The Rooney Rule: Why It's Outdated and Unnecessary in Today's NFL

Daymon JohnsonCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2011

J.D. Cuban/Getty Images

For every Mike Tomlin or Tony Dungy, there's a Romeo Crennel, Mike Singletary or Art Schell.

As I really sit back and think about the Rooney Rule and what it does, I can’t help but think it’s the very reason that we as a country are still not solidified as one and why racism is still a real problem in America.  The bottom line here is that the Rooney Rule itself uses race as a tool and uses the color of one's skin as a determinant.  How is that just?

Let me give you a quick history lesson here.  The Rooney Rule was enacted by the NFL in 2003 and essentially what it does is require NFL teams with a head coaching vacancy to interview a "minority candidate," basically requiring teams to operate within the affirmative action hiring guidelines set forth years ago. 

The rule itself was drafted by and named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the NFL’s Diversity Committee.  Since the inception of the rule, the NFL’s head coaching numbers have swayed slightly. 

Currently, 37 percent of the coaches in the NFL are of minority decent, up from six percent prior to the rule change.  Simply put, more black and minority coaches are being given head coaching jobs and I’m all for that and think it's long overdue.

I’m in support of equality and seeing beyond the color of one man’s skin.

That being said, I think the rule is a pointless measure enacted by the NFL. The numbers don’t lie, as I mentioned earlier; however it’s forcing NFL owners and GMs to interview people that, for whatever reason, may or may not be qualified as deemed so by private organizations (NFL franchises).

How is that fair? 

Seriously ask yourself, how is that fair to any party involved?  How is fair to the owners, GMs or the candidates whom they’re being forced to interview? 

The short answer is, it's not.  The league has some pretty stiff fines when it comes to not interviewing a minority candidate.  In 2003, the league fined the Detroit Lions $200,000 for not interviewing any minority candidates and immediately hiring Steve Mariucci. 

Per the rule, the fine was right thing to do; however, was the fine necessary if the Lions already knew who they wanted to coach the team?  The cut and dry is that this rule is giving "opportunities" for head coaching and senior football operations positions to people that maybe don’t deserve to have the opportunity for various reasons and, rankly, that’s not right. 

Now, inevitably, some of you will read this and your perception will be that I’m a racist and,for those of who that think that, I'd just like to ask you to leave now.  For those of you still here, let me elaborate further…

As most of you know, unless you’ve been in some remote jungle in South America, Eric Mangini, John Fox and Josh McDaniels were all recently fired fired.  Most of those changes were not a surprise, as all of those coaches, well, most, weren't who the franchise was looking for.

What that means is that the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers and their owners and GMs have to find a coach moving into the 2011-12 season. Anyway, one of the first candidates that has been interviewed is Perry Fewell, who is currently the New York Giants' defensive coordinator. 

Now, while he’s been at the right hand of a man that is clearly a very good coach in Tom Coughlin and created a very solid, albeit sometimes unmotivated defense, the fact is, if I were looking, I don't know that he'd rise to that level of a true candidate.

Another alarming factor is that he’s never been “the guy” at any level.  Not at the high school level, not at the college level and not at the NFL level either; however, he did serve as the interim head coach in Buffalo after Dick Jauron was fired and then he himself was fired at the close of the season.

Fewell is the hot minority name being thrown around right now.  And, he’s gotten the chance to interview for the head coaching vacancies in Denver and Cleveland and my question is this, why?

Is Fewell being interviewed by Pat Bowlen and Mike Holmgren because he’s genuinely qualified or is it because of the color of his skin and the fact that the Rooney Rule requires it? 

Looking at what his defenses did in Buffalo, and the fact that the G-Men let some sure wins slip away this season, I think it may be the latter.

It looks like it's being done because it’s a formality and a requirement that teams are required to meet, not because he's genuinely revered or a serious candidate. Honestly, I don’t think it’s fair for Fewell to be thrust into this position because he’s the de facto “Mr. Popular Minority Head Coaching Candidate for 2010.″

Perhaps I'm wrong and maybe he'll be a great head coach, but until that's proven and in the meantime, it just shows how painfully skewed, racist and out of touch the NFL’s views really are. 

Forcing this rule into effect shows that the NFL and Rooney are out of touch with the reality of the coaching world.  The bottom line is this—no matter what the color of a man’s skin is, his accomplishments, experience and coaching knowledge generally are the basis by which he’s evaluated as a coach, not the color of his skin. 

