Every time I write about the Rooney Rule, I feel the need to approach the topic with caution, and every time I do so, I realize that I was write in my feeling based on how it’s typically received. But regardless of how one might feel about it, the Rooney Rule has existed for a while now and presumably will continue to exist for a while.
Named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the rule is designed to boost minority candidates for head coaching and front office positions in the NFL by requiring that each team with an opening in those avenues interview at least one minority candidate for the job.
The problem, as the proponents of the rule see it, is that it doesn’t appear to be having its intended effect lately. Over the past two years, there have been 15 head coach openings around the league, and only two of those went to a minority candidate. The first was Steve Wilks, hired by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 and fired in 2019.
In fact, it was a bad year for minority head coaches. Not only was Wilks before, so, too, was Todd Bowles of the New York Jets and Vance Joseph of the Denver Broncos. Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals also stepped down, and Hue Jackson was fired in the middle of the 2018 season.
At the moment, there are only four minority head coaches in the NFL, chief among them now being the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Carolina Panthers’ Ron Rivera. The Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn has been there fore two seasons now, reaching the Divisional Round in 2018. The Miami Dolphins just hired Brian Flores.
Art Rooney II, Dan’s son, recently acknowledged that there is a fundamental issue with the Rooney Rule. “We have to judge our progress on the results”, he said. “It’s like looking at your team. You are what your record says you are”. The NFL’s record right now says that it’s 87.5 percent white, based on its head coaching population.
“I’m not going to sit here and accuse anyone of racism, but the facts are what they are”, Rooney continued. “We have to look at the opportunities that were given to minorities this latest round and see what can be done about it”.
Expansion and alteration of the Rooney Rule is a frequent topic of conversation in the offseason, and occasional changes have been made. After the Oakland Raiders seemingly violated at least the spirit of the Rooney Rule when they hired Jon Gruden last year, there was talk of making the process more transparent, but nothing has changed as of yet.
“I would say the real question in my mind is how do we make sure there are people coming into the pipeline that have the opportunity to move up into these positions”, Rooney added. “If you don’t have people coming up through the ranks, you can have all the rules about interviewing that you want, but this is not a program where you require teams to hire minorities”.