49ers have benefited from diverse hiring practices, but NFL needs more progress

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Not only have the San Francisco 49ers been one of the best teams in the NFL over the past two seasons, winning the NFC Championship in back-to-back seasons, but they’ve also been tops in another category in recent years: head development of minorities NFL coaches and front-office executives.

The league installed a new rule to motivate teams to develop minority coaches and executives in 2020, rewarding any team with two compensatory third-round picks if a minority candidate was hired from outside their franchise to become the ‘head coach or GM of another team. If a team has candidates hired for both positions, it receives three total picks.

Since its inception, five candidates have been hired in San Francisco for head coaching or general manager positions. By the end of the 2024 draft, they will have received a league-high eight third-round compensatory picks in exchange for losing those hires.

“I try to hire people that I’ve worked with that are ready for that, and fortunately, that’s worked out well for me,” San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said of the league’s minority hiring woes when asked three years ago. “I have a Muslim coordinator; we have a black coordinator. We have a lesbian on our staff. We have everything and it’s not just to show people that we’re trying to be diverse. It’s just because I’ve been around these people, and they’re very good at what they do. We can’t win without these people and that’s how it works.”

The 49ers received five compensatory third-round picks for nurturing personnel executive Martin Mayhew, now general manager of the Washington Commanders, along with New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Mike McDaniel.

This year, San Francisco is on track to receive three more third-round compensatory picks for personnel executive Ran Carthon, now general manager of the Tennessee Titans, and new Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans this offseason.

Five other teams have received a total of 10 compensatory picks since 2020.

“Honestly, I think it’s a couple of things,” Carthon told NBC Sports. “It’s a winning culture, a winning program, so it starts there. But I think John and Kyle are intentional. And when they put you in a position, it encourages growth. You don’t just get ceremonial titles in San Francisco. They allow you to build your role, to help you. And then they get out of your way, let you do your job and grow in a way that allows you, when those opportunities come, you’re ready for them.”

Ryan added, “Everybody feels like they’re a part of what we’re doing here. That’s the reason the organization has been so successful. It’s just been built with the right people in mind. When you have good people, you can do it. really good stuff. And that’s what we’ve done here.”

NFL agent Don Yee, who represents quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, sees the 49ers as having a winning approach to personnel and roster development. San Francisco currently has two former Black NFL head coaches on the coaching staff in defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and running backs/assistant head coach Anthony Lynn.

“I have a lot of respect for their style of football, just because in today’s NFL, in my opinion, it’s a little abnormal how they run,” Yee said. “The coaches that are there benefit from the win as well as the unique display of football that they put on. It makes their coaches stand out a little bit more. And if you’re an owner or a general manager you want to hire a coach. Who can put that kind of football, that’s a little different to the NFL these days, then that’s the place you’re going to look.”

“Kyle has a very high level of confidence,” Yee added. “He’s also good at coaching his coaches, which is an underrated talent. And Kyle is also supported by people like John [Lynch] i [49ers owner] Jed York, which allow him a lot of latitude to coach his coaches.”

It’s been two decades since NFL owners instituted the Rooney Rule in 2003, named after Dan Rooney, the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Initially, the policy required each team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one or more diverse candidates before making a new hire.

Rooney’s rule has expanded over the years to include general manager and front office roles, along with coordinator and quarterback coach roles.

While San Francisco has set an example the NFL can point to in successfully developing minority executive and head coaching candidates, the league still has a lot of work to do.

After achieving an NFL high of minority head coaches in 2017, the league hired just one black head coach to fill five head coaching vacancies during the latest hiring cycle this offseason.

Currently, the league has only three black coaches among the 32 teams. Nearly 60 percent of the league’s players identify as black.

However, the NFL has eight black general managers, the most in the league. The league also has five black team presidents, including the NFL’s first black women’s team president, Sandra Douglass Morgan of the Raiders.

The league is also dealing with a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, now the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator, that includes Wilks and current USFL head coach Ray Horton.

Houston Texans and DeMeco Ryans agree to 6-year deal to become new HC

Houston Texans and DeMeco Ryans agree to 6-year deal to become new HC

Emmanuel Acho, LeSean McCoy, Joy Taylor and David Helman discuss DeMeco Ryans agreeing to a six-year deal to become the new head coach of the Houston Texans. Joy says she loves the contract because Ryans has a blank slate to reinvent the organization.

“We’ve had a number of other programs that I think will pay off in the long term,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week. “Now, we all want short-term results, but it’s important that it’s sustainable for the future, and we believe that diversity makes us stronger.

“It’s about attracting the best talent and giving them the best chance to succeed. To me, that’s at the core of what we do. We want the changes to be really fundamental, robust and sustainable.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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