- The Washington Times
Wednesday, August 31, 2022

ASHBURN — Tyrae Reid Jr. had seven interviews. Seven interviews to make an impression. Applying for an open position on the Washington Commanders’ coaching staff, the 30-year-old Baltimore native made it past the remote portion of the screening process. When Reid was finally brought into the facility in May, he was put through the football equivalent of speed dating as he was given 15 minutes each with a slew of people, including coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew. 

In each round, Reid tried to emphasize one thing: He was ready for the grind.

“It was simple,” Reid said. “I knew this wasn’t going to be a glorified position or anything like that.”

In March, the NFL mandated that each team hire a minority offensive assistant coach. It’s an effort to redress the lack of diversity on the side of the ball that has become the incubator of the game’s next generation of head coaches.

The NFL’s diversity problems came under new scrutiny this year when former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores and two other Black coaches sued the league claiming racial discrimination in hiring practices across the franchises. 

Months later, the practical implementation of the league’s mandate led to hires like Reid, a former Division II quarterback who played at Bowie State before transitioning to coaching in the college ranks. That included his alma mater, where he served most recently as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator. As Washington’s Doug Williams fellow, Reid begins hisNFL journey essentially at the bottom of the coaching ladder. While Reid gets a valuable opportunity to work closely with offensive coordinator Scott Turner and others, he basically functions as a quality-control coach.

In other words, he does grunt work. Important grunt work, but grunt work nonetheless. 

The rite of passage is familiar to many of the league’s head coaches. Rivera began as a defensive quality-control coach under Chicago Bears coach Dave Wannstedt. Offensive minds like San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan, the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay and Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur have held similar roles. 

Just getting the chance to do that grunt work can be a hurdle.

“This is what it should have been a long time ago,” said Doug Williams, a Commanders executive and a former quarterback who led Washington to a Super Bowl win in 1988.

Williams, a trailblazer as a Black quarterback in the NFL, has been a longtime advocate for hiring minority coaches. “You and I both know that in these jobs, these head coaching jobs and offensive and defensive coordinators, everyone always hires their buddies. It’s always the buddies,” he told The Washington Times.

“Guys don’t get a chance to be anybody’s buddy if you’re not around.”

Williams hit on a crucial point: In the NFL, hiring often comes down to who you know or who you are related to. In 2021, 14% of the league’s coaches — 111 of 792 — were related biologically or through marriage to current or former NFL coaches, according to the sports blog Defector. (The league told the outlet there were 822 coaches total, counting interns who may not be publicly listed.)  

When minority coaches are hired, it’s usually for the defense. This year, 15 of the league’s defensive coordinators come from minority backgrounds, an all-time high. Only four offensive coordinators are Black: Indianapolis’ Marcus Brady, Houston’s Pep Hamilton, Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich and Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy. 

That disconnect is part of the reason the league implemented its mandate this spring. Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II told reporters that there is a clear trend in how teams hire head coaches from the offensive ranks. In this year’s hiring cycle, six of the 10 new coaches came from offensive backgrounds. All but one, Miami’s Mike McDaniel, are White. 

Under the offensive assistant policy, partially funded by the league, teams were told to hire “a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority” with at least three years of coaching experience at the college or professional level. Teams that already had a coach or coaches in similar roles would count toward the program. The hires must work with the head coach and offensive staff.

It was a bold move for the league. Many legal experts say it may not stand up in court. Brad Snyder, a law professor at Georgetown, said such a policy could violate Title VII, the Civil Rights act that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. 

Chris Deubert, who works at a Boston law firm that specializes in labor law, said the Supreme Court has recognized that employers can have affirmative action plans in certain areas, but he said those exceptions are “extremely rare cases.” Mr. Deubert said the league could be exposing itself to another lawsuit “pretty quickly” if someone wants to challenge it under federal and state discrimination laws. 

“The challenge of litigation of all kinds is the practical ramifications,” Mr. Deubert said. “This is an entry-level position, so let’s say you take a 24-year-old White guy who just finished D1 football or something and if he doesn’t get a job, is he going to sue? If he does, he’s totally kissing a career in the NFL goodbye. Does he want to take that gamble? Brian Flores, that’s why his stance was pretty bold.” 

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email that programs like the league’s minority offensive assistant mandate “are common and well-accepted in sports and many other industries.” With no guarantee of permanent employment, Mr. McCarthy said, the program is designed to “build a stronger pipeline of diverse coaches” on offense. 

“It is narrow and targeted and does not disadvantage anyone who is currently employed,” Mr. McCarthy said. “The offensive assistant position is an additional role for a club and does not take away a position or opportunities from someone else.”

After the league announced the rule, the Commanders took the cause a step further. The team determined that its hire would come from a historically Black college or university, in honor of Williams, who played and coached at Grambling State.

Reid was unaware of the Commanders’ opening until San Jose State assistant coach Alonzo Carter reached out to suggest that he apply, Reid said. 

Carter had also done some work behind the scenes. The running backs coach, who is known for organizing networking events for minority coaches, said the Commanders had asked him for recommendations. Carter gave the team three names, including Reid’s.

“I just felt like he was an up-and-coming young star in the game,” Carter said. “I don’t say that to many young coaches, but I just got that vibe from him.”

Carter’s endorsement went only so far. Reid had to earn the job. He beat out 14 other applicants, Williams said, because he was forthright and prepared. Reid not only knew what he wanted to do but he also told the Commanders how he planned to do it, Williams said. 

That sort of organization serves Reid well in his role. The former quarterback arrives at the team’s facility around 6 a.m. and soon picks up on the work he left the night before. From there, Reid has meetings, meetings and more meetings. When the first wave of the meetings is finished, the Bowie State graduate makes sure that day’s practice plays are set. When practice starts, he helps run the scout team and is tasked with charting the plays that happen. Then, another round of meetings. 

The real work begins when the players leave. Reid starts planning practice for the next day and compiling breakdowns or scouting reports. Most nights, he leaves anywhere from 8:30 to 10 p.m.

“There’s plenty of work to be done,” Reid said. 

Reid embraces the workload. His end goal, he said, isn’t necessarily to be a head coach — though he won’t rule it out — but rather an offensive coordinator. He considers himself to be more of an “X’s-and-O’s guy.” He loves designing schemes to get players open and solving opposing defenses. Head coaches, by contrast, often have to take on more administrative duties. 

Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke isn’t surprised to hear about Reid’s ambitions. In meetings, Heinicke said, Reid is quiet but quick to ask the signal-callers to explain their process and what they saw on a particular play.

On a practical level, Reid is the first Black coach that Heinicke has ever worked with in the quarterbacks’ room. For context, Heinicke is 29 years old, entered the league in 2015 and spent years playing football before that. 

“I’ve never really had one,” Heinicke said, later adding, “The majority of the NFL is Black players and you see them come back and coach (but not on offense). I don’t understand it.” 

Reid has a level-headed, practical take on the opportunity he’s been given. As Williams pointed out, football is a relationship business, he said. Jobs will already be filled by the time they open up because of preexisting relationships. If you’re not in the right circles or don’t know the right people, he said, you won’t even know about the opportunities. 

That’s why he intends to make the most of his time on the Commanders staff. He understands that connections are being formed now. If he works hard enough to make a positive impression, that can lead to other opportunities and more responsibilities down the road.

Reid said he understands that if he’s successful, doors will open — not just for him but for other minority coaches.

“I took a shot in the dark and it worked out for me,” Reid said. “I’m going to do everything possible and work extremely hard right now to make leeway for everybody else. It’s extremely important, and you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.” 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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