The Rooney Rule 10 Years Later: It's Worked...Usually, and We Still Need It

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterOctober 25, 2013


This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Rooney Rule, one of the more successful, brilliant, polarizing, needed, then perhaps not needed, then definitely needed again, pieces of legislation the NFL has ever created.

It's been called racist and an antidote to racism. It is neither.   

It's named after Steelers chairman Art Rooney, one of the bedrock owners of one of sports' most bedrock franchises. That name carries weight like a lead ball in a deep body of water. And the name, in many ways, has been the biggest propellant of the rule over its 10-year life. The rule requires every team with a coach or general manager opening to interview at least one minority candidate.

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It has worked. Since the Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003, 17 teams have had either an African-American or Latino head coach or general manager. Three teams—the Chiefs, Colts and Raiders—have had more than one head coach of color. This progress probably would not have happened without the forcible nudge of the rule, because in the 80 years of the NFL's existence before it, just seven head coaches of color were hired.

One current assistant coach, who is white, put it bluntly: The Rooney Rule introduced black candidates to white owners and general managers who otherwise were reticent about, or even feared, the hiring of black men to be the face of their franchise.

The rule has worked, no question. It has also failed. Last year, not one of the eight head coaching vacancies was filled by a coach of color. This led to scathing criticism of the rule from almost every corner of the sport.

In an interview with the NFL Network in February, via NFL.com's Dan Hanzus, Seattle's Richard Sherman blasted NFL teams:

Don't get me started on the Rooney Rule. I mean, it's starting to become kind of ridiculous. It's past resumes and who's great. No offense to (then new Bears coach Marc) Trestman, but they'd rather take a coach from the CFL than to take known, accomplished coaches. ...

You have an all-white list when you have some great African-American head coaches. You don't have to pick them just because they're black, but give them a fair shake. I don't know if Lovie Smith was white if he would still be on the market.

Former coaches like Smith, who coached the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl and wants to get back into the game, haven't had a sniff of a chance.

African-American former head coaches Tony Dungy and Herm Edwards told Barry Wilner of the Associated Press in February that changes to the rule were needed. Edwards said the shutout of minorities during the last hiring period was so bad it was embarrassing the Rooney name.

"When you use the Rooney Rule and not correctly, you put a little bit of a bad mark on Mr. Rooney's name, and that is not good," Edwards said. "If it keeps going this way, we might need to take his name off the rule. It is not being used in the right manner that Mr. Rooney meant it to be.”

This is where Robert Gulliver comes in. He's the NFL's executive vice president of human resources and its chief diversity officer. "Last year did not produce the diversity results we've seen in previous years," he told Bleacher Report. "One problematic year does not mean we need to change the rule."

Gulliver said the NFL has instead strengthened and augmented the rule. First, the league created a career development symposium at Wharton School of Business where potential candidates can hear directly from current NFL owners, general managers and coaches, as well as former general managers and coaches. 

Perhaps the biggest thing the league has done is create an advisory panel that consists of former general managers and head coaches. This group will produce a short list of minority general managing and coaching talent that every year will be given to the league's owners. The panel will make its first recommendations this offseason, Gulliver said.

The names on this panel are, well, pretty huge. It's a remarkable group.

Aug 4, 2013; Canton, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett (right) shakes hands with Tony Dungy after the 2013 Hall of Fame Game against the Miami Dolphins at Fawcett Stadium. The Cowboys defeated the Dolphins 24-20.  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA

Ernie Accorsi: One of the best GMs in recent history; won Super Bowl with the Giants.

Charley Casserly: Former GM for Washington.

Tony Dungy: One of the true class acts in all of sports; Super Bowl winner.

Dennis Green: Longtime NFL coach.

John Madden: Super Bowl winner; video-game magnate.

Bill Polian: One of the best team builders in history; his Bills went to four Super Bowls, and he won one with Indianapolis; future Hall of Famer.

Carl Peterson: Longtime GM of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ron Wolf: Former GM of the Packers; great architect.

That is, well, a damn great committee.

If you don't listen to them, you're an idiot.

Gulliver won't say this, and I don't blame him, but this step is huge. While the recommendation wouldn't be a mandate, it removes any excuse for any team to say they didn't know of solid candidates.

The Rooney Rule has problems and warts, but it's still vital and still works. Most importantly, a decade after its creation, it's still needed.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.