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Roger Goodell says NFL’s diversity hiring results are ‘unacceptable’ in memo to teams

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams in the aftermath of Brian Flores's lawsuit.Bryan Cereijo/Associated Press

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told teams Saturday that the league will look to bolster policies meant to encourage hiring of minorities, particularly as head coaches, and he pledged an investigation into tanking allegations raised by Brian Flores in his discrimination lawsuit against the NFL.

“We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines, and initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including as they relate to gender,” Goodell wrote in a memo to the league’s 32 teams that was obtained by the Associated Press.

The commissioner added that the league’s record on hiring minority coaches has been “unacceptable.”

The memo came five days after Flores sued the league and three teams over alleged racist hiring practices for coaches and general managers, saying the league remains “rife with racism” even as it publicly condemns it.

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The NFL’s main avenue for increasing diversity in its leadership ranks is the two-decade-old Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for jobs including head coach and general manager. Despite the rule, there is currently one Black head coach in the league: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. There are no Black team owners, just a handful of Black GMs, and relatively few Black coordinators in a league where more than 70 percent of players are Black or another ethnic minority.

Goodell said the league will include outside experts in its review along with “current and former players and coaches, advocates, and other authorities in this area. Our goal is simple: make our efforts and those of the clubs more effective so that real and tangible results will be achieved.”

In a statement, Flores’ attorneys said while Goodell’s memo appears to be a positive first step in confronting systemic racism in the league, they “suspect that is it more of a public relations ploy than real commitment to change.”

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Flores, who is Black, was fired as Miami’s coach last month despite back-to-back winning seasons. He named the league and three teams — the Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and New York Giants — in a class-action lawsuit this past week alleging unfair hiring practices in the NFL.

After the lawsuit was filed, the league said it would defend itself against claims it said were “without merit.” The Dolphins, Broncos, and Giants also denied Flores’s allegations.

Goodell took a softer approach to Flores’s claims in his memo.

“We understand the concerns expressed by Coach Flores and others this week. While the legal process moves forward, we will not wait to reassess and modify our strategies to ensure that they are consistent with our values and longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” the commissioner wrote.

Flores’s most serious allegation is his claim that Stephen Ross told him he would pay him $100,000 for every loss during the coach’s first season because the owner wanted the club to “tank” so it could get the top draft pick. The Dolphins went 5-11 that year; the Bengals went 2-14 and used the No. 1 pick on quarterback Joe Burrow, who led the team to this season’s Super Bowl.

“We also take seriously any issue relating to the integrity of NFL games,” Goodell said in the memo. “These matters will be reviewed thoroughly and independently. We expect that these independent experts will receive full cooperation from everyone associated with the league or any member club as this work proceeds.”

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Ross pledged his team’s full cooperation into an investigation on Thursday when he labeled Flores’s accusations “false, malicious, and defamatory.”

Power structure

Owner Shad Khan introduced Doug Pederson as the Jaguars’ new coach and said the team has applied to the NFL to hire an executive vice president, a person who would report directly to Khan and oversee Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke.

It’s a much different structure from what the Jaguars employed the last two years. Khan’s only other EVP was two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Coughlin, who held the job for three seasons (2017-19) and was in place when Jacksonville last made the playoffs.

Khan went with a traditional coach-GM (Doug Marrone-Dave Caldwell) model in 2020 after Coughlin was fired, and then hired Urban Meyer to head a coach-centric model in 2021, a setup that ended in less-than-desirable fashion. Meyer was fired in mid-December after 13 games, one of the most turbulent tenures in NFL history.

“One of the reasons we had the search was not only looking for the head coaching candidate but really to learn about other organizations,” Khan said. “I mean, that’s a byproduct of the coaching search.

“So some of the practices, some of the structure that works, we got a great insight into it. So strengthening the football operations, more staff, definitely, that’s part of our goal. We’ve had too flat an organization, and we want to add brainpower and more people to strengthen that.”

Khan plans to hire an EVP as well as an assistant general manager to work under Baalke, who came under fire in recent months after Khan opted to keep him instead of cleaning house.

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Moving pieces

The Packers promoted John Dunn to take over as tight ends coach for Justin Outten, who left to become the Broncos’ offensive coordinator.

The Packers also confirmed Maurice Drayton won’t return as special teams coordinator.