Buffalo Bills new offensive quality control coach Austin Gund
Meet Bills new offensive quality control coach Austin Gund. ‘I’m fired up that I’m here.’
Shawn Dowd, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Over the past several years, a trend has developed in the NFL where the majority of men who go on to become head coaches earned their opportunities working on the offensive side of the ball.
However, there was another trend that ran concurrently with that: Most of those offensive coaches who landed head coaching jobs were white. So at the NFL owners’ meetings last March, a new policy was approved in an effort to change the math.
As an expansion of the Rooney Rule which was instituted in 2003 to expand minority hiring, all 32 NFL teams were required to hire a minority offensive assistant coach for the 2022 season. The person could be a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority, and the interesting catch is that their salaries are being paid out of a league-wide fund earmarked for the initiative.
The hope is that the minority coaches who enter this program will one day work their way through the ranks to become offensive coordinators, thus enhancing their chances of eventually becoming a head coach in the league.
“The game has moved very offensive, and you’re getting a lot of offensive minds being hired as head coaches,” said Bills general manager Brandon Beane, who in adherence to the policy welcomed Austin Gund to Buffalo’s staff in the spring.
“More of the diverse coaches, African-Americans, have come from the defensive side of the ball and so you can’t just drop somebody in (on offense). You’ve got to work them up so you need more offensive assistants, more quarterback coaches to be minorities if you’re going to try and help equal the playing field. That’s the thought behind it.”
A look at diversity in Buffalo Bills coaching ranks
The Bills coaching staff provides a example of the disparity. After Black offensive line coach Bobby Johnson left for the New York Giants, the lone Black coach on offense before Gund’s hiring was running backs coach Kelly Skipper, who has been with the Bills since head coach Sean McDermott came in 2017.
But on the defensive side, there are four Black coaches – coordinator Lelie Frazier, line coach Eric Washington, assistant line coach Marcus West, and quality control coach Jaylon Finner. The Bills also have a Black special teams assistant coach, Cory Harkey.
The Bills did not need to bring Gund in to fulfill the new requirement because Skipper was already on staff, but Beane said, “That wouldn’t have been the right way to do it, so Austin became our guy.”
Austin Gund’s journey to the Buffalo Bills
Gund, who was a four-year starting center and a three-year captain at the University of Richmond, graduated in 2015 with a degree in Leadership Studies and once he realized he didn’t have a playing future in pro football, he turned to coaching.
He spent a year at the University of Delaware, then took a job at Belhaven University, a Division III school in Jackson, Mississippi, where he coached the offensive line and was director of football operations for two years.
Seeking to pursue a masters degree, he went to Wake Forest where he worked the past two years as a graduate assistant while completing his school work.
At Wake, he was on staff with Wayne Lineburg, the tight ends and special teams coach, and Lineburg has been a long-time associate of McDermott from their days when Lineburg was coaching at William and Mary during McDermott’s playing career.
“Austin came well recommended from a good friend of mine in the profession at Wake Forest, and when this guy speaks, I listen,” McDermott said.
Lineburg’s glowing recommendation sealed the deal and McDermott hired Gund to be his offensive quality control coach, an entry-level position that encompasses many responsibilities mostly related to assisting other coaches on the staff.
“Really kind of a catch-all and my job is to make sure everybody else can coach the best that they can coach and the most efficiently to handle everything else,” Gund said. “So I take pride in that because if I’m good at my job, everybody else doesn’t have to worry about the little details.”
Sean McDermott’s role in NFL minority hiring
McDermott has been a champion of minority hiring as he serves on the advisory board of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship which has been active for more than 30 years. That program’s objective is to give minority coaches the opportunity to be around NFL teams during training camps, offseason workout programs and minicamps and help them gain experience while networking with coaches and team executives.
McDermott is also in communication with the Fritz Pollard Alliance which was formed in 2001 to commission a study that revealed how, in the previous 15 years, Black head coaches had averaged 1.1 victories more per season than white head coaches.
Named for Pollard – the NFL’s first Black head coach when he led the Akron Pros in 1921, and only Black coach until the Raiders hired Art Shell in 1989 – the Alliance data helped lead to the creation of the Rooney Rule which mandates that teams must interview at least one minority candidate for every vacant head coach and general manager or equivalent front-office position.
