Khai Harley, the New Orleans Saints' vice president of football administration, watches as the team runs drills during training camp Aug. 6, 2022, in Metairie.

Be honest: How much do you really know about Khai Harley?

Maybe you’ve got the gist of a few things. You might know him as the New Orleans Saints’ mysterious salary-cap guy — their “guru,” as the parlance goes. But in all likelihood, that’s probably about where your frame of reference ends.

Even if you’re a die-hard, there’s a good chance you know next to nothing about Harley’s background. You might even have a hard time picking him out of a crowd. Maybe he’s just a concept to you, a nerd running a spreadsheet in a dark office at the Saints facility. That’s all cool for Harley, who has purposely turned himself away from the public eye.

“There’s nothing (about me) out there because I don’t put anything out there,” Harley said. “That’s not what I’m here for. I’m not here to say, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ ”

But it’s about time you learned more about him, because if everything goes to plan, his time outside the spotlight might be running out. If there is a thing you should understand about Harley, it is that he is not only a planner, but his plans have a way of coming to fruition.

Technically, Harley is the Saints’ executive vice president of football administration. It is a catch-all title that looks fancy on a business card. Then again, the title doesn’t really catch any of what Harley has been doing all these years.

You might think Harley is the Saints’ cap guru, and that might be true, but it’s only a peephole view. The reality is so much more expansive than crunching numbers. And eventually, perhaps sometime soon, the right person is going to get wise to that and see Harley for what he really is: a future NFL general manager.

“There’s only one other rung on the ladder at this point,” Harley said.


Khai Harley, the Saints Vice President of Football Administration, watches as the team runs drills during training camp in Metairie on Saturday, August 6, 2022. (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The maze runner

Harley has a question for all his fellow puzzlers: Are you a crossword person, or a maze person? He thinks of himself more as the latter. His brain is not wired to fill in gaps, but rather to find the best route from Point A to Point B. This is important, because Harley is in the solution business.

“How do I figure out the path to get here?” Harley said. “That’s more my speed.”

His path, at one point, was leading him toward a lucrative career in finance.

Harley interned at Bloomberg the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Rutgers University, performing so well the company offered him a full-time job at the end of the internship. Harley accepted, juggling the demanding work hours while polishing off the final two years of his accounting degree.

How did a financial analyst wind up working his way into one of the most powerful positions in an NFL front office? It’s because when he was working in finance, Harley didn’t think he’d like what was waiting for him on the other end of that maze.

“I was good at my job; I liked my job; I loved the people I worked with,” Harley said, “but the job itself wasn’t fulfilling.”

He’d always been drawn to the idea of working in sports, but to plan his exit he’d need a starting point and he had no idea where to begin. A friend of his at Bloomberg (who was also an assistant swim coach at Princeton) suggested Harley look into the master's program at Springfield College in Massachusetts.

That is how Harley went from big-money finance to a part-time position with the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League, his first job in sports. He did that while completing his coursework — and, somewhat ironically, considering the lucrative career he'd just left — working as a counselor in the career services office.

Harley laughed: “My parents weren’t too happy.”

But what might’ve been hard to understand from the outside felt natural for Harley. There was no second-guessing. He understood he was taking the first step out of the center of the maze, and he already had his first few turns mapped out.

Harley knew he was behind his peers, who, unlike him, were not starting their masters after five years in the professional workplace. So Harley accelerated his degree program, finishing in 13 months. While balancing his coursework and his part-time jobs, Harley peppered the sports marketplace with his résumé, looking for a bite.

“Anybody who I thought dealt with the salary cap in any sort of way, even remotely, I sent them a résumé,” Harley said. “Through that process, I probably sent out 200-300 résumés every two to three months and got about 30 responses, 28 of which were, like, rejection letters.”

He had to finish his Springfield degree by correspondence, because one of those responses said yes.

Harley scored a summer internship with the Indianapolis Colts. A few weeks after he started, the Philadelphia Eagles reached out to say they wanted him to intern, too. Harley talked them into letting him start after training camp. He finished in Indianapolis and four days later started work in Philly.

Two years after Harley left his job in the finance sector, he held a full-time position with the NFL’s league office. He didn’t know every twist and turn that lay in front of him, but that’s missing the point: Harley was getting to solve problems in his chosen maze.

“That’s the advice I give a lot of young people: Find something you’re passionate about and make a career out of it,” Harley said. “Because if you’re just chasing money, you’re always going to be chasing more. Which means then you never really understand the value of where you’re at, the value of what you accomplished, and you never stop to smell the roses.”

Harley left behind a successful career in 2000. He started a completely new professional journey, and within a year he had a foothold in the industry. It did not matter to Harley that it took him a full seven years to match what he was making when he left Bloomberg.

“I was significantly happier doing what I was doing,” Harley said. “And I had a vision for where it was going to lead.”

Maybe the vision wasn’t so crystallized when he took his first shaky steps down this path, but it’s in sharp focus now. The endpoint of Harley’s maze isn’t just being involved in sports. It spits him out at the very top.


