Anything that involves race instantly becomes a hotly-debated topic, and when it comes to the NFL, there is no one issue more directly related to race than the Rooney Rule, named after the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the father of current primary owner Art Rooney II.
The Rooney Rule, instituted in 2003, mandated that teams interview at least one minority candidate for every head coaching vacancy. Minor adjustments have been made to the rule since then, but following multiple hiring cycles in which the population of minority head coaches have dwindled—it has remained at only four for a couple of years now—many advocates of the rule are pushing for further change.
Rooney recently contacted the NFL Network to appear on the program to discuss the Rooney Rule following the latest coaching cycle, during which only one of five head coaching vacancies was filled by a minority candidate, which was Ron Rivera, the longtime head coach of the Carolina Panthers who was sure not to stay on the market for long, and who was fired late in the 2019 season. The Steelers owner made it clear that he believes the rule is not being followed in the spirit in which it is intended.
I think where we are right now is not where we want to be—not where we need to be—and we need to take a step back and look at what’s happening with our hiring processes. The first thing we’ll do as part of our diversity committee is really review this past season’s hiring cycle and make sure that we understand what went on and talk to the people involved, both on the owner side, management side, as well as the people that were interviewed.
And then I think the thing we have to look at is, back when the Rooney Rule was passed and put into effect in 2003, there was a period there where we did see an increase in minority hiring at the head coaching position, and I think over a period of time, there were 10 or 12 minority coaches hired. Since then, that trend seems to have reversed itself, particularly in the last few years, so we need to study what’s going on and understand better what’s going on, and really decide how we improve the situation.
It has regularly been proposed that the Rooney Rule be expanded to include other avenues of the game. It was expanded in 2009 to include all positions dealing with senior football operations, but it’s been widely pursued that coordinator positions should be subject to the rule as well, which Rooney remarked on, regarding past changes and possible further changes.
We’ll look at a lot of different things. In fact, this time last year, we made some changes to the Rooney Rule. We required that the interview [for a minority candidate] come from somebody outside the organization, because we didn’t want it to be just an internal situation where somebody down the hall is called down to the office for an interview. We changed that rule last year. Obviously we have to look at what we can do differently now, and perhaps even expand the Rooney Rule into some of the lower levels, perhaps the coordinator level, just to make sure that the minority opportunities are there.
After all, one of the principle arguments made against the supposed ineffectiveness of the Rooney Rule is that there simply are not many strong minority candidates. But if that is the case, it also has something to do with the lack of opportunities for minorities to enter the higher ranks of coaching, such as the coordinator positions.
When is the last time, for example, that the Steelers have had a minority coordinator? Tim Lewis, a Pitt graduate, was the team’s defensive coordinator from 2000 to 2003, and Ray Sherman was their offensive coordinator in 1998. The only other minority coordinator in team history was Tony Dungy, another former player, from 1984 through 1988.