Creating a new playbook. Specializing with intentionality. Identifying and lifting up the game-changers. Trusting the process.
That’s not just how winning teams are assembled in the NFL. That’s also how inclusive front offices are also built.
Sounds simple. It’s not. In fact, it’s been a long road to where we are today, with 43% of general manager openings filled by minority candidates in 2021.
That’s significant and historic progress. But there is more work to be done — another hiring cycle is upon us. If we remain diligent, we can get to a place where a tool such as the Rooney Rule, which mandates that clubs interview at least two external minority candidates, will be unnecessary.
Why haven’t we seen more GMs of color since the league’s first Black GM, the great Ozzie Newsome? Anecdotally, we found that clubs, when looking for a new general manager, were often focused on skills typically found in a head coach. Whereas the GM position is much different with needed strengths in accounting, personnel management and other highly specialized areas.
In addition, clubs simply weren’t aware of excellent executives of color who were under the radar. We’ve cultivated since a pathway that gets the best candidates from diverse backgrounds in front of NFL clubs.
This process includes a committee of representatives from the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the Fritz Pollard Alliance and former GMs, who evaluate all possible candidates. The committee selects top prospects and invites them to the Ozzie Newsome General Manager Forum. The forum provides educational and networking opportunities, raising awareness to clubs that may be in the market for new talent.
NFL Football Operations also works with the committee to identify top GM candidates to share with clubs, hiring consultants and agents. These prospects, distributed toward the end of each season, are inclusive of both race and gender. Accountability is introduced into the process, as data is collected and tracked on the number of interviews and job offers. This ensures that minority candidates are seen and are seriously considered.
The results have been encouraging. Only two clubs had Black general managers on the payroll from the 2020 hiring cycle. In 2021, that number more than doubled — three Black candidates filled seven open GM positions — and 28 of the 59 candidates interviewed were minorities.
For example, the Detroit Lions, whose hiring committee tapped into these new tools last winter. Brad Holmes, a longtime executive with the Los Angeles Rams, now leads Detroit’s front office. But he wasn’t on the team’s original list of candidates. The process helped shine a light on Holmes’ top-flight credentials.
Since being hired, Holmes has spoken about the need to further strengthen the pipeline by identifying and developing candidates of color. Yes, there is more work to be done. But we’re making significant strides — and we’re hopeful that the number of minority GMs will continue to climb.
Further, we view it as just a matter of time before a woman makes history as the league’s first woman to hold the title of GM. (The Philadelphia Eagles’ Susan Tose Spencer assumed interim GM responsibilities in the early 1980s.) There are several elite candidates knocking on the door, and women are also rising in the ranks of coaching, officiating and front office executive positions.
At the time of this writing, three NFL clubs are interviewing to fill their GM openings. And they’re bringing in diverse sets of candidates.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Glenn Cook and Champ Kelly — all aspiring GMs of color, two of whom are external candidates — have already interviewed for the Chicago Bears vacancy. And several others, including Morocco Brown, Omar Khan, Reggie McKenzie and JoJo Wooden, are said to be on the club’s list.
The Bears are on their way to surpassing the Rooney Rule standard, which was expanded to require at least two interviews, one of which must be in person, with external minority GM candidates.
The New York Giants have interviewed Ran Carthon, Ryan Poles, Quentin Harris and Adrian Wilson, doubling the minimum set by the Rooney Rule. Meanwhile, Catherine Raiche will become the first known woman to interview for a GM job in the NFL when she meets with the Minnesota Vikings.
We are committed to creating an inclusive workplace culture by establishing accountability in the process and encouraging decision-makers to do the right thing for the right reasons. We are re-imagining hiring practices to result in better informed decisions. It’s about intentionally normalizing fairness, inclusivity and opportunity as an extension of football for all.
Troy Vincent Sr. is executive vice president of football operations for the NFL.
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