NFL rule on hir­ing in need of re­pair

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - Ann Kil­lion is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist. Email: akil­lion@sfchron­i­ Twitter: @annkil­lion

Is the Rooney Rule flawed? Yes. Does that mean it should be aban­doned? No. The Raiders are likely to be fined by the NFL for not ad­her­ing to the Rooney Rule, which re­quires that NFL teams in­ter­view at least one mi­nor­ity can­di­date for head coach­ing va­can­cies.

Maybe Mark Davis thought he would get a pass be­cause his gen­eral man­ager is African Amer­i­can. Or be­cause his or­ga­ni­za­tion, led by his father, was a league pi­o­neer when it came to hir­ing mi­nori­ties and women.

Maybe Davis, throw­ing money around by the fist­ful these

days, just didn’t care what it took to land his dream can­di­date. Pay off the re­main­der of Jack Del Rio’s con­tract? Of­fer Jon Gru­den the sun and the stars? Pay a hefty fine to the NFL? Fine, as long as he got his guy.

Though gen­eral man­ager Reg­gie McKenzie said he had in­ter­viewed two black can­di­dates, Tee Martin and Bobby John­son, the timeline doesn’t quite add up. Those per­func­tory dis­cus­sions ap­pear to be the very def­i­ni­tion of sham in­ter­views, which are the pri­mary con­cern of crit­ics of the Rooney Rule.

Davis courted Gru­den for six years, spent part of the week in Florida in early Novem­ber gaug­ing his in­ter­est, and by Christ­mas Eve in Philadel­phia — a full week be­fore he fired Del Rio — had an agree­ment in place. If Gru­den hadn’t al­ready agreed to take the job, there would have been no job open­ing. Del Rio would have stayed in place.

Those who op­pose the Rooney Rule fault it for cre­at­ing a sys­tem where mi­nor­ity can­di­dates are used as pawns, sim­ply to ful­fill re­quire­ments. They be­lieve it cre­ates a hu­mil­i­at­ing, pa­tron­iz­ing sit­u­a­tion where can­di­dates are asked to pre­pare and com­mit time and ef­fort to a process when they don’t have any real chance of get­ting the job. If a can­di­date re­fuses to go through with the dance, that likely would be held against him down the road.

Crit­ics dis­agree that get­ting “in­ter­view ex­pe­ri­ence” is a nec­es­sary part of the prepa­ra­tion and point to young can­di­dates such as Sean McVay or Kyle Shana­han or Josh McDaniels, back be­fore he got the job in Denver, as ex­am­ples of white can­di­dates who didn’t have to go through a series of sham in­ter­views to be pre­pared for a head coach­ing job.

The rule has helped in­crease the num­ber of mi­nor­ity head coaches. At the time the rule was im­ple­mented in 2003, there were two mi­nor­ity head coaches in the league, Tony Dungy and Herm Edwards.

There are cur­rently seven, with four jobs open. Only one is in the play­offs: Pitts­burgh’s Mike Tom­lin was a di­rect ben­e­fi­ciary of the Rooney Rule, hired by the man for whom the rule was named. Dan Rooney, who died last year, as Steel­ers owner headed the league’s com­mit­tee on di­ver­sity and spear­headed the rule when it was clear that mi­nori­ties were be­ing shut out of hir­ing.

In the modern his­tory of the league, there have been 18 African Amer­i­can head coaches since Al Davis hired Art Shell in 1989 to be the first.

The rule does serve to get can­di­dates’ names in the mix, get them in the pipe­line and al­lows them to meet di­rectly with the league’s de­ci­sion-mak­ers. That can’t be dis­missed out of hand; most team own­ers op­er­ate in closed cir­cles and need to be forced to think out­side the box.

The big­gest prob­lem with the Rooney Rule is that it doesn’t ap­ply to the pri­mary pool from which head coaches are drawn: team co­or­di­na­tors. While there are plenty of mi­nori­ties work­ing as po­si­tion coaches, not many be­come co­or­di­na­tors, the job that puts them di­rectly on the path to head coach­ing.

On the day of his hir­ing, Gru­den an­nounced three co­or­di­na­tors: of­fense, de­fense and spe­cial teams, all white coaches. Shana­han, who serves as both the 49ers’ head coach and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, has a white de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. He re­cently hired Ken Nor­ton Jr., who is African Amer­i­can, with the ti­tle de­fen­sive as­sis­tant head coach.

The Rooney Rule is by no means per­fect. But, in a league where the vast ma­jor­ity of play­ers are African Amer­i­can and one that has been plagued by a his­tory of racial in­sen­si­tiv­ity, it’s bet­ter than noth­ing.

And it’s the rule, which means it can’t sim­ply be ig­nored. Other own­ers are re­port­edly up­set with Davis’ flout­ing of the league man­date. There has been talk of, in the fu­ture, in­creas­ing the penalty to some­thing more sig­nif­i­cant than a fine, pos­si­bly in­clud­ing the loss of a draft pick.

A legacy doesn’t mean you get a pass. Ask for­mer Raiders CEO Amy Trask, who was the ben­e­fi­ciary of Al Davis’ ground­break­ing ideas. Mark’s father didn’t need a rule to push bar­ri­ers, but other own­ers seem to.

On Twitter, Trask wrote: “If (Oak­land) opts to com­ply, it should do so hon­estly and in good faith. If (Oak­land) does not wish to do that, it should be forth­right and choose to pay a fine. But I don’t be­lieve that Al’s legacy should be used as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for non­com­pli­ance … and Al would be the first to be sad­dened if it was.”

Most NFL team own­ers op­er­ate in closed cir­cles and need to be forced to think out­side the box.

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