ATLANTA — As one of only two African American offensive coordinators in the NFL, Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs is eager to help other minorities climb the coaching ladder. That’s why Bieniemy traveled to Atlanta on Monday for the first NFL Quarterback Coaching Summit, an event to help coaches of color advance on the offensive side of the ball.
For two days, Bieniemy participated in career development sessions. He networked with coaches from both college and the NFL, as well as current and former high-ranking football operation executives, sharing stories about navigating the league and achieving success in an area where minorities are not thriving. It was time well spent, Bieniemy said.
“What you want to do is have the ability to share your experiences with as many young, up-and-coming coaches as possible,” he said. “But you also want to hear the stories of the guys who came before you, just so you can learn as much as you can about how to [improve]. In my opinion, doing this was a very good idea.”
It was one born of necessity.
At the conclusion of the 2018 NFL regular season, eight head coaches were fired — and seven white coaches were hired. Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins was the only coach of color hired among the group.
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Next season, Flores, formerly the New England Patriots’ defensive playcaller, will be one of only four head coaches of color in a 32-team league. Last season, the NFL had eight head coaches of color.
The importance of the quarterback in the NFL has created a hiring paradigm in which owners now overwhelmingly seek offensive coaches to fill the top jobs, and specifically those coaches who have played major roles in developing passers. But the league has few coaches of color in such positions.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged that the NFL must do a better job of “getting the right kind of coaches with the right kind of experience that teams want to hire as head coaches. The trend now is offensive coaches.” To that end, the NFL and the Black College Football Hall of Fame sponsored the summit to address the situation.
The NFL’s workplace diversity committee recently identified three areas that could help spur improvement in hiring on offense:
- Identify candidates
- Accelerate and enhance their development opportunities
- Mentor and prepare them for bigger positions
Working together, Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, and trailblazers James “Shack” Harris and Doug Williams constructed the program, which included sessions at Morehouse College. Fifty coaches and GMs (current and former) attended the event. Vincent expressed optimism about the summit being one step in a much larger process.
“Diversity is good business. Inclusion is a choice,” Vincent said. “This group of coaches, and others, should be included in the selection process as leadership opportunities become available.”
Harris agrees. The first African American quarterback to both start and win a playoff game, Harris enjoyed observing interactions between coaches at different stages of their careers and decision-makers, such as general managers Chris Grier of the Miami Dolphins (the league’s only black general manager) and Rick Spielman of the Minnesota Vikings. It starts with getting the right people together, Harris said.
“Giving these guys chances to interact, exchange ideas and network … it can create some connections and opportunities for minority coaches,” said Harris, who after 10 years as an NFL player made the long climb from being a scout to a front-office executive for several clubs before retiring in 2015.
“Working with the quarterback and improving the quarterback is what it’s about. There are guys in that room who are capable of doing that. We’re getting them in front of [decision-makers]. We need to get their names mentioned on TV for interviews. And we need this to happen before the jobs are filled.”
Similarly, Williams, the first black passer to win a Super Bowl, believes the more exposure, the better for coaches of color working on offense.
“The guys are out there,” said Williams, the Washington Redskins’ senior vice president of player personnel. “There are a lot of guys who could do great jobs working with the quarterbacks, but opportunity is always the key. You need the opportunity to prove yourself. You need a chance. We’re trying to get that for more guys.”
For Bieniemy, Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his next step should be a head-coaching position. Both Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player, have praised Bieniemy’s performance.
In the meantime, Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the league’s only black offensive coordinators.
Bieniemy is hopeful that the QB Coaching Summit, and other programs like it, will help effect positive change.
“I would hope to be an inspiration, but more than just anything an example for others,” Bieniemy said. “At the end of the day, there are a lot of capable coaches out here on offense who can get the job done.”
Bieniemy has already proved what he can do. Perhaps others at the summit will soon get the opportunity to show they possess the chops too.