Detroit Lions and Sheila Ford Hamp deserve recognition for building diversity

Detroit Free Press

When I first heard the Detroit Lions were being formally recognized by the Fritz Pollard Alliance for a commitment to diversity in executive positions, I thought what you might be thinking right now: They’re getting a diversity award for hiring a white coach who’s 0-10-1?

Then I looked into it. And when I heard what Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp said during a ceremony Friday night at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, I was convinced. Not only did the Lions deserve the recognition but they seem committed to pursuing more diversity in their hiring process throughout the organization.

Oddly enough, Dan Campbell is part of that hiring diversity because his coaching staff includes 10 Black men and one woman.

That surpasses even the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have 10 Black coaches and whose late team owner Dan Rooney was the driving force behind the eponymous rule for the NFL’s diversity hiring initiative. Campbell’s staff diversity surpasses the number of Black coaches on Jim Caldwell’s staff in his first year as Lions coach.

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But the Lions’ coaching diversity doesn’t surpass the Houston Texans, who have 11 Black coaches on their staff. The Texans’ David Culley was the only Black person hired to fill seven head coaching vacancies in the NFL this year. The New York Jets’ Robert Saleh of Dearborn was the only other person of color hired as a head coach this year.

The Lions did make a major stride in diversity by hiring Brad Holmes, one of three Black general manager hired this season.

“Well, if you look at (the Lions’) staff, they’re one of the more diverse staffs in the league,” said Larry Lee, the Pollard Alliance’s director of business development as well as a former Lions player and front office executive. “They’ve got to be one of the top two or three diverse staffs in the league. To include Brad Holmes and Ray Agnew, who are both in upper-level positions, that’s not just hiring a scout or something. That’s (respectively) a general manager AND assistant general manager.

“Now you can debate whether Dan Campbell’s a good coach or not. That’s one thing. But I think they far exceeded expectations in their whole total process.”

We can’t judge Campbell too quickly because his success shouldn’t be judged on wins and losses in one season. A rebuild is a lengthy process that requires patience, just as most meaningful things do, like creating and emphasizing equal opportunity for everyone.

Hamp knows plenty about that. Even as the daughter of an NFL owner, and a friend of then-commissioner Pete Rozelle’s, she couldn’t get a job in the league after graduating from Yale in 1973. She had to wait until her late 60s to run the team after her mother, Martha, passed the torch to her in 2020.

Hamp spoke about her experience in February at the fifth Women’s Careers in Football Forum hosted by the NFL. But she didn’t bring it up Friday night during the ceremony. Instead, she spoke of how the Lions used diversity as a key driver in the hiring search for Holmes and Campbell, and in turn for both of them as they hired their staffs.

“For us, it goes beyond football,” Hamp said. “Our goal is for the entire organization, and we’re working to evolve an organizational mission statement to ensure we are living this truth every day while moving forward.

“While not finalized, the new mission statement will read something like this: We believe the highest performance comes when we build a workplace that’s truly equitable, transparent, integrated and open. Diversity is the ultimate competitive advantage, and we strive to build a place where we can celebrate our work, our team and our wins. We say one team, one pride.”

Mission statements are nice ideals, but the Lions have actually put these thoughts into practice when you consider the coaching staff. Both coordinators are Black and Aaron Glenn, who has his defense playing better than anyone expected, feels, acts and carries himself like a head coach right now. So does Duce Staley, the assistant head coach in charge of running backs. Both are prime candidates to be part of the important pipeline for the NFL’s hiring process under the Rooney Rule.

“And I think that’s one of the things that’s incumbent upon us,” Lions president Rod Wood said Friday, “is to supply future candidates and we’ve done that in adding two coordinators to the team, in addition to Duce Staley, who’s our assistant head coach.

“So hopefully one and all of those guys wind up as a head coach and take it from three to six to 10 diverse candidates as head coaches.”

Despite all these initiatives and ceremonies and ideals, the numbers are still abysmal in the NFL. There are only three Black head coaches, five Black GMs and one Black team president among the league’s 32 teams.

“For it to be 2021 and we’re still looking at those type of numbers, yes, we’re not happy and it’s not fair,” Lee said. “I can honestly say the league is taking a very, very hard look at this. And I know that the commissioner is all in on trying to make it better. But still, at the end of the day, it’s the owners who have to hire the people they want to run their teams.”

Everybody likes instant results and easily quantifiable success. How many wins do you have? How many titles are on your resume? But success and meaningful change usually don’t happen that way for anyone. Not for a new head coach or a new GM or a new team owner or even for a league trying to find a new way to change a very old hiring process.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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