EAGAN, Minn. — Mike Pettine has long understood the problem: a lack of diversity among NFL coaches. This spring, he was inspired to do something about it.
Pettine, in his first season as the Minnesota Vikings’ assistant head coach, organized a three-day coaching diversity summit this week at team headquarters, a program designed to increase the diverse candidate pool for entry-level NFL jobs. Eleven men and one woman — Roseanna Smith, an assistant coach at Oberlin College — will spend their time participating in mock interviews, learning the NFL’s culture, listening in coaching meetings and working an OTA practice.
Pettine initially hoped to implement the initiative when he was the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator in 2020, but it was scuttled after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The real basic premise of the program is really to feed the candidate pool for the NFL from the bottom up,” Pettine said.
A disappointing hiring cycle this past winter left the league with just five minority head coaches, an outcome that commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged “fell short” of league goals. Among other initiatives, the league created a Diversity Advisory Committee and announced the first hiring mandate in the history of its Rooney Rule. With head-coaching hires predominantly coming from the offensive side of the ball in recent years, the league has required each team to hire a diverse candidate to serve as an offensive assistant for the 2022 season. It’s possible, Pettine said, that the Vikings’ hire could be one of the 12 coaches who are spending this week in Minnesota.
“This gives us a great opportunity to evaluate that,” he said. “It wasn’t sold that way, to come in and compete for a position. But it very easily could morph into that.”
There has been some progress leaguewide in recent years. An NFL-record 15 minorities are among the league’s defensive coordinators for 2022, according to league data. Overall, minority coaches now make up 39% of the league total, up from 35% in 2021. There are also a league-record 12 women on coaching staffs.
But Pettine remained concerned about the ability to identify and recruit candidates, given the steady rise of salaries in college football. A coordinator or even a position coach might need to take a significant pay cut to join the NFL in an entry-level position, and historically those coaches have been reluctant to do that, Pettine said. As a result, his program mostly targets college coaches who are graduate assistants, research analysts and work in quality control. More often than not, NFL teams promote their own entry-level coaches rather than seek out a coach position or coordinator from college.
“It’s difficult when you try to pull somebody in at a job where they haven’t grown from within,” Pettine said. “This is going to take time. I might be sitting on a beach somewhere drinking a margarita, being proud of the candidates from this class that make it and hopefully in future classes. I just think it’s something that’s more of a grassroots type of thing that will grow over time.”
In addition to Oberlin’s Smith, the coaches who are participating this week include: Imarjaye Albury (former Vikings assistant), Reggie Bain (Miami), Mark Cala (Arkansas), Cortez Carter (Florida State), Chili Davis (FAMU), Kenji Jackson (Arkansas), Courtney Love (Kentucky), Jeremy Modkins (TCU), Jordan Reid (Wake Forest), Ahmad Smith (South Carolina), Earnest Thomas III (Tennessee).