Matt Daniels acknowledged feeling “a bit” of butterflies as he sat down earlier this week for speed-dating-style meetings with NFL owners and executives as part of the league’s strategy to develop greater diversity in the coaching ranks. .
With only one season on his résumé as the Minnesota Vikings’ special teams coordinator, Daniels, 33, could have been forgiven if he was intimidated by the pressure to sell himself to these decision makers in 30-minute slots.
But all Daniels had to do was show off his usual attractive and energetic personality.
“What you realize is that these billionaires and these super influential super powers are just regular people who enjoy and love soccer,” Daniels said.
The relative lack of minority-race coaches in prominent leadership roles, beginning with the grand stage of being head coach, has been a long-standing problem for the league, and thus a more recent priority to address. One goal has been to fill the pipelines with more diverse candidates, including creating “accelerator” programs for front-office and coaching positions.
At the spring league meetings in Minnesota this week, a group of 40 coaches participated in the latest edition. Sixteen of them participated in the inaugural event a year ago, after which eight coaches and three executives were hired in new roles, including Tennessee Titans general manager Ran Carthon.
This week’s list included veterans like Leslie Frazier and Anthony Lynn, who were former head coaches and are still aspiring for the top job.
“They are in different places and times and in their career,” said Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s director of diversity and inclusion. “Our schedule needs to fit around that and you need to make sure someone like Leslie Frazier gets a lot out of it and make sure someone else who might be very early in his career, a positional coach, who’s getting a lot out of it, too.” .
For an up-and-comer like Daniels who works in the specialized area of special teams, the opportunity to introduce himself to more people in charge was as valuable as any.
“Exposure leads to expansion,” said Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who filed a pending lawsuit against the league last year alleging racist hiring practices after being fired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. “Once kids are exposed to certain people, certain situations, you grow.”
There are currently six minority head coaches, three black, among the 32 positions in the NFL. Being able to shake more hands alone is not going to increase the rate, but every initiative has to start somewhere.
“This is a relationship business, so guys are going to hire someone they trust,” Daniels said. “The more you put yourself out there, the more you can be seen and heard, that’s where change starts to happen. It’s easy to keep quiet about certain situations or certain things just because you might ruffle your feathers a bit, but someone has to.”
Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell was another participant in the three-day session. Networking with each other and with superiors was vital, but there were other components that the league added based on feedback from pilot participants.
Trace Armstrong, former NFL player and current coaching agent, provided perspective on the contractual side of the business. Dean Stamoulis, an executive from a search firm, was there to talk about the hiring process. Don Thompson, the former CEO of McDonald’s, brought inspiration as a pioneering black leader in the restaurant business.
“He told us, ‘You can play the game, but you still have to be yourself,'” McCardell said. “I think everyone picked up on that, and when we went to the owners ourselves, they enjoyed it.”
Charles London, who was hired this offseason as the Titans’ passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, interviewed with head coach Mike Vrabel for his offensive coordinator job. He participated in the accelerator program last year.
“What’s key for me is the feedback. So if I don’t get this job, that’s great, but give me the feedback. Tell me what I can do better, what I can do here,” London said.
The Titans also sent tight ends coach Tony Dews, who coached running backs last year, to Minnesota this week. Vrabel sent Dews and London a text every morning during the session, forcing them to miss some spring practices with the Titans.
“I just said, ‘Hey, we miss you, but make sure they do a great job and present themselves the way they want everyone to see them,'” Vrabel said.
Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the NFL has “more work to do,” but called the accelerator program another “good step” in addressing a decades-old problem.
“Diversity makes us better,” Goodell said. “We saw that with 40 of our entrants here. They’re incredibly talented, talented, and they’re going to make a difference in the NFL.”
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