Morgan State’s Tyrone Wheatley is one of four football coaches from Historically Black College and Universities who will participate in the 73rd annual Senior Bowl as part of a new minority coaching fellowship program.
The Senior Bowl, which is set to take place Feb. 5 in Mobile, Alabama, will include some of the nation’s top seniors who will be coached by staff members from the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. The college football all-star game is a crucial part of the NFL draft process, having produced more than 55 players that went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In a change to this year’s format, head coaches Robert Saleh and Dan Campbell will serve in an advisory role while having assistants hold leadership roles — head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator — for the week of practices and the game.
Wheatley, Virginia State head coach Reggie Barlow, South Carolina State defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jonathan Saxon and Jackson State offensive coordinator/tight ends coach T.C. Taylor are the four HBCU coaches selected to participate. Wheatley, a former star running back at Michigan and a 10-year NFL veteran, has coached Morgan State for two seasons after being hired in 2019, leading the Bears to a 5-18 overall record.
The goal of the new minority coaching fellowship program is to connect HBCU coaches with NFL decision-makers to help facilitate future career opportunities while also giving the rest of the league’s teams references for information about Senior Bowl participants.
“This is an excellent opportunity for HBCU coaches to come alongside their NFL colleagues to learn, to share and create relationships, both professionally and personally,” Troy Vincent, executive vice president of NFL Football Operations, said in a statement. “The choice of inclusion is part of the ongoing efforts to promote trust, develop skills and provide a foundation for future mobility.”
The NFL has taken several steps to improve diversity among leadership positions, yet Mike Tomlin is the only Black head coach after Brian Flores and David Culley were fired last week. The work includes adjusting the anti-tampering policy, expanding the Rooney Rule, incorporating virtual interviews and providing owners a database with 5,177 candidates — of which 3,798 self-identified as minorities.
Since the Rooney Rule was instituted in 2003, only 27 of 127 head-coaching vacancies (21%) have been filled by minorities in a league where 70% of the players are Black.
“When people are tuned into our game, the head coach, the quarterback and the referee have the cameras on them,” Vincent recently told the Associated Press. “We have to have proper representation in each of those areas. The general public expects that and we expect that as well.”
The Senior Bowl rosters will include several top draft prospects, including potential first-round quarterbacks such as North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Nevada’s Carson Strong. The game, which will be televised by the NFL Network, features two 55-man rosters that are built by a team of regional scouts under the direction of executive director Jim Nagy.
The NFL will also hold the inaugural HBCU combine Jan. 28-29 at the University of South Alabama. The event will be similar to the NFL combine with interviews and on-field and medical evaluations and will feature select players from four HBCU conferences — the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — and other HBCU institutions.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.