Why the breakthrough now? This was considered a very deep bench of top personnel men who were prepared to ascend to the general manager’s chair. And there are more qualified candidates still waiting in the wings.
It is also hard to avoid the feeling that owners think hiring a man of color as the general manager is a less risky investment than hiring one as the head coach. For as much power as is attached to the GM job, it is not a front-facing position, and the sad reality is that many owners still seem to prefer someone who looks like them and their friends to be the face of their franchise. There is still just one team — the Miami Dolphins — with men of color as both GM (Chris Grier) and head coach (Brian Flores).
Robert Saleh, hired by the New York Jets, is the only diverse candidate to land a head-coaching job so far. Saleh feels like a home-run hire (more on that later), but the fact that a big pool of qualified men — Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy most prominently, but also Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, ex-Lions coach Jim Caldwell and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier — is so far untapped means the NFL still has a significant problem. If Saleh is the only hire in this cycle, the NFL will remain at just four minority coaches (Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, Ron Rivera in Washington, Flores and Saleh), and have gained no ground after the firing of Anthony Lynn by the Chargers. The Chargers’ hiring of Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley brings into sharp relief a major hurdle for minority coaches: meteoric rises of young coaches rarely happen for minorities. The recent popularity of young coaches has allowed them to leapfrog seasoned minority coaches, who for years were encouraged to serve as coordinators or to get play-calling experience, only to have the goalposts moved after they did that.
The bottom line is that progress can only be viewed, even by the most hopeful, as incremental this year. NFL officials and coaches are also closely watching coordinator hires as staffs fill up. Will Lynn and former Chargers QB coach Pep Hamilton get coordinator titles, as Dan Quinn (the former Falcons head coach, who became Dallas’ defensive coordinator) and Gus Bradley (the former Chargers defensive coordinator, who landed the same job in Las Vegas) already have? The promotion of DeMeco Ryans to defensive coordinator in San Francisco, where he replaces Saleh, is what the league wants to see more of. Those jobs are important because they are the most direct pipeline to the head jobs for the next cycle.
For now, with the Texans and Eagles continuing their searches, let’s look at the coaching hires that have already been made or are expected this week: