This week, the National Football League and the Black College Football Hall of Fame are bringing together our game’s most promising leaders at the annual Quarterback Coaching Summit and Ozzie Newsome General Manager Forum.
It’s not just about presenters – those who have already risen through the ranks to the highest level.
It’s also about participants: 48 up-and-coming coaches and 17 aspiring executives from the NFL and NCAA – those who represent the future of pro football.
They come from different backgrounds. They’re getting set to take a step forward in their careers. And they’re all capable.
Preparing and uplifting top talent
For readers who may be unaware, the QB coaching summit and GM forum are held to foster the development of minority NFL coaches and general managers.
These events are critical components of the NFL’s existing – yet evolving – talent pipeline, specifically for various prospects on a trajectory toward offensive coordinator, head coaching, and front office positions. Each year, participants are identified by the NFL, its clubs, and the Black College Football Hall of Fame. The process is highly selective and deliberate.
The attendees gain exposure. They take advantage of networking opportunities and learn from their peers about the newest trends and techniques in football – personal insights that can be applied on the field, in the executive suite, or in an interview.
For example, participants in the GM forum will learn from Tampa Bay Buccaneers director of football research Jacqueline Davidson on salary cap priorities. New York Giants assistant GM Brandon Brown is leading a session on draft preparation. Kansas City Chiefs executive VP of communications Ted Crews will prepare front office prospects to navigate media relations.
Those at the QB coaching summit will dig into red-zone planning (presented by Eagles QBs coach Brian Johnson); interviewing for QB coach, offensive coordinator, and head coach positions (led by Buffalo Bills assistant head coach and DC Leslie Frazier, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, and Los Angeles Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff); and formulating a game plan (presented by Houston Texans OC Pep Hamilton).
That just scratches the surface.
These are also valuable experiences for our presenters, who see firsthand the tremendous talent in college and at the professional level, and make connections that could benefit their NFL clubs down the line.
Representation and the path to head coach
People sometimes ask, “Why focus on QB coaching? Why not a summit for defensive coaches?”
Data tells us that most NFL head coaches – the vast majority of whom are white – skew toward the offensive side of the ball. Many were QB coaches themselves. Meanwhile, the head coaches of color who have been hired by NFL clubs tend to specialize in defense.
So we’re doubling down on offense, which has proven to be both the preferred path and an area in which clubs can improve representation in the head coaching ranks.
This approach is very intentional. It’s in line with the NFL’s ongoing efforts to break mobility barriers, establish a cultural norm of opportunity for all, and develop a diverse and inclusive workforce.
Look no further than past attendees who’ve progressed in their careers – leaders such as Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Marcus Brady, and Pep Hamilton.
The QB coaching summit, now in its fourth year, has become part of the fabric of the NFL’s talent pipeline.
Building inclusive front offices
During the most recent hiring cycle, I wrote in the Chicago Tribune about significant progress that NFL clubs have made in hiring minority GM candidates.
The GM forum is one piece of a process – built from the ground up – that gives proper exposure to the best front office candidates from diverse backgrounds.
When analyzing why more GMs of color hadn’t been hired, we found that clubs were often looking for skills typically found in a head coach, when they could have been giving more weight to GM-specific strengths such as personnel management and accounting. Plus, to put it simply, worthy executives of color were flying under the clubs’ radars.
We launched the GM forum in 2021 to address both issues. The forum places emphasis on front office skills and puts excellent minority candidates in front of clubs who could be in the market for talent.
Additionally, as part of this new process, NFL Football Operations works with a committee of representatives from the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the Fritz Pollard Alliance and former GMs to ensure underrepresented candidates are known and seriously considered.
The committee identifies and NFL Football Operations then shares the names of top GM prospects – inclusive of race and gender – with clubs, hiring consultants and agents toward 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 are improving because we’re intentionally working on the process and bringing attention to the talent pool. In 2022, three people of color filled five open GM positions, and 22 of the 40 candidates interviewed were minorities.
Inclusion and the future of football
Developing and displaying diverse talent is key to the future of our game.
We’ve built a strong pipeline and are continuing to find ways to diversify the NFL’s coaching and GM ranks. If we remain diligent, we can get to a place where a tool like the Rooney Rule, which mandates that clubs interview external minority candidates for certain positions, will be unnecessary.
But process is vital to creating a workplace culture in which there’s diversity in leadership, absent mandates for interviewing minority talent. And programs like the QB Coaching Summit and Ozzie Newsome General Manager Forum will help us get there.