If Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero becomes a head coach or executive director of football operations Kelly Kleine becomes the NFL’s first female general manager, they may point to this past week’s inaugural Coach and Front Office Accelerator as an important launching point.
Held over two days at the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta, more than 60 diverse head coach and general manager candidates attended development sessions, listened to speakers and, most notably, met with team owners.
The goal: Develop a more diverse hiring pipeline. This year, the NFL has five minority head coaches and general managers apiece.
“The league is trying to make a change and it was a really great event,” Kleine said in a phone interview with The Post. “It was really, really good for all of us (participants) to meet each other, too. You got to meet the owners and know them personally, but it was huge for potential head coaches and GMs just to get to know each other because these are the people hopefully getting hired eventually and boom, you have connections. ”
Among the main speakers were owners Jerry Jones (Dallas), Robert Kraft (New England), Clark Hunt (Kansas City) and Art Rooney II (Pittsburgh), Indianapolis coach Frank Reich, Atlanta president / CEO Rich McKay and from outside the NFL, Marvin Ellison, the chairman, president and CEO of Lowe’s.
Breakout sessions included meetings with the league’s Management Council (salary cap) and the Diversity Advisory Committee and workshop-type discussions on how to handle hypothetical situations. All the while, participants could introduce themselves to owners and vice versa.
“I really think it’s a win-win because I think everybody is going to get better from this,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said on the NFL Network.
Evero, 41, has worked in the NFL every year except one since 2007, rising from quality control coach with Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Green Bay to safeties coach with the Los Angeles Rams and now coordinator with the Broncos.
Evero was one of 14 coordinators (offense, defense and special teams) in Atlanta.
“In your mind as a football coach, you get caught up in the scheme and X’s and O’s and player evaluations and things of that nature,” he said in a phone interview. “(The seminar) was a good awakening in terms of, if you want to take that next step and be in a leadership position of a head coach or GM, how many other things ownership is looking at on the business side, fan engagement, dealing with the media. It was very eye-opening. ”
Evero attended the seminar Monday and said the emphasis was on specific situations.
“They got us into groups with other people in the program and we talked through complex issues that might come across the desk of a head coach or GM, like a player gets into trouble or a player holds out, things where there aren’t necessarily black-and-white answers and you have to live in the gray and make a decision when there is no right or wrong answer, ”Evero said.
Evero said there was a question-and-answer session with Hunt, Rooney and Kraft and Monday wrapped up with a cocktail hour.
“That was a free-flowing deal where we got to engage with the owners and tell our story and listen to them,” Evero said. “That was good.”
Two people stood out to Evero: Kim Pegula, who owns the Buffalo Bills with her husband, Terry, and Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who interviewed for the Broncos’ head-coaching post in January.
“(Pegula) was cool because her daughter (Jessica) is a tennis player who was at the French Open so we talked about the athletics side and what it means to her family from a different sport,” Evero said. “Coach Glenn, I have a lot of close contacts with him, but had never met him so it was good to meet him after hearing all of the impressive stories. He’s a very, very impressive man. “
During Evero’s career, he has worked for head coaches Jon Gruden, Jim Harbaugh, Mike McCarthy and Sean McVay. Evero said the trip to Atlanta confirmed many things he has learned from those coaches.
“I’ve been very blessed to be with some outstanding head coaches and great mentors and the things that show up is having an identity, having a process, having a vision of how to handle things and not being reactionary,” said Evero, who also spent time with former Broncos coach Vance Joseph (now the defensive coordinator in Arizona) and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. “A lot of those things we were educated on and we talked about and discussed, I’ve witnessed in my coaching life.”
A day after returning from Atlanta, Kleine’s shuffling of papers could be heard over the phone.
“I have a whole list of things I want to do now – 30 things that I can improve on and grow on and learn more about,” said Kleine, whose title includes special assistant to general manager George Paton.
The list included:
Spend two hours with vice president of football administration Rich Hurtado, who manages the Broncos’ salary cap.
Create a development program for the scouts.
Do a better job of mentoring others.
Devise ways to motivate others and know what drives them.
And know everybody’s name in the Broncos’ facility.
“That was a huge one,” Kleine said. ‘Frank Reich said,’ If I walk down the hall and say hi to someone and think, ‘What’s their name?’ I go back to my office, look them up immediately and I tell it to myself five times because you have no idea how important it is to people. ‘ Little things like that are so important. ”
During his NFL career, Kleine has worked for general manager Rick Spielman in Minnesota and Paton with the Broncos, gradually earning more and more responsibility with each promotion. The seminar confirmed she has observed and picked up on the right things… and still has room for growth.
“I realized how much more there is to learn because working with George, he does everything so well and is calm, cool and collected and you forget about the things he has to do,” she said.
Kleine visited with owners Amy Adams Strunk (Tennessee), Jeffrey Lurie (Philadelphia) and David Tepper (Carolina), among others. A highlight for Kleine was connecting with Strunk and Dee Haslam, who owns the Cleveland Browns with her husband, Jimmy.
“That was incredible,” Kleine said of meeting female owners. “I look up to them. They’re such (impressive) women. Very, very cool. Kind of surreal. ”
Kleine said a major talking point from owners was being “your authentic self.”
“You can’t be somebody you’re not and when they get to know you, they want to hire you because you’re not trying to be somebody else,” she said.
Kleine hopes to attend next year’s seminar to share her story and vision with the owners she didn’t get to meet last week. And judging by the league-wide praise for the event, it will be a fixture on the league’s calendar.
“The feedback has been incredibly positive from both the participants and the clubs,” Goodell said on the NFL Network. “I think everyone has an opportunity to get to know one another, they’ve had an opportunity to get new information and help them as far as managing their careers.”