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Sam Acho: Roger That

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Background: GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 26: Outside linebacker Sam Acho #94 of the Arizona Cardinals runs off the field following the NFL game against the Philadelphia Eagles at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 26, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 24-20.

After this year’s NFL Draft we wrote about the obvious disparity of color with regard to NFL owners, head coaches and GMs, in a league that, player-wise is over 70% African-American. We then engaged in a couple of meaningful discussions in threads about the failure of the NFL’s Rooney Rule.

Therefore, what a privilege it was this morning to discover on Twitter the most brilliant essay that this writer’s eyes have ever read about the Rooney Rule. It was written and posted by former Arizona Cardinal, Sam Acho.

Sam Acho is one exceptionally smart man. The University of Texas alum is fluent in three languages: English, Spanish and Igbo. While a senior at Texas, Acho was named as one of the “20 smartest athletes in sports” by the Sporting News. During his four years with the with the Cardinals (2011—2014), Acho earned an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management (Glendale, Arizona).

Then, while with the Bears, in 2016, Sam and his brother Emmanuel traveled to Nigeria to engage in a medial mission called “Operation Hope” which was sponsored by the Living Hope Christian Ministries. Sam was appointed the Bears’ NFLPA rep in 2018 where he was promoted to Vice President of the NFLPA’s Executive Committee. Acho has been lauded by his peers and the NFLPA executives for his astute and conscientious leadership.

Feast your eyes on this beautifully written, superbly comprehensive study (“Upstairs and Downstairs”) of the Rooney Rule and take a close look at Sam Acho’s suggestions as to how the NFL should address the disparity of “Upstairs” leadership in the NFL as it pertains to race:

I had mentioned Sam Acho previously in one of the Rooney Rule articles because I knew that he scoffed at the notion of the NFL offering draft pick incentives to teams who hire GMs and head coaches of color. Sam expounds on that opinion in this article, as he provides a 4 Step Improvement Plan which involves: (1) Diversity Training; (2) A Symposium for Minority Candidates; (3) A Pipeline to Quality Control Positions; (4) Opportunities to Listen.

One of the most salient segments of Acho’s essay was the anecdote he told about the time he was with the Cardinals and during a season-ending exit meeting (in which Acho was hoping to receive feedback about what he needed to do to keep improving his craft), his assistant coach asked him to “do me a favor” by “putting in a good word for me” with regard to a promotion.

Acho said that it put him in an awkward position because he didn’t think the assistant coach was very good and that when he asked another coach for advice, the other coach told him that his recommendation was a moot point because the assistant coach was getting the job.

While Acho didn’t reveal who the coach was—-we have a very good idea who that coach was. Just as we know of Bruce Arians’ policy of croneyism when it came to hiring coordinators and assistant coaches—-and how that contributed to the team’s demise following the most successful three year run in Arizona Cardinals’ history.

If the linebacker coach I am thinking is correct—-it is the same assistant coach who walked right past O’Brien Schofield on the first day of practice after Schofield had been notified on the field that he was being cut—-and this assistant coach didn't say one word to Schofield.

It was the same coach whom the Cardinals defensive players were complaining about after their 49-15 loss to the Panthers—-saying that the coach put in a game plan for the Panthers that they had never tried before.

To make matters even more dubious, after this assistant coach was promoted to DC, the Cardinals made little effort to re-sign Sam Acho who was an unrestricted free agent. Acho had ended his 4th season with the Cardinals on a high note, recording 7 tackles and one forced fumble in the team’s 27-16 playoff loss to the Panthers.

Sam Acho, during his free agency, in which the Cardinals basically showed their 2011 4th round draft pick the door, eventually had to settle on a one year $840K contract with the Bears. Yet—-in his last day as a Cardinal, Acho was asked to “put in a good word” for the assistant coach who, as it turned out, had zero interest in re-signing him?

It is incidents like these that can demoralize a football team—-when under-qualified coaches who are cronies of the head coach get promoted, while hard-working players are asked to do them favors, but loyalty doesn’t work both ways.

Another stunning moment in the essay was when Acho related how a minority candidate for GM was told in his interview with a team that he was the most qualified candidate they had interviewed—-alas, only to learn that the job had been already been promised to another candidate.

As for Sam Acho’s 4th step toward improvement—-the “Opportunities To Listen” step—-we learned yesterday that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has decided to listen to the players instead of kow-towing to a command from the president that all NFL players must stand for the national anthem.

To be perfectly candid, for years I have never been a Roger Goodell fan—-but I have to say that his decision to go ahead with the NFL Draft (which I think was the most enjoyable draft I have ever watched) and now his heartfelt apology for being wrong in “not listening to black players earlier” is stunning step toward productive change:

In both cases—-going ahead with the draft and in deciding to side with black players on how they want to express themselves during the national anthem—-there is a manifestation of effective and strong leadership.

While there are other improvements that Roger Goodell can make, these key decisions provide good reasons for hope. And for that, the commissioner has earned my respect and appreciation to the point where I no longer want to boo the man. In fact, quite the opposite.

The point is—-people can change—-especially those who listen, as Sam Acho implores everyone in the NFL to do—-and now echoed resoundingly by the commissioner.

Right now, as MLB is acting like a bunch of spoiled, overpaid brats on both sides of the table and the NBA has excluded 8 of its teams in its plan to resume play in July—-the NFL is standing the tallest in all of professional sports right now—-which is such an encouraging sign for the league that has emerged over the past couple of decades as America’s national pastime.

A special thanks to Sam Acho for his conscientious diligence in his assiduous efforts to usher forth a new and exciting era of leadership in the NFL.