Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Is the Rooney Rule Broken?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 2, 2019

Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, right, speaks next to Mike Mayock, center, and owner Mark Davis at a news conference announcing Mayock as the general manager at the team's headquarters in Oakland, Calif., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

What to make of the Raiders' hiring process. Will someone steal John Harbaugh from the Ravens? What should the Steelers do with Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell? All that and more in the week's 10-Point Stance.

         

1. Raiders' GM hire raises questions

The Raiders' hiring on Monday of former NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock to become the team's general manager is an perfect example of the Rooney Rule in action—its strengths, its weaknesses and how teams can circumvent it if they want to.

First, it's important to note that Jon Gruden, according to several league officials, has wanted to hire Mayock since first taking the Raiders job. When Oakland fired Reggie McKenzie early last month, Gruden got his opportunity and seized it.

There was always going to be a problem with this for Gruden, though. He needed to comply with the Rooney Rule, which requires that teams consider minority candidates when filling GM or head-coaching vacancies.

The Raiders, according to my sources and the reporting of others, contacted former Giants general manager Jerry Reese about the position. He declined to interview. They also, I'm told, interviewed former Giants college scouting director Marc Ross and former Eagles front-office executive Trey Brown. Brown's candidacy was first reported by ESPN's Dan Graziano.

Numerous sources say the bottom line is that none of Reese, Ross and Brown had any realistic chance of getting the job. It was always Mayock's if he wanted it.

The Raiders haven't publicly released any information about how they hired for the position and didn't respond to B/R this week when asked to speak about their process.

But remember, this isn't the first recent time that questions have been asked about the Raiders and the Rooney Rule. Oakland owner Mark Davis essentially admitted to hiring Gruden before firing coach Jack Del Rio. It was clear then that the two interviews of Tee Martin and Bobby Johnson weren't real interviews. They couldn't be if Davis had already settled on Gruden.

The Raiders' circumvention in that case was so brazen that the NFL strengthened the rule last month. Teams must now do more than interview a minority candidate, as was the previous requirement. They must interview a minority candidate from outside the organization or one from a list compiled by the NFL.

It must be mentioned that the Raiders have historically been on the opposite side of this trend. Al Davis, Mark's father, was one of the great racial and gender pioneers in sports history. He hired the first female team executive, Amy Trask, the first black head coach in the NFL's modern era, Art Shell, and the second Latino head coach, Tom Flores. What he did in the past, though, doesn't serve as a force field for what seems to be the blatant circumvention of the rule now.

Shell and Davis.
Shell and Davis.Noah Berger/Associated Press

The Raiders also are far from alone in this area. Several team officials said that circumvention of the Rooney Rule is at an all-time high. One source, who is African-American and currently interviewing with teams, said that in many cases, the Rooney Rule has become an exercise in box-checking.

"I think it goes like this for a lot of teams: 'Let's comply with the Rooney Rule by interviewing this black guy, but we're gonna hire the white guy we want regardless,'" he said.

The proof is in the numbers.

When the Rooney Rule went into effect in 2003, there were three minority head coaches, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The number grew to a peak of eight by 2011. But five of the eight head coaches fired since midway through this past season were black, leaving the total at three. With the retirement of Ozzie Newsome from the Ravens, there is also now only one minority general manager.

The rule was supposed to increase the numbers of minority members in key positions, and it did for a while. But now, the opposite is happening.

That could change with this hiring cycle, but it seems unlikely. Among the big names being discussed are Mike McCarthy, John Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh, Bruce Arians and Josh McDaniels. There are a handful of black coaches being highlighted, like Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, but not many.

The issue is complex, polarizing and thorny—just like many issues of race.

The rule does work in some ways. People of color will interview with general managers and owners they otherwise might not meet.

But what is clear, and there is no doubt about this, is that there are teams (not all) that are following the letter of the rule but not the spirit of it. This is why the number of coaching and front-office minorities is disturbingly low.

It's also why, unfortunately, this issue is going to linger.

            

2. So how do you fix the problem?

The short answer: You can't. It's impossible.

If an owner or GM sees a certain race of people as not as qualified as another, then no rule can fix that.

And the data shows that is indeed what's happening in some cases. Candidates of color are being overlooked, and the only explanation is that the hirers aren't truly interested in hiring them. There are plenty of qualified candidates. That isn't the reason. The reason is human nature.

Until you can open the eyes of owners and let them see people as they are, and operate without fear of those people and without seeing them as inferior, the Rooney Rule will change little.

