Members of the NFL Hall of Fame from Historically Black Colleges and Universities receive acknowledgement during the 12th Annual Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Salute to Excellence Awards in Houston, Texas during Super Bowl LI Week.

Ten minutes away from the glow of the NRG sign on the Texans stadium, the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation (FPAF) gathered to acknowledge the stellar history and continued contributions of African Americans holding positions in the National Football League.

Fritz Pollard, for whom the alliance is named, was a trailblazer of monumental proportions. He blazed a path of firsts that should have made the Rooney Rule unnecessary.

Alliance co-founder John Wooten was primed for the task honing his skills clearing the way for Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown as an offensive guard with the Cleveland Browns. Together with co-founder Cyrus Mehri, who authored Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities along with renown attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr, continue forging the path set by Pollard in 1920.

“We wanted to become the very essence of the interview process,” explained Wooten when asked about the association’s goal. Simple in scope but it has been an arduous cacophony of heavy lifting by a multitude of partners.

According to Business Insider reporter Cork Gaines, the number of African American head coaches hired since the Rooney Rule was implemented has fluctuated over the years. The addition of Anthony Lynn and Vance Joseph by the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos brings the total number of African American head coaches to seven. Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera remains the only NFL head coach of Taino descent by way of Puerto Rico.

Assembled in the Kingdom Builder’s Center, African American Hall of Famer’s and NFL executives
paid tribute to Wharton Sports Business Academy scholars, high school student athletes, NCAA head coaches, and NFL head coaches and executives.

Dallas Cowboys assistant director of player personnel Will J. McClay and Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie were presented with plaques acknowledging their outstanding efforts in 2016. McKenzie was named 2017 NFL Executive of the Year by the Professional Football Writer’s Association.

The success of African Americans in executive positions is proof positive the alliance’s mission is on track. In many ways, Lynn owes his new job to the advice received from Wooten and the alliance. “As I said to Anthony Lynn many years ago, take the interview, learn what you need to do to move forward,” explained Wooten. “We know a scam interview when we see it but by the same token if you don’t take it then that gives them something to fall back on.”

Wooten took time at the end of the evening ceremonies to acknowledge the gold jackets adorning stars of Historically Black Colleges and Universities seated throughout the audience. The twelve in attendance represented to Wooten both the outstanding contributions of HBCUs to the NFL and the unfortunate unlikelihood of another HBCU product joining their ranks.

The work is far from over. There are still positions and organizations that lag far behind the times. What would it have meant for Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, or Michael Vick to have had an African American quarterback coach/offensive coordinator? Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson was a rarity having served as quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for several teams before getting his head coaching job. Pep Hamilton left Howard University to become the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts joining the Arizona Cardinals Harold Goodwin as the only two in the NFL.

According to the The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) “2015 Racial and Gender Report” the number of white women in executive positions were twice that of African American men and ten times that of African American, Asian, and Latino women. Areas the report indicated needed improvement include head coaching, CEO/President, and vice presidents. Whites command 81.3% of head coaching positions, 87.7% of Vice Presidents, and 97.1% of CEO/Presidents.

Wooten asked and answered his question “Do we still have a long way to go?” with a firm “Yes.”
FPAF has one more acknowledgment that will take place during Super Bowl LI.
NFL Head Coaches & Executives Salute to Excellence Award recipients:
Jim Caldwell, Head Coach
Detroit Lions

Ted Crews, VP of Communications
Kansas City Chiefs

Chris Grier, General Manager
Miami Dolphins

Alonzo Highsmith, Senior Personnel Executive
Green Bay Packers

Omar Khan, VP of Football & Business Administration
Pittsburgh Steelers

Martin Mayhew, Director of Football Operations and Special Projects
New York Giants

Jerry Reese, Senior VP & General Manager
New York Giants

Marc Ross, VP of Player Evaluation
New York Giants

Rick Smith, Exec. VP of Football Operations & General Manager
Houston Texans

Mike Tomlin, Head Coach
Pittsburgh Steelers

Recipients of the NCAA Head Coaches Salute to Excellence Awards were:

Pedro Arruza – Randolph Macon College
Jerry Mack – North Carolina Central University
Kienus Boulware – Winston Salem State University
Derek Mason – Vanderbilt University
Rod Broadway – North Carolina A&T State University
Ken Niumatalolo – U.S. Naval Academy
Victor Santa Cruz – Azusa Pacific University
Kalani Sitake – Brigham Young University
Broderick Fobbs – Grambling State University
Willie Slater – Tuskegee University
James Franklin – Penn State University
Kevin Sumlin – Texas A&M University
Frank Wilson – University of Texas San Antonio

Paul J. Tagliabue Award Recipient
Robert McNair, Founder, Chairman and CEO Houston Texans Football Club

Wharton Sports Business Academy Salute to Excellence Award Recipients
Brayan Guevera
Juan Sanchez

High School Athletes Salute to Excellence Award recipients
Robert Atlee, RB
Bellaire High School

Corey Bethley, DL
Katy High School

K’Lavon Chaisson, DL
Northshore Senior High School

Tyshau Robinson-Cox, RB
Evan E. Worthing High School

Haydon Howerton OL
Katy High School

Rashand Jones, QB
North Forest High School

Cedarian Lamb, WR
Foster High School
Walker Little, OL
Episcopal High School

Kenneth Murray, LB/FB
Elkins High School

Debione Renfro, DB
Pearland High School

Trelon Smith, RB
Cypress Ridge High School

Keylon Stokes, WR
Manvel High School

Marvin Wilson, DL
Episcopal High School

Brock Wright, TE
Cy-Fair High School