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Schatz: Finding the perfect candidate

| Monday, April 11, 2022

“Why don’t they just pick the most qualified person?” 

When Biden announced that he would be nominating the first black woman as a supreme court justice, this expression littered the internet. He wasn’t the first, and he will not be the last, to create media backlash for seemingly “ignoring” more “qualified” candidates for the sake of political correctness. 

More recently, on March 28, the NFL announced that for the 2022 season all 32 teams must hire a minority offensive assistant coach. According to ESPN, this hire must be “a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority.” As one can expect, there was an instant media frenzy, with fans — as well as non-fans — taking to the internet to give their opinion. The same phrase used against justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was used to condemn the NFL’s recent decision. However, when looking at the racial breakdown of the current NFL, we see clear disparities: around 70% of the players are Black while there are only three current Black head coaches. While there has been progress (moving from 35% to 39% of minorities in all coaching positions), 39% is still far from representative. 

That is one of the main reasons the NFL is pushing for this change; without set in stone restrictions, there will simply be no change. This isn’t the first time the NFL attempted something like this. In 2003, the NFL established something called the Rooney rule. The Rooney Rule, named after Dan Rooney, the late Steelers’ owner, “encourages hiring best practices to foster and provide opportunity to diverse leadership throughout the NFL.” To solidify this goal, the franchise mandated teams interview at least two minority candidates not currently working for the NFL, have an in-person interview for any GM or head coach position, consider diverse candidates as well as other requests. While this did break the barrier for inclusive hiring, it did not shatter it, and minority candidates continued to be looked over by other white candidates.

In 1987, Bill Walsh, who was at the time the 49ers head coach, made a plan to revamp the NFL culture. Walsh then invited young coaches of color to train with his team, and within 14 years, diversity increased tremendously. While there had only been one Black head coach previously, post Walsh’s intervention the franchise saw five. Walsh was sick of seeing Black high school and college coaches thrive, while simultaneously being unable to break the NFL threshold. 

So, why only offensive coaches? I was initially confused by this as well. When I first read the decision, I thought it would be better to create a mandated percentage across the entire coaching staff for teams. If you pay more attention to football than me you might be rolling your eyes at my confusion. There is a clear pipeline from offensive coaches to head coaches. By increasing the diversity hires in the offensive side of coaching, the franchise down the line will also see the same increase with head coaches. 

With all of this in mind, the NFL is not by any means pushing for the hiring of less qualified candidates, as some would have you believe. In an official statement, the NFL said that “Candidates must have at least three years of collegiate or professional experience in coaching football. Those persons will receive a one-year contract with a salary and benefits.” In addition, NPR reported that “the NFL will reimburse teams up to $200,000 in 2022 and $205,000 in 2023 from a league fund for coaches.” 

The pool of qualified candidates is so large. There are thousands of excellent college coaches and staff members across the country that would not only fill the role but thrive. 

To bring back the case of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, people were up in arms at the thought of Biden only looking at Black women. What they failed to recognize is that for centuries previously, the only candidates that were considered were white and male. It isn’t that people of color and women are any less capable than white men, it is just that they are not given equal chances to prove their worth. Bill Walsh knew this, and so does the current administrative staff of the NFL. 

Yes, it is not a perfect solution. But it is one step closer to creating a more diversified program. There is simply no such thing as a perfect candidate, but there are countless qualified ones. At this point, it is just about opening the door for those it was previously closed to. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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