In February, the fledgling XFL said that when it relaunches in 2023, it would collaborate with the NFL on innovations that would “create increased opportunities for player development both on and off the field.”
The idea is that the XFL will be the NFL’s test kitchen, not quite a minor league, but a place where tweaks to rules, instant replay, uniforms or how games are broadcast can be tried before adoption on a bigger stage. At the same time, players on the bubble of NFL rosters could put something on tape.
That’s still the case, but it now appears that the XFL will be a testing ground for a one of the NFL’s biggest problems: its lack of diversity at the head coaching level. On ESPN’s Get Up on Wednesday morning, XFL owners Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dany Garcia released the names of all eight head coaches for XFL teams. All are ex-NFL players or coaches and three of them–Hines Ward, Rod Woodson and Reggie Barlow—are Black.
It’d be hard to argue that guys who all have NFL playing experience–Woodson is a Hall of Famer and Ward is on the ballot–couldn’t coach in a league where most of the players are guys who just hope to make the cut. Ward already has assistant coaching experience in the NFL and at the college level and clearly is looking to take a step up.
Maybe the diversity among the XFL’s head coaches, and the timing of the announcement—as the NFL faces a class action lawsuit over hiring discrimination—are coincidental. But it sounds more like intent that Johnson, who is biracial and Garcia, who is billed as the first woman owner of a “major” sports league, would ensure opportunities for Black head coaches from Day One, especially given their partnership with the NFL.
Getting all 32 NFL team owners–a group that with a single exception is exclusively white–to agree on anything is like herding cats. If Commissioner Roger Goodell can’t get those guys to make a real effort to diversify their coaching pipelines, surely there’s a more receptive audience in a league whose top execs are the demographic opposite of the NFL’s: a woman and a Black man.
Goodell may not have explicitly called Garcia and Johnson and asked for this but somewhere, he definitely applauded. It’s certain that at least some of the NFL’s owners are watching. Don’t be surprised if Ward, Barlow or Woodson end up prowling an NFL sideline soon.