TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The lessons learned from 2020 will be needed as the NFL moves forward, Commissioner Roger Goodell noted Thursday in his annual state of the league news conference.
Held before both in-person and virtual audiences and staged outside of the arena that is home to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Goodell said developments ranging from battling the pandemic to minority coaching hires to scheduling to the NFL’s working relationship with the players’ union all will carry forward as major topics.
“I don’t know when normal will occur again or if normal will occur again,” he said. “I know we have learned to work in a very difficult environment, and we will do it again. That is one of the things we learned ... hearing clubs and the NFLPA saying our relationship has never been stronger. I interpret that as a trust that has been built here that will take us forward and will be the long-lasting legacy of this season.”
That legacy, on the positive side, includes something the other major sports leagues and organizations couldn’t manage: playing a full season, uninterrupted, with the championship game on time despite COVID-19 issues.
“This was an extraordinary collective effort,” Goodell said. “There’s so many people that had to work together to get this done. There were doubters, people that didn’t believe we could do it, we had a lot of unknowns ourselves. We believed that staying on schedule and working to try to get 256 games done as we try to say, ’avoid the asterisk,′ I think we were able to do that.”
But the negative part of the legacy, one that has plagued a league made up of 70% minority players, has been the head coach hiring cycle. Goodell said the league is not satisfied with only two minorities hired for seven head coach openings: The New York Jets hired Robert Saleh, the first NFL coach who is known to be Muslim and the son of Lebanese immigrants, and Houston hired David Culley, making him only the league’s third Black current head coach.
“We had two minority coaches hired and it was not what we expected,” the commissioner said, “and not what we expect going forward.”
Goodell noted three African-American general managers were hired, with more diversity also seen among coordinators, something the NFL can build on. Asked if a hiring freeze on head coaches until after the Super Bowl would be discussed, Goodell said everything that could enhance diversity would be explored.
Wilner reported from New York. AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker, Simmi Buttar, Josh Dubow and Arnie Stapleton contributed.