Accelerator program overdue for NFL diversity. Will it help?

Aaron Glenn Bengals Lions Football
Posted at 6:21 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 18:21:02-04

For 15 years, Aaron Glenn was an outstanding NFL cornerback, a team leader, and a coach in the making.

Teammates, fans and coaches of the New York Jets, for whom he spent eight seasons as a shutdown defender, recognized it. Same thing when Glenn went to Houston and Dallas.

He retired as a player after the 2008 season, and since 2014 has served as an assistant coach in Cleveland, New Orleans and, the past two years as defensive coordinator in Detroit.

He believes he’s ready for a head-coaching gig. The problem? Not many of the people making such decisions know much about Glenn — nor the other African American and minority candidates in the pipeline.

The chasm between bosses at the clubs and the minority candidates has remained as wide as the Grand Canyon. As Glenn jokingly made reference, to the majority of owners are white billionaires. The Coach and Front Office Accelerator program is designed to close that mammoth gap.

“There’s not a lot of differences,” Glenn said this week at the NFL meetings, referring to team owners Art Rooney II of Pittsburgh, Arthur Blank of Atlanta, and Kim Pegula of Buffalo, who attended a news conference with him. “Their bank accounts are bigger than mine — but other than that, not a lot of differences. And that was important to all of us that stand here, just to get a chance to have that face-to-face conversation with the owners and understand that.

“From meeting the owners, to talking to each other and getting a chance to visit with each other,” Glenn added of other candidates taking part, “and then just understand exactly what we’re trying to build, so I could see this going on for years. And there’s going to be a lot of people like me that are going to be in this situation that are going to get a chance to be head coaches and GMs, so it was a great event.”

It surely was a necessary event.

The job always in the spotlight, of course, is head coach. There will be six minorities in that position this season: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Houston’s Lovie Smith and Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles, who are Black; Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who is biracial; the Jets’ Robert Saleh, who is of Lebanese heritage; and Washington’s Ron Rivera, who is Hispanic.

Compared with the start of the 2020 season, when there were three Black men holding the job, plus Rivera, that would indicate some progress, albeit incremental when the league has roughly 70% African American players.

The Rooney Rule was devised in 2003 to improve opportunities for minorities to be hired as head coaches. It since has been expanded to cover general managers and other executives, coordinators and, as of Tuesday, quarterbacks coaches. All of those are significant steps.

“I asked a couple of owners, ‘How do they think it went?’” Glenn said. “And they gave me their honest opinion. Because at the end of the day I want to be a head coach. I do, and that’s not changing. So now it goes to, ‘OK, owners, are you going to give me that shot to do that?’ So, I’m doing everything I can as a Detroit Lions coach right now to put myself in that position. That’s not going to change. I have to make sure I prepare myself in the interviews to make sure I can show that I’m ready to be a head coach. And then it’s not on me anymore. It’s up to the owners. And that’s just my honest opinion about it.”

Glenn couldn’t have been more spot-on had he been returning a pick for a touchdown, something he did six times among his 41 interceptions. The onus is on both sides to continue the conversations, but these potential head coaches (and GMs and executives) have been pushing the envelope for quite a while, with moderate progress.

“I think the more exposure, the more training, the more intentional that we are,” said Blank, one of the league’s most progressive owners, “I think we’re going to see a change in the numbers that we’re looking for.

“So, it gives a unique opportunity to develop those personal relationships. Often when you are hiring, you look at expertise, background, and experience, and sometimes it looks fairly equal. When people are together in front of you, you have an opportunity to get to know them, it becomes special.”