these roles. I feel really good about the prestige and the opportunities that will be provided to be able to compete.”
As of Wednesday, Vincent’s team cheered the WAN she launched in her searches (mostly for GMs.) The black coaches and staff I spoke to didn’t share Vincent and Bean’s optimism. At best, they are holding their collective breath that this year will be different. But they see that a 70% black league has only one coach now, and winning in Miami or over-achieving in Houston in an impossible situation isn’t good enough.
All of these adjustments overseen by the league office will not be of much value if teams violate the spirit and do not emphasize a fair and balanced interview process. I asked Vincent if the league would actually enforce the consequences on the books if teams violated the spirit of the Rooney rule.
“We should have teeth. We started that,” Vincent said, referring to the reporting structure from teams to the league’s office. “What is the currency of football? Draft picks, club fines. So we keep an eye on it.”
Will Watson stay?
Deshaun Watson is under contract with the Texas team. Houston will look closely to Flores to be their head coach. Watson is said to have a strong affinity with Flores. I can report to Pep Hamilton, the former QBs coach, that he will be highly considered for a position as offensive coordinator there, per source.
Will Watson stay in Houston?
Too early to say. Feelings are still very tense. Watson didn’t appreciate how the property handled last year’s hiring cycle, and I don’t feel he has a good relationship with General Manager Nick Caserio or Texas CEO Jack Easterby.
Stay connected in Houston.
Despite what some coaches and general managers want you to believe, QB’s circular platform is about to start spinning. And whoever publicly endorsed QB 2021 last week may sing a different tune in six to eight weeks once the free agency gets in.
This week it seemed that the only person with enough sense not to commit to midfield in 2021 that started in 2022 is Frank Reich. The Colts coach chose not to publicly associate himself with Carson Wentz when asked after their failed season, and of course it was telling. On Thursday, general manager Chris Ballard was also non-committal.
I would be surprised if more than half of the names on this list are with the 2021 teams in 2022: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Tua Tagoviloa, Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold.
Although the QB free agent market doesn’t sound strong, one name I keep hearing around league circles where someone ignores people is Marcus Mariota.
The Raiders’ QB backup was coveted by Washington last season, but he was rehabilitating an ankle injury and was unwilling to sign any long-term deal if he was traded. Also, the raiders had absolutely no intention of trading him, so it was all up for discussion anyway.
Mariota carries an injury risk with him, but I can see him beginning the first week in September. The smart team that won’t enter the Wilson-Rodgers-Watson sweepstakes can go ahead and have their picture taken with Mariota early in the free agency.
The latest in Pantherland
I think Matt Reyle is safe and will be the head coach for the Panthers in the first week of the 2022 season.
I know there is some question as to whether his fate is linked to the appointment of the offensive coordinator, but I am told that is not the case. The appointment is important, and team owner David Tepper is keeping a close eye on it, but his career doesn’t depend (for now) on this appointment.
Rhule is publicly in a difficult situation, and could use a word from Tepper to back him up. I don’t think this will happen until Rhule appoints new assistants. Then Tepper will be able to point out the change and issue his statement or give an interview that basically says he won Year 3 or otherwise.
Super Wild Card Weekend Picks
So I went disappointing 10-6 last week to raise my regular season record to 183-88-1. This is an infection rate of 67.4% over the course of the year. That’s slightly down from a rate of 67.8% last year, but Dang is very consistent. (By the way, this year the nominees won 63.5% of games, so I outperformed there.)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Television: NBC | flow: fuboTV (click here)
Love the way the invaders play along the road. There is something about them. And I think Sensei’s defense will let them down.
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Television: CBS | flow: Paramount+ (click here)
McJones appears to have hit the rookie wall in the longest regular season in NFL history, and the bills are an even better team in the end.
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Television: CBS | flow: Paramount+ (click here)
One team has a dominant running game that turns the clock. The other has a head coach who struggles with running the clock. Watch out that this is the difference in the game.