A total of 79 African-American coaches took part in this summer's NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program that included participation by all 32 NFL teams.
Three of the NFL's six African-American head coaches and 31 assistant coaches are graduates of the program.
Head coaches Herman Edwards of the New York Jets (fellowship in 1989 with Kansas City), Marvin Lewsi of Cincinnati (San Francisco, 1988; Kansas City, 1991), and Lovie Smith (Arizona, 1988) interned in the program.
Smith says the fellowship is effective in many ways.
"The NFL's Minority Coaching program is very valuable," he says. "Many of the NFL's black head coaches have had the opportunity to participate in the fellowship and now help facilitate it. The program is successful because it is beneficial not just to the participating coaches, but also the teams.
"As a participant in the program, it gives you an opportunity to further your football knowledge and see the game at its highest level. It was my first chance to get an up-close look at the NFL.
"As an organization, you have the opportunity to get a look at talented young coaches and see what they can do. I have met some very impressive individuals over our past two training camps, many of which I expect to be coaching in the NFL in the future."
One of the fellowship interns this summer was former NFL wide receiver Ernie Mills, who played for Pittsburgh, Carolina and Dallas from 1991-99. Mills tutored with the Buffalo Bills under special teams coordinator Bobby April, for whom he played on special teams with the Steelers in 1994-95.
"It's a good chance to get good experience and meet other coaches and learn things from them," says Mills of the fellowship. "I learned quite a bit about the organization behind the scenes. Of course, when you play for years you just go out and play. You don't get the chance to see the hours the coaches go through. It's just a matter of learning different terminologies and how different coaches treat different things."
Mills was a volunteer coach at a Charlotte high school last year. "That's as basic as it gets because you have to do everything -- set up the field, etc.," he says. "I wanted to involve myself with that and move up along the way."
As part of training camp coaching staffs, the fellowship coaches perform duties that mirror those of full-time NFL assistant coaches. They become working members of NFL staffs for the summer and are responsible for specific assignments, including planning and directing workouts, formulating scrimmage and preseason-game strategies, breaking down videotape, and evaluating players.
Nearly 1,100 coaches have worked in the training camps of NFL teams since the program's inception in 1987.
Another graduate of the program -- Rubin Carter, a member of the famed "Orange Crush" defense of the Denver Broncos in the 1970s-'80s -- recently was appointed to his first head-coaching position. Carter, who was in the fellowship with New England in 1992, was appointed head coach of Florida A&M.
He joins another Coaching Fellowship graduate as a college head coach. UCLA's Karl Dorrell interned with the Denver Broncos in 1993 and 1999.
Packers wide receivers coach James Franklin has also participated in the NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program.