This is dire, but it's also the truth.

              

3. Words of wisdom from a genius

As we begin to plow through the coaching and front-office carousel, it's important to remember these words from one of the best coaches of all time, Bill Walsh. His description of the coaching hierarchy—written more than 40 years ago in his book Finding the Winning Edge—is still dead on today.

The excerpt here comes from former NFL executive Mike Lombardi. It's worth your time:

            

4. The push is on for Coach Harbaugh

Gail Burton/Associated Press

That's the Ravens' Harbaugh, John. Not Michigan's Jim. Sometimes it's easy to get the two mixed up.

The Ravens announced last month they were working on a contract extension for John. But, as of right now, as far as we know, he hasn't signed it.

There are a number of teams truly interested in Harbaugh, especially after the Ravens were able to turn quarterback Lamar Jackson into one of the NFL's best weapons.

                       

5. Steelers, part 1: Trade Antonio Brown

Don Wright/Associated Press

You may have heard about the details in this story about Antonio Brown's awful behavior—the disputes with teammates, the skipped practices, the overall "embarrassing" and detrimental-to-the-team situation—but if you haven't, it's a must read.

I've said this before: Parts of that Steelers locker room are out of control. Mike Tomlin is a good coach, but he clearly can't get a handle on some of the things going on in there.  And in his defense, I'm not sure many coaches could.

One way to change that culture is get Brown out of it. Trade him and get the best deal you can. That may seem extreme, but what Brown is doing is getting ridiculous. He's incredibly talented, but it's clear he cannot be counted on.             

Omar Vega/Associated Press

6. Steelers, part 2: The team missed Bell

One other thing on the Steelers. The team and many others completely underestimated the value of Le'Veon Bell. His replacement, James Conner, is good, but Bell is a closer. He extends drives and makes big plays better than almost any runner in the sport. He is also a skilled blocker who would protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with some dazzling blitz pickups.

Bell adds wins because he is a rock. Late in the year, when the Steelers needed his steadiness, it wasn't there.

One example of this is a remarkable statistic from ESPN Stats & Info:

To me, Bell would have changed that. He'd have won the few extra games to turn a disappointing 9-6-1 finish into a playoff season. He's that valuable.

            

7.  Meanwhile in Jacksonville, another mess

John Raoux/Associated Press

One of the most disappointing teams this year was the Jaguars, who finished 5-11 and last in the AFC South. In one year, the Jaguars went from almost beating the Patriots in the AFC title game to a total train wreck.

The Jaguars and Steelers have one similar issue, and it's the need to get the locker room under control. The head of the team's football operations, Tom Coughlin, knows this is an issue, which is why he blasted two Jaguars players, T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette, after their season finale Sunday.

The Jaguars face a number of issues this offseason, including who is going to play quarterback next year. It's all but certain Blake Bortles won't be back.

And Bortles was a problem. But a locker room with no discipline or accountability, in many ways, is an even bigger issue.

                

8. The Cooper Factor

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 09:  Amari Cooper #19 of the Dallas Cowboys makes a touchdown pass reception against the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on December 09, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Just by watching, you can see the remarkable impact wide receiver Amari Cooper has had on the Cowboys offense since coming over in a trade from the Raiders. But when you look at the numbers, his contribution looks even more impressive.

This data was compiled by the Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota, and it's eye opening:

Sometimes, data lies. In this case, it says everything you need to know.

         

9. Andrew Luck's special season

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 30: Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts waves to the crowd while leaving the field after beating the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Quarterback Andrew Luck won't win the MVP this year. It will likely go to Patrick Mahomes, as it should. But that doesn't mean that Luck has been anything short of remarkable this season. Some interesting data points on Luck, provided by the Colts:

He finished the year with 4,593 passing yards. That was the fifth-most in the NFL.

His 430 completions and 39 touchdowns each ranked second. 

He threw touchdowns to 13 different players. That tied an NFL record.

Not only has Luck produced big and won games, he's spreading the ball around to all of his targets. No, he's not the MVP, but he did prove he's among the league's most valuable assets once again.

                      

10. The future is bright

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield had a fun duel on Sunday. The Ravens won, but we saw something special from both players. We also saw a future rivalry that could end up being one of the best in football.

It's going to be incredibly fun to watch, and not just because of what happens on the field. They seem pretty cool off the field, too.

Yes indeed, this is going to be fun.

              

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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