NFL Misses the Mark With Plan to Incentivize Hiring Minority Coaches, General Managers

The hiring process for coaches and general managers needs to change, but the NFL's latest proposal would bring more harm than good for minority candidates.
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Good intentions often produce bad ideas, and this is especially problematic for Roger Goodell because so many people assume his intentions are bad. Goodell's public image fell off the back of the truck about 13 years ago and he hasn't seen it since. So let's say this for him, and I absolutely believe it: The NFL commissioner has good intentions with its plan to use draft positions to incentivize hiring people of color.

It is, alas, still a bad idea.

It's a terrible idea, actually. It would probably hurt minority coaches in two ways. They would face the old racist knock: You only got hired (or kept your job) because of your skin color. But even worse: The plan won't actually do what it aspires to do. It will just set the league back another year or two while Goodell watches it fail.

First, the plan, according to NFL.com:

1. Teams move up six slots in the third round for hiring a minority head coach, or 10 spots in the third round for hiring a person of color as its general manager (or whatever title it gives to the person who builds the team).

2. If a team hires a minority coach and GM, it jumps 16 spots.

3. Teams would get bonuses for keeping minorities in those positions.

Now, ask yourself: If you're an owner, would you really hire a coach or GM so you can move up a few slots in the third round? If you said "yes," you would be an awful owner. Getting those hires right is far more important than moving up in the third round.

Remember, teams aren't getting third-rounders. They are just moving up. According to the Jimmy Johnson draft chart–which is a rule of thumb, not a rule of law–moving from the 81 to 65 picks should cost a team 80 points in draft value, or the equivalent of the 107th pick in the draft. That's a mid-fourth rounder. It has value, but nowhere near the value of hiring the right coach.

And yet: Any minority coach or executive would still have to hear that he got hired (or retained) just to improve draft position. Successful people of color already hear nonsense about their "qualifications" from the "I'm not racist, but …" crowd. This would not help. This is a bad idea. But I do think it comes from a good place.

Goodell has taken a beating for so long–some of it from my keyboard–and he mostly just weathers it. But two drumbeats have clearly frustrated him in recent years. One is the persistent perception that he doesn't want Colin Kaepernick in his league. The other is that the league has not done enough to promote minority hiring.

Add them up, and you can figure out what people are implying about Goodell. You can also see why it bothers him. But there is also only so much he can do about it. His powers do not include signing quarterbacks or hiring coaches. He can only nudge and incentivize and hope it works.

Goodell has said more than once that he would like to see Kaepernick get a job, and while Kaepernick probably does not believe that, I actually do. The relationship between Kaepernick and NFL executives is just so toxic and filled with so much mistrust, that any move to right that wrong blows up. Goodell definitely bears some responsibility for that, but I think he would love for a team to sign Kaepernick and take that line off his career record forever.

As for minority hiring: Goodell was blunt in his State of the League address before this year's Super Bowl. He said what the league has been doing has not been working and wouldn't work.

"There's no reason to expect we're going to have a different outcome next year without those kinds of changes," he said. "(We're) 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."

He would love to have a dozen or more minority coaches and another dozen minority GMs–not for the appearance of diversity, but because it would mean teams are closer to a colorblind hiring process. Right now there are three minority head coaches out of 32 in the league. That is simply not representative of the coaching profession in 2020. Goodell knows it.

The problem is that Goodell works for the people he is trying to pressure, not the other way around, and his toolbox is limited. Most prominently, it includes fines, draft picks and suspensions. He has used those tools to enforce minority interviews, but fining or suspending teams for hiring white people is presumably a non-starter. So you can see why using draft picks as an incentive came up.

It's just the wrong idea. It wouldn't work. The roots of the minority-hiring problem are lazy perceptions and people hiring who they know or who looks like them. The best way to combat those, like with many racial problems, is by increasing awareness and comfort levels. Put enough minority coaches in front of a white, conservative owner, and you increase the chances that one will impress him.

Part of the league's problem is that the hiring process is rushed. Right ideas could include a complete rearrangement of the league's schedule. Don't let anybody interview for a job until the Super Bowl is over, then give teams a two-week window to make hires. Push back free agency, and if necessary, the combine, the draft and even the Senior Bowl. These would be radical changes for the NFL's league year, but Goodell needs to make radical changes to both show he means business and to get better results. His heart may be in a good place. His league is not. And this draft-pick plan, while well-intentioned, is not the answer. 

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