New Orleans Saints VP of football administration, Khai Harley, left, chats with Saints president, Dennis Lauscha, center, and Saints owner Gayle Benson during organized team activities at the Saints practice facility in Metairie on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Evolve, or get left behind

For anybody who needs to hear it, no, dragging the Saints out of salary-cap hell every year is not Harley’s lone responsibility. He does get a kick out of the annual articles proclaiming this will finally be the year the Saints don’t get away with it, though.

“I don’t even know if people change that article from year to year,” Harley said.

Yes, Harley has a deep understanding of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, and yes, through that understanding, Harley has shown a willingness to explore and push the boundaries of the CBA’s gray areas that other people in the industry were either not aware of or were too scared to use. Harley’s confident fearlessness, in that way, is a competitive advantage.

But that’s only one facet of Harley’s job here with the Saints. He’s the lead contract negotiator. His voice carries weight in the scouting department. He has input on the team’s personnel decisions. He has progressively added skills and experience to his toolbox that he now plays an integral part in every facet of the team’s front office operation.

Harley had to earn trust. When he arrived in New Orleans in 2008, his role was narrow in scope — his background in finance made that a natural foot in the door. But Harley knew he’d never be taken seriously for anything beyond the money side of things if he didn’t expand his skill set. So the years passed in New Orleans, and Harley earned opportunities to broaden his horizons.

“I’d love to be a GM one day, but how do I get there?” Harley said. “Whatever your goals and aspirations are, you have to have a vision of how to get there.

“My vision that I projected was, OK, let’s deal with what I know and let’s learn what I don’t. Take each day, each opportunity to get better, but never lose sight of what your bailiwick is. Never lose sight of what got you here, because nine times out of 10, that’ll help keep you there. But you can’t be stagnant, either.”

The business is ever-evolving. The people with ambition, like Harley, better be constantly evolving along with it. There are some, he says, who are comfortable where they are, and that is OK. You utilize their talent as part of the team structure.

But Harley was never going to be a person who was satisfied just being the cap guy.

“When you aspire for more and you’re in a position to learn more, you go do it,” Harley said. “You go do it.”


Coaches Mickey Loomis, Dennis Allen, Michael Parenton and Khai Harley watch as player do drills during the New Orleans Saints Rookie Minicamp at the Saints Practice Facility in Metairie, La., Saturday, May 14, 2022. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Mirror image

Every time Harley walks into his office, he is reminded of why he walked away from a life that was not fulfilling him.

Perched above a shelf behind his desk are two framed black and white photographs. One is a closeup image of a man in a leather aviator helmet, his chin turned up and proud, his gaze toward the sky. The other features a group of similarly dressed young men, seated in formation above the words “Tuskegee Airmen.”

The man in the solo photograph is Frederick H. Moore Jr., Harley’s maternal grandfather. The group photo features the men who comprised the first class of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, of which Moore was a part. They were the first Black men in history to be trained to fly by the U.S. armed forces.

When he was growing up in Somerville, New Jersey, Harley’s family would tell him how much he reminded them of his grandfather. They looked alike. They sounded alike. They walked alike.

Harley never got to revel in that sameness in person. He was born premature, and spent much of the first year of his life in the hospital. At roughly the same time, his grandfather was also hospitalized. Frederick Moore Jr. died before Harley came home.

The photos represent something deeper than a familial connection. There is a weight of responsibility that comes with them.

Harley is a Black man in an industry that has been forced to reconcile with its inability — or, some might say, refusal — to elevate its biggest population to its most prominent positions.

Roughly 70% of the NFL’s player population is Black, but minorities hold only 12 of the 64 head coach and general manager positions. Earlier this year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly sent a memo to all 32 clubs, saying the league must acknowledge that their results in hiring minority candidates as head coaches "have been unacceptable."

Harley has a vision for where he wants to be, but if the door is closed when he gets there, well then what?

Well, then he follows the lead of his family before him.

His grandfather was a Black man living in a country that refused to even allow him to train with white peers. This was the early 1940s in America. The U.S. armed forces were still segregated. The Tuskegee Airmen trained in the Jim Crow South, and discrimination was an everyday fact of life.

From everything Harley has been able to gather about a man he never met, Moore was fearlessly outspoken about the inequity he faced as a Black man who volunteered to fight a war. Predictably, that made life harder on him.

When he was training, Moore’s instructors tried everything they could to get him to wash out of flight school. Harley’s grandfather refused to relent, making it to the final week of the training program on track to graduate. It was about that time when a family emergency back home required Moore’s presence.

“They used him going back home for that as the reason to wash him out,” Harley said. “He went through all the training and everything else and washed out the week before graduation. All for being outspoken, the conditions of the training and equality and so forth.”

Moore got that tenacity from somewhere, too. Maybe it was from his own father, Frederick H. Moore Sr. — Harley’s great-grandfather — who was the first Black student to attend and graduate from Harley’s alma mater, Somerville High School.

What a waste it would be, then, for Harley’s ambition to aim for anything below the very top.

Harley has the sense of purpose.

He has the talent.

He has the experience.

He has the track record.

He has the vision, and, most important, he’s demonstrated he has the determination and the patience to see it through.

It’s past time you got to know who Khai Harley is, because soon enough, someone who has the power to make those big, life-affirming decisions will, too.

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