Commanders launch Doug Williams Diversity Coaching Fellowship amid new league mandate

The Washington Commanders have created the Doug Williams Diversity Coaching Fellowship, a program that will hire coaches from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to join the team’s staff.

Washington, which made the announcement Wednesday, said the fellow will join the team’s coaching staff as an offensive assistant. Last month, the NFL announced a new requirement that stated all 32 teams must hire a minority offensive assistant for the 2022 season as part of the league’s plan to address diversity issues. The hire, the league, said can be “a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority.” 

The Commanders will pick their candidates from HBCUs and named the initiative after Williams, the team’s former Super Bowl-winning quarterback who attended (and later coached at) Grambling State University. Williams has had a prominent role in trying to increase the number of diverse coaches in the NFL over the years.

The Commanders said in a statement the offensive assistant will work with coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Scott Turner and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. Those three, along with general manager Martin Mayhew and others, will be part of a selection committee that will interview candidates for the position. 

“I have always said that fostering opportunities for young coaches of color is what we need to do in order to correct the issues we have been seeing with the hiring cycles in the league,” Rivera said in a statement. “We are excited to announce the Doug Williams Diversity Coaching Fellowship which will help us continue to grow as an organization and help foster young coaching talent to set them up for success in their careers. 

“There is no better man to honor with the naming of this fellowship than the great Doug Williams who is a trailblazer in the NFL and has represented this organization with class for many years.”

The team said that with each selection, owners Dan and Tanya Snyder will make a donation to the HBCU the Doug Williams Fellow coached at the previous season. 

Williams, currently a senior advisor to team president Jason Wright, said in a statement he was “very humbled and honored” that the program was named after him. Williams’ other efforts for the NFL to recognize and hire minority coaches include launching the Quarterback Coaching Summitt in 2018. 

The summit is a two-day clinic aimed at promoting coaching of color and helping them advance their careers. The event now sees coaches, general managers and owners attend. Williams told The Washington Times in 2020 that the event was designed to help Black coaches with networking and getting in front of the league’s decision-makers.  He took issue with the perception that there weren’t any qualified minority coaches “in the pipeline” to oversee a team.

“There’s a pipeline, but the problem is the valve has been shut off,” Williams told The Times in 2020. 

Since then, the league has still struggled with hiring minority coaches on a consistent basis. In February, former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL and three teams for racial discrimination in its hiring practice. Flores accused several teams of conducting “sham” interviews in order to satisfy the league’s diversity requirements, and two other Black coaches — Ray Horton and Steve Wilks — have since joined the lawsuit. The league and team denied the allegations, but Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL has fallen short of its goal to hire more people of color. 

The NFL has only five minority head coaches: Rivera, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Houston’s Lovie Smith, Miami’s Mike McDaniel and the Jets’ Robert Saleh. According to ESPN, minority coaches make up 39% of the league total, up from 35% last season. 

Steelers owner Art Rooney III told reporters that the league’s offensive assistant initiative was designed to increase minority hires in the offensive ranks.

“When you look at stepping stones for a head coach, they are the coordinator positions,” Rooney said. “We clearly have a trend where coaches are coming from the offensive side of the ball in recent years and we clearly do not have as many minorities in the offensive coordinator (job).” 

The Commanders said they will also continue to hire minority candidates as part of the  NFL’s Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship.

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