The Vikings are hosting 12 coaches this week in a diversity summit spearheaded by assistant head coach Mike Pettine.
The coaches, 11 men of color and one woman chosen mostly from the college ranks through a process that included portfolios and Zoom interviews, arrived at TCO Performance Center on Wednesday for the first of a three-day program in which they'll gain exposure to NFL life. They'll sit in on meetings between Vikings coaches, participate in mock interviews and receive feedback.
Pettine, the 55-year-old white veteran coach, said he was motivated by the NFL's lack of diversity in coordinator and head coaching ranks, and is targeting the issue from the ground floor.
"The real basic premise of the program is really to feed the candidate pool for the NFL from the bottom up," Pettine said. "I don't think there's enough emphasis placed on the entry-level jobs."
Pettine and Vikings staffers pinpointed lower-level college assistants, including three defensive analysts, two graduate assistants and two quality control coaches, who could be candidates for entry-level NFL jobs. "Skyrocketing" salaries of college position coaches, Pettine said, often keeps mid-level college assistants from taking entry-level NFL jobs.
He hopes the first-year program grows in its relationships with league diversity efforts, like the Fritz Pollard Alliance.
"Just to maintain a list of candidates," Pettine said. "I also think there needs to be an emphasis on some of the positions where you feel like the league might be a little bit light on diverse candidates: offensive line, quarterback. There were a lot of defensive candidates to choose from, but I do think moving forward there will be more of an emphasis placed on that."
In March, the NFL mandated teams must hire a minority assistant coach on offense, where coaches of color are more underrepresented than on the defensive side. The Vikings have three Black offensive coaches: receivers coach Keenan McCardell, assistant quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson and running backs coach Curtis Modkins, whose brother, Jeremy, the TCU cornerbacks coach, is part of the Vikings' coaching summit this week.
"It's very important, especially in this league that we play in, we're a predominantly African American, minority league," Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "It's important to have that representation as far as the coaching staff as well."
What's in a number?
Running back Dalvin Cook is now wearing No. 4 — his old number at Florida St. — thanks to league rules relaxing which positions can wear single digits. Running back Alexander Mattison (No. 2), cornerback Cameron Dantzler (No. 3) and rookie safety Lewis Cine (No. 6) have joined him in wearing single digits. But Cook still found it odd to see his old number, 33, running around on the back of rookie linebacker Brian Asamoah.
"It was kind of weird when I seen him in rookie minicamp," Cook said. "I kind of had to double take, like, 'Hold up — wait.' That number means a lot to me. That's the number I got my opportunity to prove myself in the NFL."
Cook has another number in mind as he's trying to play every regular season game for the first time in his sixth NFL season.
"Things I'm doing that's a little different to get my body ready to go, it's a lot of prevention stuff," he said. "I'm just trying to be available for 17 games and give us an opportunity."
Irv Smith inching forward in recovery
Tight end Irv Smith Jr. will be "a major part of what we do," coach Kevin O'Connell said Wednesday, a day after Smith was in and out of practice while still rehabbing a knee injury that kept him out of last season.
Smith, entering a contract year, aligned all over the formations while running routes during full-team drills. But coaches still aren't pushing him at full speed. He was held out of passing drills during Tuesday's practice open to reporters.
"He's little by little every single day doing more and more," O'Connell said. "Hopefully we'll be able to get him into some of those competitive 7-on-7 [drills] in the not-too-distant future."