Doug Williams used to hear a common refrain whenever the NFL’s lack of minority head coaches came up. The justification — or excuse — given was that there wasn’t anyone “in the pipeline” qualified to oversee a team.
Williams, the former NFL quarterback, now Redskins executive, saw it a little differently.
“There’s a pipeline,” Williams said, “but the problem is the valve has been shut off.”
That’s why in 2018, Williams and former NFL quarterback James Harris — a fellow Grambling State University alumnus — started the Quarterback Coaching Summit.
The event is a two-day clinic aimed at promoting coaches of color (NFL and college) and helping them advance their careers. What began as a small seminar at Morehouse College in Atlanta has turned into a partnership with the NFL in which coaches, general managers and owners attend.
The third year’s summit kicks off Monday and will be held completely online due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 80-person event covers a variety of topics and features special presenters and panelists.
Notable attendees include Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel and college coaches like Maryland’s Michael Locksley.
Williams said the goal is to provide opportunities for key NFL personnel to realize there is an often overlooked pool of highly qualified black coaches.
Last month, league executive Troy Vincent called the NFL’s hiring practices a “broken system” while discussing the NFL’s changes to the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one woman or a person of color for prominent positions like head coach.
The NFL has only four minority head coaches, three of whom are black, and two minority general managers in a league where 70% of its players are back.
This offseason, Redskins coach Ron Rivera, who is Hispanic, was the only minority head coach hired among five vacancies.
“If you look across this league over the past few years, a lot of guys have got recycled that hadn’t done well, but still got a second chance,” Williams said. “We got a lot of guys who are looking for a chance and an opportunity.”
The inclusion of “quarterback” in the summit’s name is very much intentional, Williams said. NFL owners tend to hire offensive coaches, many of whom are white, to fill their vacancies.
Across the league, the NFL has just two black offensive coordinators (Bienemy and Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich) and two black quarterback coaches (Indianapolis’ Marcus Brady and the Chargers’ Pep Hamilton). The summit tries to highlight there are qualified black coaches ready to fill those spots.
Locksley remembers his first opportunity to be able to primarily work with the quarterbacks. After spending years as a defensive coach and then a running backs coach, Locksley was promoted to offensive coordinator at Illinois in 2005 while simultaneously working with the school’s tight ends. It wasn’t until the following year, when the Illini had a quarterback coaching vacancy that he was given a chance to oversee the position.
Locksley started coaching in 1992.
“It helped my career tremendously,” said Locksley, who is set to give a presentation on recruiting athletes for the summit.
Another issue black coaches face is networking, Williams said. Williams said that often, teams go in with a set idea of who they want to hire, usually based on the recommendation from someone. Williams said it’s vital for black coaches to be thought of in this process. “A lot of black coaches have been locked out because of that mentality,” he said.
Despise the lack of diversity in recent hires, Williams said he’s still hopeful things will change. During the national anthem before games, Williams takes the moment to look at each sideline and notice the number of black coaches on each team. He did it as a player and still does it as an executive, he said.
Williams said he wants to “open the valve” with the summit.
“It might not be your buddy’s friend, it might not be someone you know that well,” Williams said, “but there’s nothing wrong with getting to know people.”