Honestly, if I’m an owner, looking at potential candidates, I don’t care if the guy is green with purple eyes. If he’s a winner and he’s got the experience that I seek for my club, then he’s my guy. 

While I’m sure that every owner in the league would love to have a guy like Dungy, Tomlin, Lovie Smith or Herm Edwards at the helm of their organization, the fact, is forcing owners to interview minority candidates that are potentially unqualified, underqualified or that don't fit from a philosophical standpoint won’t promote finding those type of coaches.  

To fix this, the best thing to do is to remove the rule and force a man (of any color) to stand on his own merits and earn what may come his way, not to give it to him.  I was always taught that if you didn’t earn it, then it wasn’t yours to keep. 

Tony Dungy, Tomlin, Edwards and even Crennel have earned their shot at the head coach position, it wasn’t given to them.

Possibly even more disturbing is that forcing this action into effect oftentimes may take the intention out of the interview and, in my mind, makes it simply a formality, nothing more.  And frankly, I can’t think of anything that would be more insulting or racist than being interviewed simply because a club had to interview the “minority” and I was it.

Leslie Frazier spared himself from being interviewed because he's the "Hot Minority Candidate" and Fewell has mentioned several times that he's been skeptical at times during this process because of this rule. Current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris has echoed this before too.

So, I guess another question would be this: when minority head coach candidates are speaking out about how the rule has adversely effected them, isn't it time to maybe make a change?

If the league wants to promote minority hirings, then they must do it equally, paying as much attention to black men, as they do to any other minority candidate, whether he’s black, Hispanic, Asian or any other minority race. 

Therein lies the problem with the rule. We all know now after the history lesson I gave you earlier that it requires them to interview at least one “minority candidate,” but we all know that really means they have to interview one black candidate. 

There’s still not an Asian head coach and finally, for the first time in a long time, there's a Hispanic head coach in the NFL right now, so can anyone really say the rule is benefiting anyone other than the black coach?

When was the last time you saw Norm Chow, Lloyd Lee or a Hispanic coach interviewed for the head coaching position with an NFL team, aside of Ron Rivera who was just recently hired in Carolina? 

If I asked right now who the first minority coach to win a Super Bowl was, most of you would answer Dungy.  However, that’s incorrect.  The first minority coach to win a Super Bowl was Tom Flores with the Oakland Raiders and he won not one, but two Super Bowls.  Those being Super Bowl XV and XVIII. 

Yet most of you, even Raider fans, probably don’t realize that and most don’t recognize that groundbreaking achievement, which is as good as any other minority candidate's Super Bowl win.  Why is that?

The Rooney Rule is outdated and pointless, proof of that is Flores who was winning Super Bowls as a minority candidate long before—25 years before to be exact—the “Rooney Rule" was enacted.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m all for someone being given an opportunity to better themselves and reach above.  Really.  That’s how I genuinely feel.  I’m not for awarding anything to anyone, be it black, white, yellow or green simply because of the color of their skin. 

I read somewhere recently that some race groups were upset at the firing of Crennel in Cleveland a couple of years ago.  To that, I say this: open your eyes, and really look at the situation through a lens that’s not askew and tell me how the Browns were wrong in that decision?  Going 24-40 in his time at the helm, one winning season and three seasons with 10 or more losses? An NFL record zero touchdowns in four consecutive games? 

That warrants a firing, not a second chance. 

Recently, Michael Wilbon of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” recently said, “Don’t spit in my face and tell me it’s raining. Progress will be when 65 percent of coaches are African-American, not 20 percent.”

He went on to say: ”The fact this shameful disparity is not discussed openly is part of the problem, not a sign that we are in a post-racist moment. Right now, as the coaching vacancies pile up, it is precisely the time to talk about it.” 

Really Michael? Sixty-five percent African American?  What about Chow or Lee?  Use of the Rooney Rule in this fashion does nothing more than create an unfair playing field and creates even more racist ideals in my mind.  Honestly folks, correct me if I'm wrong, but those numbers sound less like equality and more like dominance.

The fact is, almost 37 percent of NFL coaches are black and that number is continually on the rise, as the natural progression for a lot of former NFL players is to go into the coaching ranks.

As I write this and you read it, I know that somewhere the next Dungy or Tomlin is being groomed by a knowledgeable and strong coach and, really, I can’t wait to see who he his.

Is it Fewell?  Is it Ted Cottrell?  Is it Chow?  Is it Jimmy Raye?  I don’t know, but I do know this—we’ll never know until someone gives them a shot, however, that’s a shot that must be earned, not given.


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