NFL fellowship grooms coaches of color

Courtesy of Trinity University Adam McGuire, center, coaching Trinity players

So far the effect on pro coaching numbers is not impressive

The late NFL coach Bill Walsh in 1987 first brought college coaches of color to his San Francisco training camp. This idea eventually expanded league-wide into the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship, which provides valuable experience for non-White college and high school coaches as well as former players.

Nearly 2,000 coaches of color have participated in the 32-year-old program. Seventeen of 86 colleges and universities represented in this year’s program were from HBCUs.

Adam McGuire was among 179 Walsh Fellowship coaches. A third-year assistant coach at Trinity (Texas) University, he was among three fellows at last spring’s Minnesota Vikings mini-camp and later training camp and organized activities.  

“I’m lucky enough to [know] a few coaches that have NFL ties, one being my head coach Jerheme Urban,” McGuire told the MSR. Urban encouraged the young man to apply for the fellowship.

McGuire coaches Trinity defensive backs and special teams for Trinity, the San Antonio school that finished 8-2 overall this season and 7-1 as Southern Athletic Association co-champs.  He played football at Texas Lutheran University (2011-14), a two-year starter and a team captain. Before he earned his B.A. in social entrepreneurship in 2015, McGuire was a two-time all-conference performer as a safety/outside linebacker.

He said he originally sought a business career, not coaching, which “was not something I was looking at. I could see myself go somewhere and make a lot more money,” McGuire admitted. “[Coach Urban] was pulling at my leg to get into it. I felt a call to go into coaching.”

His first job in 2015 was assistant defensive backs and wide receivers coach. Now he can add his NFL fellowship to his resume.

McGuire said of his time with the Vikings, “I learned how to look at things differently—how to run a practice, organize a practice. How to take a step back and how to evaluate people in a different way.”

The Vikings internship isn’t passive, McGuire explained. “They don’t hold your hand. They give you a schedule and let you know where everything is. From there they essentially are watching you to see what you get out of it. 

“They told me one of the things they do is watch [interns] to see how you are absorbing everything…and putting yourself [into] a part of what they do,” he continued. “They got a job to do, but they are still watching.” He added that surprisingly he also learned that levels of football, no matter how high you go, can be intrinsically similar in many respects.

“It’s the same game,” the coach noted. “The teaching might be a little different, but it’s all the same game.

“The biggest difference,” McGuire said as he compared college and pro ball, “is the athletes who are doing it and the time spent on it. That was a big eye-opener for me.”

Despite the NFL’s claims that the Walsh Fellowship program creates and strengthens a pipeline for future non-White coaches, the numbers aren’t backing this claim up. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s (TIDES) latest racial hiring report card shows that only three Black head coaches and two Black general managers began the 2019 NFL regular season. 

McGuire says he’s fully aware of the long odds if he does one day choose to pursue a pro coaching job. “I’m super grateful for that opportunity” of being in the Walsh program, he said.  “I think the connections I’ve built will be one of the biggest things I will get from it.”