NFL rule on hiring in need of repair
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.