MIAMI — This is where you come in armed with a plan.
Of all the various crises and sub-crises that have gripped the NFL in recent years, the lack of diversity among its head coaching ranks may be the most painfully evident. The optics are getting more difficult to tamp down each time a club hires a less experienced head coach over a minority candidate with better credentials. (That irony is probably not lost on Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who have both headed two of the most impressive units in football, and who will both be returning to their respective clubs next fall after the Super Bowl.) Players are more aware than ever that the highest levels of their coaching staffs and personnel departments do not reflect the demographics of their own team and league.
And so, with the question obviously coming, with the eyes of the football world on one place, for one press conference, with an issue that has been simmering for years but has accelerated into a full boil over the past two hiring cycles, this was the time and place to say: Here’s how we’ll try and fix this.
This is what commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday during his annual state-of-the-union press conference ahead of the Super Bowl:
"Clearly, we are not where we want to be on this level. We have a lot of work that's gone into not only the Rooney Rule but our policies overall. It's clear we need to change and do something different.
"There's no reason to expect we're going to have a different outcome next year without those kinds of changes and we've already begun engaging in those changes. Not just with our diversity committee, not just with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, but others. And trying to figure out what steps we could take next that would lead to better outcomes. It's clear we're all committed to doing that, and we have to make those changes. We will have a series of meetings which we've already scheduled over the next month to get that kind of dialogue going, to continue the dialogue to try to determine what are the solutions so we can have those better outcomes."
It sounds like the plan, essentially, is to meet and come up with a plan. Maybe that’s too harsh. Maybe Goodell should get credit for admitting what many CEOs, politicians and other business owners won’t: There is a problem. Maybe recognizing this as a failure instead of happenstance, or the result of one head coach just working harder than the other, or utilizing the ultimate cop out—that these are team decisions—is monumental in itself.
However, it is always good to know more. Last year, Goodell announced the formation of a summit dedicated to laying the foundation for a legitimate minority coaching pipeline. This year was the time for Step 2.
Calling out owners, or calling for the investment in diversifying NFL ownership, is out of the question for a person in Goodell’s position, even if it’s the most direct line toward solving the problem. The next-best solution is building on a plan, and not just announcing more plans to conjure plans.
Here’s what else we learned on Wednesday….
• Goodell was asked for a status update into the increasingly complicated and disturbing off-field life of former All Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. Goodell said that “the first step” is ensuring that Brown gets the help he needs. He added that “we want to help him get on the right track,” and is “confident it will happen.”
• Goodell’s comments on the Patriots’ videotaping issue were interesting in that Goodell seemed to swat away the notion that this case should be open and shut. On one hand, the league could just be working its way through the sleep-inducing churn of legalese necessary in satisfying an investigation like this (or drawing it out with the plan of dropping the news on some bucolic summer Friday when no one is paying attention). On the other, as we’ve seen in baseball, cheating exists in many forms, some more naked than others. Perhaps there is pressure on Goodell’s office to use this as an opportunity to ensure they’re not ensnared in a seismic, sport-altering issue of similar proportions.
“It shouldn’t [be open and shut] because our responsibility is to make sure we’re being extremely thorough. We have a responsibility to other clubs, we have a responsibility to our partners, we have a responsibility to fans to understand all of what happened and make sure that something that we don’t know happened didn’t happen.”
• When it comes to possible expansion or move cities outside the country, Goodell said there is no timeframe to establish a franchise in London, and he also thinks Toronto is a pretty nice place. We’ve written about Toronto’s legitimacy as an NFL city and London, even in recent years, has been thrown around as a potential leverage play for teams looking to strong-arm more benefits out of their current host cities.
• Goodell said he wouldn’t negotiate in public when it comes to the potential for a 17-game season in the new collective bargaining agreement. He said that the rise in reported concussions is not statistically significant, and that many of the other league initiatives focused on safety are creating a safer environment in general. It seems as though this will be one of the league’s arguing points moving forward: Hey, we put a ton of money and effort into new equipment, practice measures and rule adjustments. If it’s safer, it’s safer over the course of one more game as well.
• It seems like a significant possibility that the new stadium in Los Angeles will play a major role in opening weekend of the 2020 season. Goodell mentioned the flexibility of scheduling the Super Bowl winners on a Thursday or a Sunday. And, like this past year when the league honored it’s 100 anniversary with its opening game of the season, they may want to showcase the major L.A. investment this year.
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