The Jaguars recently hired Urban Meyer to coach the team and, more recently, Trent Baalke to serve as General Manager. Both are white. The Fritz Pollard Alliance nevertheless has commended the team for the processes leading to these hires.
Via Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union, the group that promotes diversity in NFL hiring practices has no qualms about the team’s searches.
“What we try to focus on is whether or not the process for hiring is fair, open and competitive,” Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves told Frenette. “That’s the promise the NFL makes to everyone based on their Equal Opportunity Employment policies. In the case of Jacksonville, I believe strongly that [owner] Shad [Khan] did his due diligence.
“I say that because before the [hiring] process even began, he called the Fritz Pollard Alliance to talk about the [minority] candidates, to draw input that I thought was certainly beyond the norm. The fact he brought in a good number of African-American candidates, I think, is noteworthy.
“Shad Khan made the effort to research. I do believe he came into this process strongly looking at diversity as his main priority. He reached out to us, asked all the right questions. We talked at length. Given that, and when you look at the people he ended up going with, I cannot argue that the process didn’t meet the standard of fair, open and competitive.”
Others could, and would. By all appearances, Khan locked onto Meyer at the outset of the process. Perhaps even before the start of the process.
“I first met Shad back at the Super Bowl,” Meyer said at his introductory press conference last Friday. “He’s an Illinois grad, so we kind of gave each other a hard time about the Big Ten. But something I started last year, I interviewed a bunch of our players, former players that were in the NFL or recently out, and I took notes. I was just intrigued — why does this organization win? Why does it not? Or why do they fail to win? The research was very strong, it was something that I was not surprised at the results. Because the players will tell you, players know. Sometimes you talk to coaches and I’m not sure they all know — I don’t know. But players are the ones that play the game and I really value the guys that I have in the NFL. And we spent, I mean, hours upon hours, I did work on this. And I spoke to Shad about that and that was our conversation at the Super Bowl — we really had a nice conversation at the Super Bowl a year ago, I believe it was in Miami. And then we just recently had a very in-depth conversation, for many, many hours.”
Others could, and would, say that Khan can hire whoever he wants, as long as he complies with the league requirements to have an open and inclusive search. Still, if the search begins with an end in mind and that’s where it ends up, how open and inclusive was it? Of the seven jobs available this year, the Jaguars’ coaching position became the only one that seemed to be determined from the get go. The only question was whether Meyer would take the job.
And so it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile Graves’ endorsement of the process in Jacksonville with his recent statement that declared, “The disparity in opportunities is mind-boggling.”
“It is unfortunate that the performances of coordinators like Eric Bieniemy, Todd Bowles, Byron Leftwich, Leslie Frazier, and Joe Woods, may not meet what appears as ‘ever-evolving standards’ for becoming a Black Head Coach in the NFL,” Graves said in that same statement.
Graves told Frenette that the Fritz Pollard Alliance has no quarrel with the hiring of Meyer and Baalke because they are strong candidates. But here’s the thing: There will always be strong white candidates. And there will always be strong minority candidates. How will hiring become more diverse if teams continue to disproportionately give the opportunities to qualified white candidates over qualified minority candidates?
At a certain point, the proof of bias resides in the raw numbers. There’s no need for a Donald Sterling secret tape or some other smoking gun to prove actual bias. The bias eventually oozes from the cumulative outcome of the various hiring processes.
For 2020, here’s the bottom line in 2020: Six head-coaching jobs have been filled, no Black coaches have been hired, and Eric Bieniemy is still waiting.