Ryan Poles

The NFL has gotten heat and deservedly so for its pathetic record in terms of Black head coaches. As the league’s postseason playoffs continued and the Super Bowl matchup of the LA Rams playing the Cincinnati Bengals in Los Angeles was decided, the NFL still had only Black head coach. In fact more Black head coaches had been fired after the season (two) than the number retained.

But there is one area where the league is making progress. That’s among the ranks of general manager, a position on most teams that’s second only to the team owner in terms of operational control. Two Black men were hired last week as general managers of the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings respectively. Their backgrounds are a bit different, but their hiring is certainly notable.

The Bears hired Ryan Poles, the Kansas City Chiefs Assistant Director of Player Personnel. Poles, highly regarded within the NFL universe and a finalist for four different openings, also reportedly had a condition to his hiring according to the Associated Press.

“From what I was told by somebody who I think would know, he told them, ‘OK, here’s the deal. I’m doing the interviews me and I’m making the call. Don’t tell me who (Bill) Polian wants to hire or who Ernie Accorsi wants to hire or who Virginia (McCaskey) wants. I’m picking my head coach or I’m getting on a plane to Minneapolis,’” David Kaplan said on the Under Center Podcast. “And so they said, it’s your show, so that’s progress.”

Poles had also been heavily involved with scouting and drafting during his time with the Chiefs, and played a big role in the drafting or Patrick Mahomes. By contrast, the Vikings new GM, Kweisi Odofo-Mensah, came to pro football from a totally different world, that of high finance. He graduated from Princeton (where he was a walk-on on the basketball team) with a degree in economics, then earned his master’s degree from Stanford. He worked as a day trader before entering the NFL only nine years ago.

But since that time, he’d worked under another Black executive, the Cleveland Browns’ GM Andrew Berry. Odofo-Mensah was the Browns’ vice president of football operations for two years. Odofo-Mensah’s hiring increases the number of Black NFL general managers to six. Others besides Berry and Poles include Chris Grier of the Miami Dolphins, Martin Mayhew of the Washington Football Team, Terry Fontenot of the Atlanta Falcons and Brad Holmes of the Detroit Lions.

The interesting side note to this is that the presence of more Black general managers hasn’t necessarily improved prospects for Black head coaches. Grier for instance canned Brian Flores in Miami. Assuming Poles got to hire his choice for a hire coach he tabbed former Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

Of course, Black general managers have to hire the people they feel will win games, because their jobs are dependent on that. Also owners have the final say on any staff hirings. Hopefully, when all the jobs are filled, the NFL will have more than one Black head coach.