The NFL realizes it has a coaching diversity problem and the Jaguars are actively addressing it.
When the Jaguars kick off against the Washington Commanders on Sunday afternoon, the team will have 10 on-field assistant coaches who are minorities. It will also have a Black coordinator for the first time in a decade.
The team’s commitment to making pathways for minorities to advance in professional football is how Jacksonville native Tee Mitchell earned a full-time position as a defensive analyst.
Mitchell was one of eight coaches who worked with the Jaguars in training camp as a part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship. He was the only one retained full time for the 2022 season.
“To have Coach (Doug) Pederson here, I was ecstatic when I saw the news, just being a fan,” says Mitchell, who lived less than a half mile away from the north end zone on Jessie Street during his childhood. “He’s won a couple Super Bowls, he’s been to the Super Bowl. He is a wealth of knowledge. It’s been a blessing to be back here.”
The Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship began in 1987 when San Francisco 49ers head Coach Bill Walsh brought in a handful of minority coaches from across the country to work with the team during training camp. Since then, more than 2,000 coaches have taken part of the fellowship – including three current NFL head coaches. It’s a legacy that the league, and its teams, are building on, with more emphasis on diversity and inclusion than ever this offseason.
In February, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to team presidents and executives, calling the league’s diversity record for executives, coaches and other off-field personnel “unacceptable.”
At the time, Jaguars owner Shad Khan, a Pakistani immigrant, said, “I think the league is very serious.”
Khan and Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula are the only people of color who are majority owners of NFL franchises. This summer, Mellody Hobson and Condoleezza Rice became minority owners of the Denver Broncos.
Khan has spoken openly on the pain of being subjected to racial epithets and being made to feel unwelcome during the earliest years of his American journey. Khan, who made his fortune selling automobile parts, remembers, “I was on the other side of the fence as a minority business person looking for work from corporate America.”
In football, Khan said, there’s no silver bullet to increase the ranks of executives and coaches of color like himself.
“The metrics are the same, still apply, whether you’re a minority or not, and that would be a number of things, including winning. So, there’s a lot of work to do. I wish there was a quick fix,” he said.
At the time Khan hired Coach Pederson, the NFL had just one Black head coach and three minority head coaches. League-wide, there are now three Black coaches and six minority head coaches, including Washington head coach Ron Rivera.
Pederson was hired days after former Miami head Coach Brian Flores filed suit in federal court accusing the league of racial discrimination. Pittsburgh hired Flores as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach in February. His suit against the NFL is ongoing.
Khan said his position on the NFL’s diversity record mirrors what Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy wrote in an open letter to owners in February 2021.
“The game on the field is exciting,” Dungy wrote. “But we can’t bury our head in the sand and not acknowledge the elephant in the room — that you are not hiring the best and most deserving people in all departments of your teams.”
Dungy added that it was ultimately up to the owners of the 32 franchises to move the game forward by hiring coaches, front-office executives and other personnel who are more reflective of the U.S.
Before hiring Pederson, the Jaguars interviewed nearly a dozen candidates for head coach, including former quarterback Byron Leftwich.
Khan said one of the things he is proudest of as owner of a NFL franchise is the fact that a photo of him, kneeling with players in solidarity against racial injustice and inequity, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When Khan's team takes the field this season, its high-level coaching staff will be more diverse than last season.
Mike Caldwell is the Jaguars’ first Black coordinator since 2012.
In May, Caldwell and Jaguars’ Director of Pro Scouting Regis Eller attended the NFL’s first Coach and Front Office Accelerator, a two-day program of leadership-development sessions and networking with owners and high-ranking executives.
During training camp, Caldwell said the accelerator program was a good opportunity.
“I know some of the owners but meeting them in a different setting was really good for me, to be able to sit down and talk to them,” Caldwell said in July. “And then talking about the (Bill Walsh) minority internships, that’s how I started. I was there with the Eagles. Coach Andy Reid brought me on and I was able to do that. It’s a time where, as a former player or young coach, find out what you don’t know, find out if you really want to do it. And show people. The guys we have here are working extremely hard so far and we’re happy to have them.”
Since 2015, 29 Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching fellows have worked with the Jaguars, including Jacksonville native and current New York Jets assistant Leon Washington. Mitchell, who, like Washington, spent some of his childhood living on Jacksonville's Eastside, says working with the Jaguars elevated his coaching career.
“The essence of the fellowship is rewarding,” Mitchell says. “You get to come in and learn from a group of guys for a certain period of time, take that wealth of knowledge back to whatever level coaching you have been on – whether it be high school or collegiate – and you get the wisdom from professionals at the highest level and take it back with you. In this instance, I was able to stick around and keep gaining that wealth of knowledge from these guys.”
When he was hired, Pederson said his experience as a player helped him realize there are a wide range of people who can help win football games.
“Obviously, as a former player, a lot of my best friends are minorities and Black athletes,” Pederson told reporters. “There is a world of coaches out there. It’s deep. For me, it’s about surrounding myself with the right guys. I’m all in with having a diverse staff.”
His Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles staff had four Black assistants as well another assistant who is Asian-American.
Hiring a handful of assistant coaches and equipping them with networking and professional development opportunities is a start. Khan, in February, stressed that more must be done.
“I think it says as much about America frankly as it does anything else,” Khan said. “There's a lot of heavy lifting ahead, and we've got to show results.”