EAGAN, Minn. — Mike Pettine has long understood the problem: a lack of diversity among NFL coaches. This spring he was inspired to do something about it.
Pettine, in his first season as assistant head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, hosted a three-day Coaching Diversity Summit this week at team headquarters, a program designed to increase the pool of diverse candidates. for entry-level jobs in the NFL. Eleven men and one woman — Roseanna Smith, assistant coach at Oberlin College — will spend their time participating in mock interviews, learning NFL culture, listening to coaching meetings and working on a practice OTA.
Pettine originally hoped to implement the initiative when he was the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers in 2020, but it was scuttled after the COVID-19 pandemic began. “The real basic premise of the program is really to nurture the pool of candidates for the NFL from the bottom up,” Pettine said.
A disappointing hiring cycle last winter left the league with just five minority head coaches, a result commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged “falls short” of league goals. Among other initiatives, the league created a Diversity Advisory Committee and announced the first hiring term in its Rooney Rule’s history. With head coaching hires coming primarily from the offensive side of the ball in recent years, the league has required each team to hire a diverse candidate to serve as an offensive assistant for the 2022 season. It’s possible, Pettine said, that the hiring the Vikings to be one of 12 coaches spending this week in Minnesota.
“It gives us a great opportunity to assess that,” he said. “It wasn’t sold that way, to come in and compete for a position. But it could very easily turn into that.”
There has been league-wide progress in recent years. An NFL record, 15 minorities are among the league’s defensive coordinators for 2022, according to league data. Overall, minority coaches now make up 39% of the league total, up from 35% in 2021. There is also a league record 12 women in the coaching staff.
But Pettine remained concerned about the ability to identify and recruit candidates, given the steadily rising salaries in college football. A coordinator or even a position coach might need to take a significant pay cut to join the NFL at an entry-level position, and historically those coaches have been reluctant to do so, Pettine said. As a result, its program primarily targets college coaches who are graduate assistants, research analysts, and work in quality control. More often than not, NFL teams promote their own rookie coaches rather than seek out a post coach or college coordinator.
“It’s tough when you’re trying to lure someone into a job where they haven’t grown from within,” Pettine said. “It’s going to take time. I may be sitting on a beach somewhere drinking a margarita, proud of the candidates in this class who are succeeding and hopefully in future classes. I just think it is more of a grassroots thing that will grow over time.”
Besides Oberlin’s Smith, the coaches participating this week are: Imarjaye Albury (former Vikings assistant), Reggie Bain (Miami), Mark Cala (Arkansas), Cortez Carter (Florida State), Chili Davis (FAMU), Kenji Jackson (Arkansas ), Courtney Love (Kentucky), Jeremy Modkins (TCU), Jordan Reid (Wake Forest), Ahmad Smith (South Carolina), Earnest Thomas III (Tennessee).