This week, the National Football League and the Black College Football Hall of Fame bring together our promising game leaders at the annual Midfield Training Summit and the Ozzie Newsome General Manager Forum.
It’s not just about the presenters – those who have already risen to the highest levels.
It’s also about the participants: 48 rookie coaches and 17 aspiring executives from the NFL and NCAA—those who represent the future of professional football.
They come from diverse backgrounds. They are preparing to take a step forward in their career. And they are all capable.
Preparing and developing outstanding talents
For readers who may not be in the know, the QB Training Summit and GM Forum are held to promote the development of minority NFL coaches and general managers.
These events are critical components of the NFL’s current – but evolving – talent pipeline, particularly for diverse prospects on the path toward offensive coordinator, head coaching, and front office positions. Each year, entrants are determined by the NFL, its clubs, and the Black College Football Hall of Fame. This process is highly selective and deliberate.
Attendees gain exposure. They take advantage of networking opportunities and learn from their peers about the latest trends and techniques in football – personal insights that can be applied on the field, in the executive suite or in an interview.
For example, GM forum participants will learn from Jacqueline Davidson, director of football research for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, about salary cap priorities. New York Giants assistant GM Brandon Brown leads a drafting session. Kansas City CEO and Executive Vice President Communications Ted Cruz will prepare the front office prospects for navigating media relations.
QB Training Summit participants will delve into red zone planning (presented by Brian Johnson, Eagles QBs coach); Interviewing QB Coach, Offensive Coordinator, and Head Coach (led by Assistant Coach Buffalo Bills and DC Leslie Frazier, Chief OC Eric Bieniemy, and Los Angeles Rams President Kevin Demoff); and crafting a game plan (provided by Houston Texans OC Pep Hamilton).
This just scratches the surface.
These are also valuable experiences for the presenters, who see firsthand the immense talent in college and at a professional level, and make connections that can benefit their NFL clubs in the future.
Acting and the way to the coach
People sometimes ask, “Why focus on QB training? Why not top defensive coaches?”
The data tells us that most NFL coaches — the vast majority of whom are white — lean toward the offensive side of the ball. Many of the QB coaches were themselves. Meanwhile, coaches of color hired by NFL clubs tend to specialize in defense.
So we’re doubling down on attack, which has proven to be the preferred path and area in which clubs can improve representation in the main coaching ranks.
This approach is very deliberate. It aligns with the NFL’s ongoing efforts to break down mobility barriers, create a cultural standard of opportunity for all, and develop a diverse and inclusive workforce.
Look no further than past attendees who have advanced in their careers – leaders like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Marcus Brady and Pep Hamilton.
QB’s coaching pinnacle, now in its fourth year, has become part of the fabric of the NFL’s talent pipeline.
Comprehensive front office building
During a recent hiring cycle, I wrote in the Chicago Tribune about the significant progress NFL clubs had made in recruiting minority candidates to GM.
The GM Forum is part of a process – built from the ground up – that presents a tailored profile to the best front-office candidates from diverse backgrounds.
In analyzing why not more coaches of color were hired, we found that clubs were often looking for skills typically found in a head coach, when they could have given more weight to GM’s strengths such as personnel management and accounting. Plus, quite simply, worthy, colorful executives were flying under the radars of the clubs.
We launched the GM Forum in 2021 to address both issues. The forum focuses on front office skills and puts excellent minority candidates in front of clubs that could be in the talent market.
Additionally, as part of this new process, NFL Football Operations is working with a panel of representatives from the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the Fritz Pollard Alliance and former GM to ensure that underrepresented candidates are known and taken seriously.
The committee then selects NFL Football Operations to share the names of top GMs – including race and gender – with clubs, consultants and agents at the end of each season. Accountability is introduced into the process, as data is collected and tracked on the number of interviews and job offers.
Results improve because we intentionally work on the process and draw attention to the talent pool. In 2022, three people of color held five open positions at GM, and 22 of the 40 candidates interviewed were minorities.
Inclusion and the future of football
Developing and displaying diverse talent is fundamental to the future of our game.
We’ve built a strong pipeline and continue to find ways to diversify the coaching ranks in the NFL and GM ranks. If we keep diligent, we can get to a place where a tool like the Rooney Rule, which stipulates that clubs meet with outside minority candidates for certain positions, will not be superfluous.
But the process is essential to creating a workplace culture where there is diversity in leadership, and an absence of mandates to interview minority talent. Programs like the QB Coaching Summit and the Ozzie Newsome General Manager Forum will help us get there.