Behind the Line of Scrimmage: Inside the Front Office of the NFL
Photo Courtesy of michaelhuyghue.com
Author: Michael Huyghue
Michael Huyghue (pronounced "HEWG") is widely regarded as one of the most prominent figures in the professional sports industry having a career that spans over 30 years. Huyghue was twice named to the Sports Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Sports Executives. Huyghue has been a pioneer in the industry, paving the way for many other African Americans who followed in his footsteps.
Most recently, Huyghue was the Commissioner of the United Football League, comprised primarily of young National Football League players and former NFL Head Coaches. Huyghue founded and directed the UFL raising over two hundred million dollars in seed money. The UFL operated for four nationally televised seasons, competing directly against the NFL. The UFL saw limited viewership but over 150 of its players and dozens of its coaches found full-time positions in the NFL.
In 2001, Huyghue launched his own highly successful Sports and Entertainment Agency, Axcess Sports & Entertainment. Axcess represented professional athletes, Olympic athletes, and entertainers across all team and professional sports. Huyghue has partnered with or represented many prominent celebrities and athletes like Magic Johnson, Oscar De La Hoya, Snoop Dogg, Billy Butler, Fred Funk, Vince Wilfork, and other NFL Pro Bowl and Heisman Trophy winners.
In 1994, Huyghue was selected to run football operations for the NFL start-up Jacksonville Jaguars. Under the leadership of Huyghue and then Head Coach Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars collected more wins in their first five seasons than any other new franchise in the history of the NFL, including a remarkable two AFC Championship game appearances.
Huyghue gained widespread prominence in 1991 as the youngest and one of the first black general managers in professional football with the NFL’s World League of American Football (Birmingham Fire). He went on to hold the most senior position in the league reporting directly to a committee of NFL owners. Huyghue lead operations for the league working overseas in Spain and Germany and became fluent in both languages." (Source: www.michaelhuyghue.com)
- You said at eight years old you wanted to be the Commissioner of the NFL… What sparked that ambition?
I was fascinated with the aura of responsibility that the Commissioner of the NFL had. He was the “boss” I surmised over the players, coaches, and the owners. He was the big boss with his name on the actual football. I dreamed early on of one day having my name on that Wilson football and becoming Commissioner of the NFL.
- What was your upbringing like and how did that affect your perspective in dealing with barriers and challenges?
I grew up as one of the very few blacks in my suburban neighborhood in Connecticut. I understood hate and bigotry from an early age. It made me keenly aware that white people thought differently of and about me irrespective of what I had actually done in my life. So I became competitive. I yearned to beat “them” at their own game. In the aspects of their life that they valued I wanted to always be better than them. That is what motivated me.
- Do you believe we will ever see an African American Commissioner of the NFL?
I think former President Barack Obama would have a difficult time becoming Commissioner of the NFL only because it is an institution of billionaire NFL owners who typically do not have to succumb to the pressures society often places on other prominent businesses. The same is true perhaps in Silicon Valley where the tech industry has simply turned a deaf ear to the noise about diversity in their companies. If there is ever a Black Commissioner in the NFL it will only be because the owners came to know, trust and respect that person which currently seems rather far-fetched. There are very few African Americans serving as a right hand to these wealthy owners.
- If you were the Commissioner of the NFL for one year what policies would you implement?
I would consider changing the structure of the league whereby the President of the NFL would serve as its CEO and the Commissioner would be employed by the owners and the players and be a true independent steward of the game. I think the collective bargaining process would be more efficient and the game as a whole would improve.
5. Seeing that there are affluent African Americans why do you believe we still have not seen a Majority Owner of an NFL Team who is African American?
Because becoming a member of the NFL is not based solely on financial resources. The NFL is among the most exclusive private clubs in the country similar to the way Augusta was just a few years back and still in large part today. Membership requires qualifications that many wealthy black business leaders will never achieve, to the satisfaction of the majority of NFL owners. In many ways, they live in an entirely different world than most anyone else.
6. If you could own any football team in the league which one would you run?
It would either be the New York Giants or the Dallas Cowboys as both teams are so steeply entrenched in the original fabric of the NFL. They are also located in major markets and my impact would potentially resonate across the entire country as the owner of one of these two organizations.
7. What is your take on the Colin Kaepernick situation? Do you believe he will ever get a chance to play in the NFL again?
I think after the collusion case settles that one team will likely offer a contract for minimum salary to Kaepernick. I don’t think he would, nor should he agree to play again for the base minimum salary. He was already a $12 million dollars a year QB.
So to pay him $500,000 to return (while real money in normal people's minds) is well below his worth. He would likely reject such an offer and the NFL could say we offered him a job and he turned it down.
- Seeing that President Trump used to Sued the NFL back when he was an owner in the USFL, do you believe that played a major role in his involvement with the Kaepernick situation?
I think President Trump is someone who holds grudges when he feels he has been mistreated. In this case, I believe he still feels he has an ax to grind with the NFL owners who fought hard to keep him out of the NFL. Joining the Kaepernick bandwagon served several purposes for him in reaching his base and sticking it to the NFL.
9. What were the biggest changes you saw in the NFL over the 30 plus years you worked in the front office?
The large increase in the number of black front office people in positions like assistant coaches, scouting, personnel, and other front-office positions. When I first arrived I was the only one and there were just a sprinkled hand few in the other positions. Regrettably, though most of that growth is in non-decision making capacities. In sum, more color but little to no more authority.
- How effective has the “Rooney Rule” been in helping African American Coaches and Executives break ground and how would you improve it so even more progress is made?
Any time you get a chance to interview for an advanced position, even if the owner is not fully committed to the process you gain some benefit. There are some coaches who have already benefited from the Rooney Rule. I guess real change will occur when you don’t have to hold a gun to an owner’s head to compel a diverse interview process (even for one that at times is nothing more than a ruse).
- What was your writing process like for this book?
In many ways writing the book was cathartic and added closure to many of the interactions and dealings I was involved in during my 30-year career. I found “my voice” and was able, I believe, to engage the reader in a way that made my story relevant and relatable.
- What’s the best advice you have for getting over writer’s block?
I think you have to be prepared to allow the craft of writing to occur when it presents itself. Accordingly, if thoughts come to you about a chapter at midnight it’s best to get up then and flush out the work. I think creative energy beats to its own drum and you need to pay attention to its timing and not your own.
- What’s the best book you have read in 2018?
Justice Sonya Sotomayor recently penned a book entitled “My Beloved World” which chronicles her childhood with diabetes and being poor to rising up to become a Supreme Court Justice. It is an inspiring and hopeful story that everyone should read.
- Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
I am already working on a second book and have about three chapters completed. Hope to release it by end of next year. No hints yet.
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