The Inception of the Rooney Rule
The Rooney Rule was not conceived out of good faith to bring change to the league. Its purpose was to act as a wet blanket to the fire that was blazing in 2002. The fire being racism, a fire that has been burning for years before the NFL existed. This specific form of racism comes in the form of the hiring and firing processes in the National Football League. Civil Rights attorney Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran Jr joined forces for a case against the league, threatening to sue over its treatment of Black coaches. John Wooten got them in touch with then Steelers owner Dan Rooney who was ahead of his time. In 2002 the owners created the Rooney Rule which requires each organization to interview at least one candidate of color.
Let’s stay in 2002 where Tony Dungy was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Minnesota Vikings fired Dennis Green that same off-season after both coaches put up multiple winning seasons and playoff appearances. Green only had one season under .500 which would ultimately be his last in Minnesota. It’s odd that a team could fire a coach who went 15-1 two years prior to being fired but that’s what the Vikings decided to do. What you should take from this is that as a Black head coach in this league there is no room for mediocrity unlike their White counterparts. There is no middle ground you’re either at the top of the food chain or the hot seat.
Moving into 2003 when the rule was officially put in pace you could tell it was doomed from the start. Jerry Jones interviewed Bill Parcells for two days. He gave Dennis Green a 20 minute phone interview. There’s no way an owner can learn about a potential hire in a face to face conversation lasting 20 minutes let alone over the phone. Jones did not do his due diligence on Dennis Green because all he had to do was check the box, he had his guy in Parcells who he would go on to hire.The lack of professionalism, respect, and accountability is why the Rooney Rule has been nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The illusion is the owners take their time while vetting minority candidates but the people aren’t being fooled anymore.
Matt Millen who was the Lions Gm at the time brought Black candidates in, showed them the team facilities, only to tell them he was going to hire Steve Mariucci. Both Parcells and Mariucci had little to no success, they would be fired after three seasons.
20 Years Later
Since 2002 there have only been 16 Black head coaches hired. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Texans head coach Lovie Smith are the last men standing. The Rooney Rule hasn’t stood the test of time which makes sense because neither have Black head coaches. It seems their time at the helm get cut shorter than everyone else. Brian Flores had the Dolphins trending in the right direction but got the boot, Anthony Lynn was figuring things out with the Chargers but couldn’t see his vision through, and poor David Culley just took the fall for everything that went wrong in Houston. While guys like Matt Rhule and Kliff Kingsbury sleep well at night.
Deeper than getting hired it’s even a task just to get interviewed. Eric Bieniemy is one of the best offensive coordinators in the league but can barley get interviews. Meanwhile NFL journey man and high school football coach Josh McCown was about two minutes away from becoming the Texans head coach after multiple interviews before Brian Flores dropped a CM Punk pipe bomb. Not to dunk on McCown who I’m sure is a great guy but what does he know about leading a group of men that a super bowl winning OC doesn’t? Josh McCown’s players biggest dilemma is passing a history test. Be real ladies and gentlemen there’s no way you would want a former quarterback with no MVP’s or Super Bowl wins leading your favorite football team.
Chances are hard to find when you are in the minority but it seems like chances are given out like an Oprah Christmas special as a member of the majority. Look at Jon Gruden and Urban Meyer. They both finished their coaching careers on a low note, went to TV, then popped up in the NFL to cash in on millions. Both of them failed horrendously maybe if the Raiders or Jags hired someone more qualified things could have went differently.
I’m not telling you to hire someone because they’re Black I’m telling you to hire them because they’re Black and qualified. Coaches get second and sometimes third chances but it feels like once a Black head coach Is fired its back to being a coordinator or whatever they were before they got their shot.
The Rooney Rule shouldn’t have had to be a thing in the first place, why is it so hard to give everyone an equal chance? Give the minority candidates the same respect you give the white ones. For a league that’s supposed “inspire change” who are they inspiring? I’m not inspired, the Black candidates who haven’t filled any of these vacancies aren’t inspired. Stop painting end zones, putting stickers on helmets, running ad campaigns, and make some actual change.
Rules, Rules, and More Rules
In a new effort to diversify coaching, management, and ownership there will be an expansion of the Rooney Rule. Hiring searches will now include women. Women continue to be trailblazers in the world of sports, expanding the Rooney Rule to include women could see monumental change. Another progressive move but to what extent will this go? If it’s taken this long to get women included while still fighting battles for minority candidates as whole, how successful will this really be? When will we see the first woman to be an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, or head coach? So many questions that won’t be answered any time soon.
To further ensure diversity all 32 organizations will hire a minority offensive assistant this season. This might be worse than teams receiving compensation when a minority candidate gets a coaching job with another team. The bar for change is literally on the floor. Hiring 32 minority offensive assistants means nothing if they aren’t being put on track to be promoted. Even if they do get promoted they’ll have to wait in lines, get out of lines, then get back in the lines to try to make the jump to head coaching. It’s hard to see any of this as genuine attempts to make change while the Brian Flores lawsuit is still on the table. What Flores did could have caused the league to cover their tails quicker than usual or they could really be trying to improve. It’s hard to tell.
In 20 years I hope the league is more colorful, represented, and better all around.