Race and the NFL: Is the NFL's Rooney Rule Really Working?

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Race and the NFL: Is the NFL's Rooney Rule Really Working?
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Leslie Frazier is the Defensive Coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings.  For the past two seasons he’s been hailed as the next best head coach in the NFL.  Last season the 51-year old Frazier had seven interviews, yet didn’t land a position.

Two of the seven teams Frazier interviewed with were the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks.  Frazier was thought to be the leading candidate for the Bills vacancy when Dick Jauron received his pink slip.  Then, out of no where, the Bills hired Chan Gailey.

The Seahawks interview was a bit more complex.  It had been rumored that Pete Carroll was leaving USC and the Seattle job was his.  The atmosphere was set to hire Carroll, yet the Seahawks wanted to interview Frazier nonetheless.

Can you say token interview?

When asked about the overall interview process Frazier had this to say: "With those interviews that I was in back in January, I went into them with the best intentions, based on advice I got from key people, and just tried to approach it the right way.” 

Frazier continued, “Now, I can't answer for ownership, you know, what they were looking for and what they wanted out of the interviews. But I went into it believing each one would be a legitimate interview."

Frazier was asked specifically which team he felt wasn’t a legitimate interview and he issued the following: "I don't want to say which team, but one of them I was a little concerned about, and we went right down to the wire about whether I should even do the interview," he said. "On one of them, I left just wondering."

Even though Frazier didn’t go all the way on the record, it’s quite logical to assume he was referring to the Seattle Seahawks interview. 

Is the Rooney Rule really working?

The Rooney Rule was instituted in 2003.  It mandates that NFL franchises must interview a minority candidate for head coaching openings.

Personally, I think the rule is misguided.  It should be focused on the lower-rungs of the coaching ranks, in addition to head coaching posts in the NFL. 

At the start of the 2009 season, only 12 minorities held one of the league's 67 coordinator positions.  Generally, that’s where potential head coaches are selected, unless they are anointed a la Mike Holmgren to Jim Mora Jr.

On college level, the numbers are even more dismal than the NFL, despite the recent hires of African-American head coaches.  The number of minority head coaches at FSB schools is 15 out of 119 coaching slots. 

Furthermore, according to the BCA (Black Coaches & Administrators) there are 582 institutions at the Division I, II, and III level.  Excluding historically African-American universities, minorities account for 5.7 percent of the head coaching jobs.

What does all this mean?

With respect to coaching the apex is being hired as a head coach in the NFL.  As demonstrated, the pipeline that currently exists doesn’t have enough African-Americans in it.  Increase the pipeline and you will increase the opportunities for quality interviews at all levels of coaching.

At the time of the Rooney Rule's inception in 2003, there were four African-American head coaches. Now there are six: Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, the Colts' Jim Caldwell, Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris, San Francisco's Mike Singletary, Chicago's Lovie Smith, and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin.  Of the coaching vacancies last year, none went to African-Americans.

Is this significant progress over a seven year period?

Furthermore, the Rooney Rule should really have teeth.  When Matt Millen was running the show in Detroit, the NFL fined the Lions $200,000 in 2003 for not interviewing a minority candidate because they knew they wanted Steve Mariucci. 

How about taking some draft picks and issue heavy fines if teams engage in the chicanery the Lions did, and more recently, the Seahawks?

In closing, the few African-Americans in the pipeline like Frazier are seemingly getting snubbed.  That being said, what inclination does an African-American candidate have to go through a series of token interviews and really believe in the Rooney Rule when the results aren’t being attained?

If the Rooney Rule really isn’t the solution, then what is?

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