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No timetable for return of players, coaches to field, NFL says

On the same day some team facilities began opening the business side of their operations, the NFL said it will take a measured, data-driven approach to letting players and coaches return.

For now, there is no timetable for when that might happen.

“We want to walk, then jog, then run as we think about how to open our facilities,” Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said on a conference call after providing a COVID-19 update to NFL owners during a virtual meeting Tuesday. “We’re taking a very measured approach and have a protocol in place.”

Taking that next step will be dependent on COVID-19 — chiefly the expansion and accuracy of testing — and the approval of the players association.

“We feel that there are certain important steps that need to occur with regard to testing, with regard to test availability, with regard to test reliability, and also our continued evolution of understanding about how to manage exposures,” said Sills. “And so all of those things are continuing to evolve, and when we and the players association together feel like we’re at a point of satisfaction with that science, then we’ll be ready to move forward. It’s difficult to give you a date for that right now, but we’re moving in that direction and we’re moving as fast as the science and data takes us.”

The COVID-19 update was one of two major items on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. The other was a hiring system for minorities and women that NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent says is “broken.”

To that end, the NFL made significant rule changes and implemented new policies in the hiring process for both on-field and front office personnel.

There are currently four minority head coaches and two minority general managers in the NFL. In a conference call with reporters, Vincent said the hiring process that has been in place for minorities and women simply isn’t working.

“Facts are we have a broken system, and we are looking for ways to change the direction of where we’re going,” Vincent said. “It’s been (going) south. Not a gradual south, but a direct south. The fight continues there.”

To address that reality, the NFL made sweeping changes to its hiring process Tuesday while also implementing a handful of programs, all of which are designed to enhance a level of diversity that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes currently is not acceptable.

“We’re not satisfied where we are. We know we can and should do better,” Goodell said on the conference call. “That’s why this package of seven initiatives is very significant. Our work here is not done.”

The biggest modification was to the NFL’s anti-tampering policy, which previously gave teams the power to deny assistant coaches and front office executives the opportunity to interview with a new team for a coordinator or general manager position.

The tampering provision, which essentially allowed teams to block employees from pursuing better opportunities, has long been considered an impediment to qualified minority candidates moving up in ranks.

Under the new system, clubs will be prohibited from denying an assistant coach the opportunity to interview with a new team for a bona fide offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator or special teams coordinator position, and non-high-level/non-secondary football executives from interviewing for a bona fide assistant general manager position.

The new rule also requires all clubs to submit in writing an organizational reporting structure for the coaching staff with job descriptions for any coach who is a coordinator or co-coordinator. In addition, if any dispute arises about whether the new team is offering a bona fide opportunity the argument will be settled by Goodell, with his decision deemed final, binding and not subject to further review.

The NFL is also broadening the scope of the Rooney Rule by requiring that teams interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach vacancies, at least one minority candidate for any of the three coordinator vacancies and at least one external minority candidate for the senior football operations or general manager position.

In addition, clubs must now include minorities and/or female applicants in the interview processes for senior level front office positions. The league office will also adhere to these requirements.

To further promote inclusion, all 32 teams will implement a one- to two-year coaching fellowship program for minority candidates to provide former NFL players and minority and female participants with hands-on training in NFL coaching. The goal is to develop and nurture viable candidates within each organization who will then organically grow and advance within the organization.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter

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