While the tweaking of the NFL's overtime rule in the postseason garnered most of the attention during the Annual League Meeting this week in Palm Beach, FL, the announcement that the league's 32 teams must hire "a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority" as an offensive assistant ahead of the 2022 season could have a long-lasting impact. According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the decision will aid in the development of a more diverse pool of potential head coaches.
"I'm not sure I would connect it necessarily to the Rooney Rule," Goodell said. "Our focus and our work over the last several years on this, which has been very important to us, it's looked at the Rooney Rule, it's looked at policies, it's looked at programs, I don't think there's a single answer.
"I think we have complex issues, like society does, but we're going to look for every opportunity to make progress here. I think the offensive assistants are a recognition of the fact that we don't have the number of offensive coordinators that are people of color. We think that's where most of the head coaches, at least in recent years, have been a trend, on the offensive side of the ball."
The person hired for the assistants position will be required to have at least three years of collegiate or professional experience as a football coach. Those hired will be signed to one-year contracts, and the NFL will reimburse teams up to $200,000 in 2022 and $205,000 in 2023 from a league fund for the coaches.
"And this gives us an opportunity to develop some people in that area," Goodell added. "But there was a really open dialogue with clubs, with our owners, with some outside people to really look and say, 'What can we do to try to help solve some of these issues?' As you know, we've also hired a number of outside people who I think are going to be advisors to us that'll look at all of our policies and procedures and make suggestions to them, including on the Rooney Rule."
According to the league, the percentage of people of color in coaching positions increased from 35% in 2020 to 39% in 2021. In addition the league said that while senior level coaching hires were less diverse, 25% of office jobs league wide were held by women and 20% people of color. Finally, there are seven African-American GMs in the NFL while 12 women held coaching positions during the 2021 season.
And in a sign of the waning (for now) coronavirus pandemic, the NFL announced that it will again open locker rooms to members of the news media after they've been closed the past two seasons. During that time interviews (during the week and after games) had been conducted remotely by video..
Jets Changing Culture, Changing Perceptions
Changing an organization's culture is not an overnight affair, but slowly and surely recent moves overseen by GM Joe Douglas and HC Robert Saleh in free agency are helping to turn 1 Jets Drive into an appealing destination.
"I feel like we have something special here that we're going to be able to achieve," tight end C.J. Uzomah said after signing with the Green & White in free agency. "I can see what the coaches are trying to do. The young players are eager, fighting their butts off week in and out. There's a lot of talent, and I bring a veteran presence to lead the way and narrow the focus. We're going to blow the doors off it."
That sentiment was shared among the team's other signings in free agency, a group that includes OG Laken Tomlinson, TE Tyler Conklin, S Jordan Whitehead and CB C.J. Reed; while also appealing to the Jets' own free agents, like WR Braxton Berrios, RB Tevin Coleman, DL Nathan Shepherd, and QBs Joe Flacco and Mike White.
"Any time you're in a rebuild, I've told you guys a million times, this is number five," Saleh said, referring to his involvement with teams seeking a change in fortune. "Early in the rebuild, that's just what it is. People want to go to the perceived team that's closer to a championship. But at the end of the day, it was like that in San Francisco, in '17 and '18 and then you get [George] Kittle and you draft [Nick] Bosa and you get Richard Sherman in free agency and you add a couple of pieces and, next thing you know, you draft Fred Warner and you hit.
"Now people just want to come to you. There's no panic, there's no panic at all. Does it get frustrating? Sure, but at the same time, it's something that we've been through, we expect it and it's something that will change eventually."