In this chaotic time where breaking news stories are as prevalent as takeout food orders, two rather interesting stories slipped through the news cycle this week regarding diversity, and lack thereof, in power positions in sports.
Firstly, UCLA is close to hiring Boston College’s Martin Jarmond as its athletic director, the first African-American AD in school history. Secondly, the NFL is floating an idea to offer improved draft picks and added compensatory picks to teams that hire African-Americans and other minorities in coaching positions, a strong indication the Rooney Rule is an abject failure.
UCLA’s hiring of Jarmond is a refreshing move. He’s 39 years old. He’s only been an AD for three years. He is not a UCLA alum. Essentially, the school was seeking a fresh voice, a new vision, a leader who could relate to its students and younger alumni, selecting a rising candidate capable of assuming the position for decades.
The school went outside of the box for a leader, and it’s a critical time for UCLA, whose basketball and football programs have been in decline over the past few years, and have been lapped by Oregon, Washington, and Utah.
Jarmond’s performance and his ability to nab Ohio State defensive assistant Jeff Hafley after the stunning dismissal of Steve Addazio obviously impressed Bruins officials. And Jarmond also made the difficult decision to retain Eagles basketball coach Jim Christian after he appeared done following another disappointing season.
Hopefully, the hiring of Jarmond will motivate other schools to take a fresh approach to hiring athletic directors. It’s rather ridiculous that Jarmond is UCLA’s first African-American AD considering the wealth of Black athletes who have passed through UCLA from Jackie Robinson to Arthur Ashe to Rafer Johnson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Ed O’Bannon.
But we’re here. Jarmond in 2020 is a trail blazer. Honestly, it required UCLA officials to conduct a thorough search outside their normal lens, and such a hire is admirable. But let’s be really honest here. Jarmond will carry the burden of representing the next group of aspiring minority athletic directors with how he conducts himself.
Success at UCLA is essentially deep NCAA tournament runs in basketball and a Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff berth in football. If the Bruins thrive, other Power 5 schools will seek out ADs who look like Jarmond, those who are youthful, with fresh ideas.
And if Jarmond falters? Well, let’s not expect UCLA’s next athletic director to be Black. It’s almost too much for one man to withstand, but Jarmond fully understands the expectations.
Black coaches, athletic directors, and front office officials don’t receive the same second chances as their white counterparts. And while there are dozens of former minority NCAA athletes and academicians who would like the same opportunity as Jarmond, and are ready for such a duty, their opportunity to become an AD at a Power 5 school will likely be based on Jarmond’s success. That’s the reality of this game.
The NFL wants its lack of diversity issue to just disappear, but it won’t. Teams are not following the Rooney Rule and minority coaching candidates are smart enough to understand when they are being subjected to a token interview (pun intended) for jobs for which they have no chance.
Yet, the New York Giants hired 38-year-old Joe Judge, who spent most of his career as a special teams assistant, never a coordinator. Last season he was the Patriots’ wide receivers coach. Wasn’t that the team’s most disappointing position, and one of the reasons Tom Brady wanted out?
Considering the rather absurd offseason coaching hires — unproven 37-year-old Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland), Baylor’s Matt Ruhle (Carolina), and former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy (Dallas) — there has never been a more discouraging time for minority coaching candidates, primarily African-American. (I’ll reserve judgment on the Ron Rivera hiring in Washington, because he was basically hobbled in Carolina by injuries to Cam Newton the past few years.)
The fact the NFL is considering draft pick compensation for the hiring of more minority candidates is testament to how tone deaf owners are about going beyond the Good Ol’ Boys network to make hires. It seems they will take chances on first-time white coaches — Freddie Kitchens, Jay Gruden — or those who have proven incompetent — Adam Gase, Matt Patricia ― or those who are completely over their head — Zac Taylor, Doug Marrone, Bill O’Brien — but are hesitant to hire an Eric Bieniemy, Ken Norton Jr., or Byron Leftwich because they are uncertain if they will be successful.
And these minority candidates would rather keep their coordinator jobs than make a meaningless tour of NFL openings just to fulfill a prospective employer’s Rooney Rule requirements. So nothing happens.
Bieniemy, who helped the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator, interviewed with the Giants but was passed over for Judge. Leftwich, 40, was considered too young but watched as two coaches younger than him were hired this offseason. It seems Brian Flores’s success with the Miami Dolphins did nothing to encourage teams to hire or even interview minority candidates.
So what happens now? Nothing unless these owners decide to make some type of change in how they approach hiring and who they decide to allow in their circle. The question is how much do these teams really want to win? And are you willing to let a Black or Latino man or woman be the face of your franchise?
The answer from most of these owners on the second question is “Hell no.” Jerry Jones would rather hire McCarthy, considered an unimaginative offensive coach in Green Bay, to help him win a Super Bowl before he dies. The Jets are putting their faith in the questionable Gase to get back to AFC prominence and the Lions gave the modern-day Bluto Blutarsky (Patricia) another chance after a 9-22-1 record in his first two seasons.
With decisions like these, those teams deserve to lose. Those who deserve to win take chances, go outside the box, and welcome someone who looks different than they are into their circle. They understand sports is teeming with brilliant people of color just waiting for their time to shine.