Dasha Smith has had intense interest this week in the list of interview requests generated by NFL teams with General Manager or coaching vacancies. The NFL’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer, who is charged with the league’s talent and diversity strategies, is encouraged by the long lists of candidates.
“It does look promising. I’ll say that,” Smith said Thursday in a phone interview. “I think we just have to get through the process to really know where we’re going to turn out. I monitor it by the minute, as you can imagine, but we are seeing clubs with openings interview many types of candidates.”
The Broncos, for example, have scheduled 10 remote interviews for their head coaching vacancy, and the Giants are talking to at least nine G.M. prospects.
The NFL, alongside the Fritz Pollard Alliance, has worked hard to open the minds of those doing the hiring.
“One of the ways we have tried to tackle that, candidly, is by educating all of our clubs and our league office in having an open mind as far as what does the ‘right’ candidate look like? And maybe you need to expand that thinking,” Smith said. “We’ve done everything from unconscious bias that we’ve all done but very targeted to help people really understand themselves and their mindset and to have a more open mind as far as casting a wider net and thinking about leadership on the field in a different way and what that looks like. I think we’ve made some progress there. We saw more diverse candidates interviewed last season, and we hope to see that this season. Clearly, I think people are thinking about it differently.”
The league is serious about improving diversity, which is why it hired Smith from Sony Music Entertainment in 2019. But the NFL can’t tell teams who to hire. All they can do is suggest qualified candidates, and they do that with a targeted list of diverse aspirants as well as a broader list that includes non-minorities.
For the first time, a female executive will interview for a G.M. job. The Vikings requested to talk to Eagles vice president of football operations Catherine Raîche for their G.M. vacancy. Raiche is the highest-ranking woman working in an NFL personnel department.
The NFL revamped its Rooney Rule for this hiring cycle, requiring interviews with two external minority candidates for all G.M. and coordinator jobs. That mirrors the requirement for head coach hirings. In addition, teams must conduct at least one in-person interview with a minority candidate for all head coaching and General Manager openings.
But it remains to be seen whether the tweaks help improve the disparity in the coaching ranks and the front office. Since 2003, nonwhites have filled only 21 percent of head coaching openings, per the Associated Press. That’s 27 jobs in a sport where 70 percent of players are Black.
The league had three Black head coaches in 2021, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is the only one left this week after the Dolphins fired Brian Flores and the Texans fired David Culley.
The NFL has eight head coaching vacancies and three G.M. openings.
“There is no finish line in this work,” Smith said. “There really isn’t, and I don’t think it will ever be done. We have a long way to go here. We have a long way to go on focusing on minority candidates, focusing on Black candidates, focusing on all different types of diverse candidates. We want to make sure everyone has equal access to this process, that the clubs are looking at all different types of candidates. The league office has no say in who they hire, but we want to make sure they’ve put a lot of thought into being open to maybe a different type of leader than what they’ve hired in the past if they haven’t had a diverse coach or G.M.”