Raj Kudchadkar, left, presents the Coach of the Year Award to Willie Simmons at the NCMFC’s 3rd Annual Convention in 2024. Simmons, formerly Head Football Coach at Florida A&M University, just accepted a position as Running Backs Coach at Duke University. (Photo: Elite Photography Group.)

The National Football League has a disparity issue, despite what viewers see on the field. Nearly 54% of players and 37% of assistant coaches are African American, but only six of the 32 teams have African American head coaches. People of color claim a majority share of ownership in only two franchises.

The National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches in Fulton, established in 2020, is focusing on a mission of education, training and advocacy to increase opportunity for minorities in American football’s leadership ranks.

“I launched the coalition because football needed greater diversity and inclusion at the leadership level,” said Michael Locksley, the NCMFC’s president and founder, and head football coach for the University of Maryland. “Our organization works hard to prepare, promote and produce the next generation of minority coaches and executives coming up through the ranks.”

Raj Kudchadkar, a former president and CEO of the Central Maryland Chamber, joined the NCMFC as its executive director shortly after it launched, with a resume that ticked all of the boxes Locksley was looking for: c (6) nonprofit experience, a background in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and knowing the ins and outs of football.

Kudchadkar had ample experience as a civil rights attorney, deputy director of Howard County’s Department of Planning Zoning, and as executive director of the Base Business Initiative, where he connected minority-owned businesses with contracting opportunities at Fort Meade.

“We are linear and full spectrum all the way from youth up to the pros,” Kudchadkar said. “We also work with the Canadian Football League and the United Football League, and we’ve advertised job opportunities in the UK.”

Positive outcomes

One way the NCMFC fosters experience in the lower ranks is by embedding high school coaches with each UFL team every year to attend orientation and camps, home games, and playoff games to obtain real-world experience they otherwise wouldn’t receive.

“We’re giving them leadership development training, clinics to talk about X’s and O’s, networking events, and a coaching fellowship, in addition to job boards and an annual convention,” Kudchadkar added.

The NCMFC’s academy also pairs up-and-coming coaches with top athletic directors in college football to build relationships that enable the directors to vouch for these coaches with colleagues who have openings at their schools.

The NCMFC’s annual convention started with 150 coaches attending virtually during the pandemic and now draws nearly 550 from all parts of the country to an in-person convention.

Each level of football has unique challenges, Kudchadkar has learned. Power brokers and decision makers are more dispersed at the college level, he said, while decisions in the NFL are more concentrated among owners, the general manager and sometimes the team president.

Although it might be harder to break into the NFL’s inner circle, the NCMFC is scoring positive outcomes.

“We had the highest level of minority hires in NFL history this year,” Kudchadkar reflected.

The NCMFC backs up its candidates by working with SportSource Analytics to generate raw numbers and comparisons.

“We never advocate that someone hire a specific coach, we’re only looking to expand and diversify the applicant pool,” Kudchadkar said. “Teams give us the major requirements they are looking for, and we provide an analytic profile of coaches in our academy that fit their needs.”

The model’s success was borne out in the previous three hiring cycles, he said, with every Black head coach hired at the Football Bowl Subdivision level having come through the NCMFC program, except Deion Sanders.

Sharing experience

The NFL’s Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and jobs in senior football operations.

“It was groundbreaking 20 years ago, and it was enforced when it was implemented,” Kudchadkar said, but that’s no longer the case, reinforcing the need for a program like the NCMFC. 

For that reason, Locksley intentionally staffed his Board of Directors with members who have demonstrated coaching and managing success. They include Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin; Washington Commanders vice president of player development Doug Williams; former Alabama head coach Nick Saban; and Desiree Reed-Francois, director of athletics for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, among other well-known names.

The NCMFC’s frequent online showcases provide an opportunity for high profile coaches to talk about their experience with lower level coaches.

“We give grants to coaches for safety equipment and field upgrades that under-resourced schools can’t afford,” Kudchadkar said, as well as scholarships for school coaches working as volunteers or under a stipend. “We’re looking for companies that want to sponsor these grants and scholarships.”

Other sports have taken notice and now run similar programs, including a wrestling program and the tennis program at Georgia Tech.

“I’m proud that we’re a Maryland company with a lot of Maryland support,” Kudchadkar said, acknowledging Under Armour as one of the NCMFC’s biggest partners. “Our trajectory is great and we’ve grown to more than 1,500 members in just over three years. We’re grateful to have a very active interactive membership platform that allows our members to engage with each other, talk about other opportunities and network to help each other achieve more success.”