Two Cardinals employees think NFL diversity effort is sincere

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One day this spring, Quentin Harris’ 21st in the NFL, the only NFL owner Harris knew well enough to say more than hello to popped into his office and asked Harris for a minute.

Michael Bidwill wanted to know if Harris wanted to change that by participating in an inaugural program the NFL was calling “coach and front office accelerator” at the league’s annual spring meeting in late May in Atlanta.

Each team could nominate two head coach and general manager candidates of color, and also women, to participate in a two-day program that included leadership and business sessions as well as informal opportunities to meet and talk to owners and other decision makers.

Given the NFL’s decades-long dismal record of hiring anyone other than white males to occupy the top spots of its organization flow charts, it’s understandable why some eyes rolled. Given the league’s appallingly quick denial of allegations made in former Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ lawsuit alleging discrimination filed earlier this year, it’s understandable why some scoffed.

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The league and its owners have done a great job preaching diversity and a lousy one of practicing it.

Nearly 70% of its players are people of color, yet only five head coaches (16%) and six general managers (19 percent) are.

Harris and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, the Cardinals’ two participants in the program, understand how some would be dubious about the NFL’s intent in creating the “accelerator” program.

But Harris and Joseph, who are Black, sensed the effort was sincere, and for them, the two days of workshops, leadership sessions and a cocktail hour with owners confirmed it.

“I was excited about it. They’re trying, ”said Joseph, 49, who joined the Cardinals in 2019 after being fired as Broncos head coach after two seasons. “As an older coach who has been a head coach, my first thought was, ‘It’s not needed.’ But it is. It’s a real problem. To try to help the problem, it’s a good thing. ”

Harris, 45, entered the NFL in 2002, making the Cardinals roster as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse. When his playing career ended after the 2007 season, the Cardinals hired him as a pro scout, and he’s been promoted steadily. A year ago, he was named vice president of player personnel, and this off-season, interviewed for the Giants’ general manager position, his first such interview.

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Bidwill didn’t have a detailed agenda for the program when he first approached Harris about the accelerator, but he knew it would involve meeting with other NFL owners in both formal and informal settings.

Harris’s ears perked at that.

“There are things you can talk to outside sources on when you interview for a GM job or a coaching job,” Harris said. “But to actually have the source, that person who makes the decision, and ask them face-to-face what are some of things in the interview process they look for?

“Not all these owners will need a general manager, and some of them just hired one this year, but it was good just to be able to have that access to them.”

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The conversations weren’t only about players, or Xs and Os.

Harris, for instance, talked pizza with Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk. He and few other participants and a couple other owners debated the GOAT qualifications of Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

“I walked away thinking,‘ They’re just regular people, ’” Harris said.

Only two NFL owners are minorities, and neither of them is black. If the accelerator program leads to some owners becoming self-aware enough to realize there are large numbers of viable candidates they have been ignoring, it will be one of the NFL’s more successful endeavors.

But expanding one’s circle is easier said than done for a lot of us, Harris said, no matter our skin color.

“Some people may not know how to go about it,” Harris said. “Like, ‘So do I just start hanging out over here?’ Do you just introduce yourself to more people? Without it coming off as phony, how do you organically expand your circle? That’s the big question, and it’s a big question for everybody, really. ”

In the NFL, it hasn’t happened organically. So the issue has to be forced with things like the coach and front office accelerator program. Maybe it will work. Given the NFL’s history, any improvement will be a significant acceleration.

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Reach Kent Somers at Kent.Somers@gannett.com. Follow him on twitter @kentsomers. Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

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