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NWSL commissioner pleased to see women coaches, admits racial diversity needed, too

Of note as Angel City FC seeks first head coach.

Portland Thorns FC v North Carolina Courage

Angel City FC won’t hit the field until the spring of 2022, but with the expectation the team will be announcing their first head coach any time now, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird spoke to reporters on Wednesday about a variety of topics, including the pool of coaching candidates in the league.

An increased amount of turnover among head coaches in the league has taken place this season, with four clubs changing their managers during the campaign, most recently the Washington Spirit moving on from Richie Burke on Tuesday. The Spirit initially said it was for health reasons before multiple allegations emerged that Burke engaged in physical and verbal misconduct and bullied players, leading to the club and league to suspend him pending an investigation.

While the reasons for each of the coaching departures this season are myriad, with those vacancies midseason, along with Angel City and San Diego hiring coaches this year, attention turns to just who is being hired.

The 10-team league this season started with just one woman, Gotham FC’s Freya Coombe, in charge, although two more women have since slotted in for the vacancies among active teams, in Laura Harvey and Becky Burleigh. Add Casey Stoney being hired by San Diego, and the number of women coaches is rising.

This is certainly important to Angel City FC supporters, who appeared to scupper the club’s plans of hiring a man as the first head coach earlier this summer, after complaining the organization’s commitment to giving women opportunities was not coming through in the coaching ranks. The club did not publicly acknowledge they changed course as a result of fan uproar, but did publicly state their search for a head coach is ongoing.

Baird understandably touted the sudden increase in women serving as head coaches in the NWSL when talking to reporters.

“I’m going to include women coaches as part of a diverse coaching group, that’s really important and I’m really thrilled to see Casey and Laura join Freya in our league, so we definitely are increasing the gender diversity. Becky’s interim [coach] right now with Orlando, but who knows,” Baird said.

But even with the gender profile of coaches in the league becoming more representative of the player pool, racial and ethnic diversity is still sorely lacking, something Baird acknowledges when confirming the NWSL has a “Rooney rule” of its own, which apparently mandates teams interview diverse coaching candidates during the hiring process.

“What I do think is the diversity in terms of people of color has to be something that we make a dedicated increase to. I think, by hiring an additional technical director, we are absolutely going to be well served because that person is going to help find the talent, make sure that we have pipelines of talent that in addition to all the knowledge and the expertise that the teams had that, if there’s a compendium of resources we have that, all important,” Baird explained.

Baird said the league is also doing a formal study with an organization called TIDES to understand hiring practices, demographics of employees in the league and teams, and make steps to address issues from there.

“I think one of the most important initiatives that we’ve done is we’ve undertaken a research project or diversity measurement project, is the most accurate way to describe it, with an organization called TIDES that does diversity, measurement, and again it’s an independent third party. I’ve worked with Richard before in other leagues, and he’s doing that baseline analysis right now, of all the staffing including coaching at the teams, and our intention is to share that with our owners, with the staffs and make significant progress in terms of people of color in our league.”

Amid more than one exit of a head coach for alleged misconduct in the past year, and the league and society overall going through a reckoning of sorts regarding race and treatment of people of color, Baird acknowledges the work from the league’s side of things is ongoing.

“And we’re not there yet, we have more work to do,” she said.

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