Why the NFL's Rooney Rule Is Meaningless

Bleacher Report Analyst IMay 22, 2009

WASHINGTON  - MAY 21:  U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd L) poses with Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney (C) and Head Coach Mike Tomlin (3rd R) during a picture with the 2009 NFL Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the East Room of the White House May 21, 2009 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)

Fact: There needs to be an immediate increase in non-white coaching figures in every level of football, both amateur and professional.

If the NFL really wanted to do something more than a shrewd public relations campaign, they would force every NFL coaching staff to have a certain percentage of minority figures.

Fiction: The Rooney Rule helps this happen.

For those who do not know, The Rooney Rule (named after Steelers’ owner Dan Rooney) is a policy enforced by the NFL that forces teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any coaching vacancy.

The rule is in the news again since Commissioner Roger Goodell announced his plans to expand the rule to the upper-management level; forcing teams to interview at least one minority candidate.

On paper, this is a great idea that promotes diversity in the sport that needs it the most. But here is why in practicum, this rule absolutely doesn’t work. And more than anything, it should just be an example of the NFL’s coaching paradigm.

Despite the overwhelming majority of NFL players being black, the low level of minority head coaches on both the pro and collegiate level is absolutely depressing. And the Rooney Rule plays to the paradigm.

Here is what I mean...If you are an NFL organization looking to hire a new coach (or general manager for that matter) you are hiring based on experience. Unfortunately for the NFL, nearly all of the available experience has the face of an old white guy.

The reason why guys like Turner, Schottenheimer, Gibbs, and Parcells keep getting second chances is because of their previous track records. Nine out of 10 times, teams will go with someone who has a previous track record of success (perhaps, with that in mind, I should eliminate Norv Turner from this category).

The issue with this psyche is that nearly every successful coaching career in the NFL is owned by a white guy because of how locked in coaching used to be.

While the Rooney Rule will absolutely help deserving minority candidates get their foot in the door, the bottom line is this: An interview for a professional football job means nothing.

If a coach X is available, and team Y wants that coach; it doesn’t matter if they have to interview five minority candidates. They are still going to go after coach Y. That is how professional sports has always worked, and I fear that it will be how it continues to work in the future.

Now before I go any further, I will say that there certainly have been examples of minority coaches picked that aren’t experienced. But it is almost universally not attributed to the Rooney Rule. This includes Tampa Bay’s new coach, Raheem Morris, who is Tampa’s second African American head coach.

For the better part of the new millennium, Raheem Morris has been running at least a portion of Tampa Bay’s defense (which any football fan will tell you, is one of the best in the NFL). The fact that he is so familiar with Tampa’s brand of football made him a comfort choice for the team.

But to put it in perspective, Morris has been coaching on the professional level for more than nine years. Lane Kiffin (who as you know may have been the worst NFL coach ever, and is also incredibly white) never coached or coordinated a professional team before he was given the keys to the Oakland Raiders.

That isn’t the first example of the "achieved comfort" status either.

Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith had 30 years of coaching experience between them before they were given a head coaching gig. Jack Del Rio and Eric Mangini had less than 16 between them before they became head coaches.

Getting your foot in the door and having that interview are two things that can absolutely be chalked up as great experience. But if the NFL really wanted to do something more than a shrewd public relations campaign, they would force every NFL coaching staff to have a certain percentage of minority figures.

That way, minority coaches could be hired out of comfort more regularly; which is the way nearly every coach has been hired since the 1970s. The solution in place right now may help things 20 years down the road; but the Rooney Rule is more or less asking owners to re-write NFL history.


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