Steelers’ Status As Leaders In Diversity Employment Goes Beyond Rooney Rule

The Rooney Rule has been in effect now for the past 12 offseasons, beginning in 2003. It was implemented in response, in part, to the firings of Tony Dungy and Dennis Green following the 2002 season, both of whom were successful coaches. Dungy was coming off a winning record, and Green had just posted the first losing season in a ten-year span.

Their firings, and the broader dearth of minority head coaches throughout the league, instigated a study spearheaded in part by Johnnie Cochran, the conclusions of which helped shape the opinion of the diversity committee, headed by then-Pittsburgh Steelers president Dan Rooney, after whom the rule is named.

Since its implementation, a full 10 minority head coaches have been given their first opportunities to coach a team on a non-interim basis, starting with Marvin Lewis in 2003, who remains at his post today, followed most recently by Todd Bowles in 2015.

The most successful implementation of the Rooney Rule no doubt applies to the Rooneys’ own organization. Mike Tomlin has been the Steelers’ head coach since 2007, and he became the youngest head coach, and second African-American head coach, to win a Super Bowl in 2008. He has taken the Steelers to two Super Bowl appearances thus far.

In total, 17 of the 87 total head coaching vacancies have been filled by minority candidates since 2003, which is a bit more than double the previous rate. But there are those who believe that the rule must continue to evolve. Indeed, it has already changed since its first iteration.

As of 2009, the Rooney Rule applies to all minority candidates, not just African-Americans, and its reach expands beyond just head coaches to apply also to all senior football operations positions, regardless of the position’s formal title.

Many have suggested that the rule, which stipulates that teams must interview at least one minority candidate for a job vacancy, during which he is allotted the same amount of time and attention as any other candidate, be expanded to include coordinators as well.

The Steelers recently replaced each of their coordinator positions in recent years with white coaches. I don’t recall any African-American coaches being interviewed for the offensive coordinator position, but Keith Butler was given the job three days after its availability. He had long been tabbed as the eventual successor, of course.

Looking down the list of coaching staff, however, the Steelers are very well-represented by minorities beneath head coach Mike Tomlin. A full six position coaches, including assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell, are African-American.

Also included in that list are tight ends coach James Daniel, defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, wide receivers coach Richard Mann, outside linebackers coach Joey Porter, and running backs coach James Saxon. The latter four coaches were all hired under Tomlin.

It will be interesting to watch the career trajectory of some of these coaches, Lake and Porter in particular. Both are very young in terms of their coaching careers. In a few years’ time, it would not be surprising to see their names on the lists of candidates for coaching positions.

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