The “Rooney Rule” Is Starting To Look Like A Sham

The “Rooney Rule” was implemented by the NFL in 2003.  Named after it’s benefactor, Steelers owner and chairman if the NFL diversity committee, it requires NFL teams to interview at least 1 minority candidate whenever they fill a head coach or general manager position.  Some saw it as a token act of affirmative action.  Others saw it as a trailblazing move by the NFL to promote diversity in business.

Marvin Lewis was the first minority head coach hired under the "Rooney Rule"

Marvin Lewis was the first minority head coach hired under the “Rooney Rule”

The Rooney Rule seemed like a success in the early going.  In the first 7 years – between 2003 and 2009 – 9 African-American head coaches were hired.  Prior to the Rooney Rule there had only been 7 head coaches in NFL history dating back to 1921.  Additionally there were 3 new African-American candidates to be hired as General Managers, joining the Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome and the Cardinals’ Rod Graves who were the only African-American GMs in NFL history at the time that the Rooney Rule was implemented.  For some reason things curtailed badly after the 2009 season.  Since then only 4 minority head coaches were hired and of the three two of them, Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel and former Raiders coach Hue Jackson, have already been fired and another, Panthers coach Ron Rivera, was on the fence until the decision was made to retain him a week after New Year’s Day this year.  Only one minority, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, has been hired to a General Manager position since 2009.

So what is the problem?  Is it a lack of success?  There have been 13 minority coaches hired since the Rooney Rule have been implemented.  6 of them – Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith, Herman Edwards, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, and Leslie Frazier – have made it to the playoffs.  That is exactly 50% when you consider that Crennel is counted twice (12 minority coaches for 13 opportunities).  Additionally one of the minority coaches hired during the Rooney Rule era, Dennis Green in Arizona, had previous head coaching playoff experience with the Vikings.  Tomlin won a Super Bowl in 2008 with the Steelers and made another one in 2010.  Caldwell made the Super Bowl in 2009 with the Colts.  Lewis, Smith, Tomlin and Caldwell all qualified for the playoffs multiple times in their coaching careers.  After the firing of Crennel and Smith on “Black Monday” on New Year’s Eve last month only 4 minority head coaches remain – Lewis, Tomlin, Frazier and Rivera.  Two of those (Lewis and Frazier) were in the playoffs this season.  Tomlin’s Steelers failed to qualify for the playoffs for only the 2nd time in his 6 year tenure in Pittsburgh.  Despite being on the chopping block Rivera’s Panthers wound up finishing 7-9 and in 2nd place in the NFC South.

Cards DC Ray Horton had 3 interviews but no offers this off-season

Cards DC Ray Horton had 3 interviews but no offers this off-season

Despite there being 8 head coaching vacancies, precisely a quarter of the league, during this off-season none of the vacancies have gone to a minority candidate.  With Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians being named the new Cardinals coach this evening minority candidates have officially been shut out.  Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton landed 3 interviews – with the Cardinals, Bills and Browns – but was shut out by even his own team.  Lovie Smith, who was 16 games over .500 during his tenure in Chicago, interviewed in Buffalo, Philadelphia and San Diego but was shut out as well.  Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker interviewed for the head coaching job of his own team for the 2nd year in a row but was passed over again.  Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong interviewed the Bears and Chiefs but was passed over as well.  All of these interviews satisfied the Rooney Rule but none of them produced a minority head coach.

Of the 8 head coaches hired this off-season 2 were NCAA head coaches, 1 an NFL head coach fired earlier in the off-season, 1 a CFL head coach, 3 were NFL offensive coordinators and 1 an NFL defensive coordinator.  There are 6 African-American assistant coaches who have previously been interim NFL head coaches – Falcons WR coach Terry Robiskie who had interim stints with both the Browns and Redskins, Falcons secondary coach Emmitt Thomas who was interim coach of the Falcons in 2007, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell who served as Bills interim head coach in 2009, Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville who served as interim Broncos head coach in 2010, Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who led the Dolphins on an interim basis in 2011 and the Jaguars Tucker.  Of the 6 only Tucker got any interviews for a head coaching vacancy this season.  3 of the other 5 interim coaches – Robiskie, Thomas, and Studesville – were coaching in the playoffs this post-season.  Another – Fewell – won the Super Bowl as defensive coordinator of the Giants last season.  Somehow none of these men warranted interviews.

Newsome was seen as a trailblazer but only 5 minority GMs have followed him in a decade

Newsome was seen as a trailblazer but only 5 minority GMs have followed him in a decade

The general manager picture is a whole different story.  Newsome was named the 1st African-American GM in NFL history in 2002.  The Ravens have qualified for the playoffs in 7 of the 10 years that Newsome has been at the helm.  The Cardinals Rod Graves was the 2nd African-American GM, elevated a year after Newsome.  His Cardinals made the playoffs twice, in 2008 and 2009, and were the first ever Cardinals team to make a Super Bowl in ’08.  The first three minority GMs hired since the advent of the Rooney Rule – The Texans’ Rick Smith, the Giants’ Jerry Reese and the Lions’ Martin Mayhew, have all run teams that have qualified for the playoffs.  Reese’s Giants won the Super Bowl last season.  The only minority general manager to never have a team qualify for the playoffs is current Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie who was just hired by the club last off-season.  Despite all of the success there hasn’t been a minority hired in any of the 5 GM vacancies and with Seahawks assistant GM John Idzik poised to be the Jets new GM only the Cleveland post will remain.

What has changed in the NFL that is preventing minorities from getting high profile jobs?  Is it a lack of candidates?  Lovie Smith brings a veteran edge and has a winning track record and he will no doubt be back on the sidelines next season but why didn’t any of the other 7 clubs not see him as a fit this year?  Horton and Armstrong were hot names with multiple interviews but both went unhired.  Many of the other high profile minority coordinators including Caldwell, Fewell, Bowles, and Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams weren’t even on anyone’s radar.  There doesn’t seem to be a specific reason for the slow down in minority hires but the trend is certainly disturbing.  Of 15 new head coaches hired since last off-season only one, Romeo Crennel, has been a minority and he has already been fired.

Luckily for the NFL the 1st executive hire of the new league year will likely be a minority when Bills general manager Buddy Nix steps down some time between the NFL draft and the start of training camp.  His replacement will be assistant GM Doug Whaley, an African-American.  Judging by the frequency of minority hirings in the NFL these days it might be a long wait for the next one.

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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