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Despite Diverse Coaching At Super Bowl, NFL 'Still Has A Lot Of Work To Do'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you are thinking that today's Super Bowl matchup between Tampa Bay and Kansas City stands out from previous years, you are right. For one thing, the Buccaneers' Tom Brady, at 43 years old, is making history as the oldest quarterback ever to play in the big game. But if you take a look at the Tampa Bay sideline, you can also see three Black coordinators, the first time this has happened in the Super Bowl. Tampa staff also includes two female assistant coaches, another first. And when you factor in all the coaches on both sidelines, this Super Bowl features the most diverse set of play-callers and coaches in history.

But some are wondering why this success has not transferred to the top positions across the league. Of the seven head coaching vacancies this hiring cycle, only one was filled by a Black coach. Three of the seven general manager openings went to Black men. But in total, five of the 32 NFL franchises are headed by a minority coach, and this despite the fact that 70% of the players are Black and the league has promised a new commitment to social justice and inclusion.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer for The Undefeated, and he's been covering this story for quite some time. So we thought this would be a good time to spend some time together and talk about it. And he's with us now. Jason Reid, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

JASON REID: Oh, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start with the glass-half-full. Put it in perspective. What does it mean to have four Black coordinators and two women coaching in this game?

REID: Well, it's great in terms of what the NFL would like to see among its staffs. And you mentioned the Tampa Bay staff, clearly, Bruce Arians - all of his coordinators are African American. He's employed two female assistant coaches. On the Kansas City side, Andy Reid, his offensive coordinator is Eric Bieniemy, an African American man. So clearly, when you look at what these organizations have done, there is a commitment to diversity there, a commitment in equity in hiring. Unfortunately, the NFL overall still has a lot of work to do to get to a point where the playing field is even close to being level.

MARTIN: Well, you mentioned Eric Bieniemy. He's the - for the past couple of seasons - this is Kansas City's offensive coordinator - he has been the most discussed candidate for a head coaching job, but it has not happened. And so what's your take on why that is? I mean, what's the typical path to head coaching jobs? Are teams still adhering to that?

REID: What I can tell you is that the two previous people who occupied the position that Eric Bieniemy has held for the last three years went on to become head coaches. And none of those two previous coaches have helped Andy Reid attain the level of success that the Chiefs have attained in the past three seasons. So when you look at it, clearly, there's something going on with Eric Bieniemy that's different from the previous two people who had the job. The previous two people who had the job are both white.

I really think it's very simple when you look at this, when you look at the fact that over the last four hiring cycles, there were a total of 27 openings for head coaches. During that period of time, you only had three African Americans, three Black coaches hired to fill jobs. So when you look at it, you say, well, what's going on here? What's the problem? And the problem is at the ownership level.

The league office has made a commitment to diversity. It's made a commitment to equity in hiring. It's even incentivized inclusive hiring by giving teams draft picks if they hire general managers and coaches from other teams of color. So when you talk about where the league is at, the league office is at one place. The owners are at another, and the owners are undercutting everything the league office is trying to do by the owners' actions.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I do want to go back to women in the league. Katie Sowers of the San Francisco 49ers became the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl. That was last year. Now we have two more with the Buccaneers. What does the pipeline look like for women in the coaching ranks?

REID: In terms of the talent in the pipeline, it is increasing. Also Jennifer King with the Washington Football Team, she was hired as a full-time assistant coach. So yeah, you know, we see that some teams are making really encouraging moves.

Last year, I went to Tampa Bay, and I sat down with Bruce Arians to do a story on Byron Leftwich, who was his offensive coordinator, and also to talk about all the moves he's made on his staff. He hopes that more head coaches will do like he does and hire qualified people regardless of gender or regardless of race and put them in positions to succeed. And for me, the key thing is, we're talking - we're not talking about these coaches wanting to get jobs when they're not qualified. They just want an opportunity when they are qualified, when they are proven, to play on the same playing field that their white counterparts do, and, in the case of the females, of their male counterparts and get an opportunity to succeed. Let the chips fall where they may, but let me get at the table to where I can play my chips.

MARTIN: Is there anything more that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other executives could be doing?

REID: Look; Roger has done a lot in terms of trying to advance this ball. It's really on the owners. And until the owners are going to be willing to say, you know what, this is wrong, we need to make a change, we're going to keep seeing more of the same.

MARTIN: That was Jason Reid, senior NFL writer for The Undefeated. Jason, thanks so much for joining us.

REID: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACKADENICE'S "PAPER PLANES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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