“I think it’s a great program,” McDermott said of the new initiative. “I’ve been around it myself just in terms of the background support with the Bill Walsh program and the Fritz Pollard Alliance. We do a lot of communicating at the Combine from a committee standpoint as well, so I think it’s good and it’s gotten better every year, to be honest with you, in particular the last couple.”
Diversity among NFL coaches in 2022
During the offseason, Todd Bowles was hired as head coach in Tampa Bay and Lovie Smith was hired in Houston. They join Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin as the NFL’s only three Black head coaches. Mike McDaniel (multi-racial) was hired in Miami, and returning coaches Robert Saleh of the Jets (Lebanese) and Ron Rivera of the Commanders (Latino) bring the number of minority head coaches to six out of 32 jobs.
Not great, but that’s a marked improvement when you look at the NFL’s history of hiring.
According to the 2022 NFL Diversity and Inclusion Report, between 1963 and 2022, only 25 men of color (19 Black, four Latino American, one Lebanese and multi-racial) have been hired as head coaches.
Further, since the start of 1963, there were 118 white men hired as an NFL head coach, offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator after a first NFL head coach opportunity, compared to just 21 minorities after a first head coach opportunity. Three of those are Rivera, Bowles and Smith.
The study also showed that between Super Bowl 55 in February 2021 and Super Bowl 56 in February 2022, NFL teams hired a total of 47 head coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, special teams coordinators and general managers for open positions. Minorities were hired for 15 of those positions, or 32%.
Minority hiring was actually better the previous year when minorities filled 19 of 52 positions, or 37%. And where it is really glaring is on the offensive side of the ball. In the last three years, 38 coordinator positions have been filled and only five went to minorities.
The tend in NFL offensive coordinator hires shows little progress in diversity
Since 2021, there have been 11 teams who replaced a white offensive coordinator with another white man, including the Bills who promoted Ken Dorsey to replace Brian Daboll. Two other teams replaced a Black OC with a white man.
This accentuates a 10-year trend dating back to 2012 where 119 white offensive coordinators have been hired compared to 14 minorities. Meanwhile at defensive coordinator, the numbers are vastly different as 66 white men have been hired compared to 46 minorities.
“The process is broken,” said Troy Vincent, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations and a Black man who played 15 years in the NFL including nearly three seasons with the Bills 2004-06. “We have exhausted ourselves with programs and initiatives … We don’t have a resource issue, this is a willingness and heart issue. You can’t force people, so we have to continue to educate and share with those in the hiring cycle.”
All of that data was put forth to the NFL owners, and it helped lead to the new policy in which young coaches like Gund are being provided the chance to help get the numbers trending in a positive direction.
“That’s one of the reasons the league did what they did is to address the deficiency so I applaud the league’s efforts in trying to get more minorities in the pipeline to be quarterback coaches, offensive line coaches, coordinators,” Frazier said. “I think it’s great what they’re trying to get accomplished.”
Frazier, of course, is one of the scant number of Black head coaches as he led the Vikings from 2011-13. He has been mainly a defensive coordinator ever since, though he has interviewed for head coaching vacancies, only to be denied.
“When you look at where the coaches are being hired from, the majority are from the offensive side,” Frazier said with a wry smile. “Some of these owners will get it and give more defensive coaches a chance, but right now, the trend is going a different way.”
Gund never really gave coaching in the NFL much thought because, “I love college football, I love that environment. I was on the job hunt (after completing his masters) and I was applying to some FCS O-line coach jobs, some other things in the FCS as well, and I never really thought about the NFL.”
Now that he’s with the Bills, though, his eyes are wide open. “It’s a different route, but it’s an opportunity to really get a PhD in football,” he said. “What better opportunity than coming here and being able to do this?”
McDermott has been impressed with Gund’s work ethic, saying, “He’s done a tremendous job and he’s a good young coach. He’s doing a little bit of everything and he’s off to a great start.”
Gund recognizes the need to diversify the NFL coaching ranks, but now that the one door has opened, he hopes more follow.
“You just like to see opportunities given to those who have earned it,” he said. “I can’t speak to exactly how each situation with each (Black) candidate has gone down. But at the end of the day, all you can ask for is if you do a good job, to get recognized for it and then hopefully earn another opportunity from that.
“That’s all I ask, and I think that’s all any coach in this profession would ask. Whether you’re white, whether you’re black, you just want a fair opportunity. So I hope that those opportunities can come up and continue to come up for minority coaches who have earned it. They deserve it just like everybody else has.”
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal’s new twice-a-week newsletter, Bills Blast, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast
Credit: Source link