The Rooney Rule is one of the thorniest issues I’ve had to tackle here over the years, at least based on the comments that I receive whenever I cover it. There’s a wide range of opinions about a variety of its aspects, including whether or not it ought even exist in the first place.
There are a few things I think almost everybody can agree upon, though, and first and foremost is the fact that the head coaching and general managerial ranks are genuinely not very diverse. There are a total of four minority head coaches and a total of two minority general managers, one of which was only recently hired. For a long time, Ozzie Newsome was the only minority who held a general managerial role.
The second thing that I would at least hope almost everybody can agree upon is that there is no necessary reason that there couldn’t be more minorities in these positions. Tony Dungy is a Hall of Fame head coach as an African American. Newsome will inevitably be a Hall of Famer as a general manager. It’s abundantly clear that white men do not have a stranglehold on the ability to conduct these professions.
With these two facts at hear, the NFL went to work over the past few months to try to modify the Rooney Rule, in doing so attempting to explore some of the roadblocks that might get in the way in elevating minorities and allowing them a simpler path toward upward mobility.
“It’s hard to explain why that changed over the last few years. Some have speculated it has something to do with the lack of minority coaches on the offensive side of the ball, and we’ve talked about that and have been looking at ways to make sure we’re developing minority coaches on the offensive side”, Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II said, according to Bob Labriola via the team’s website.
“That’s one piece of the puzzle we think we need to address and has been part of the discussion here”, he went on. “It’s hard to say there’s one problem. It’s a question of developing coaches at all levels, and some of the things we’ve tried to do here today will help us address that”.
Some of the significant steps that the league took yesterday include the requirement that teams now conduct at least two external interviews of minority candidates for head coaching vacancies, and at least one interview for a minority or female candidate for managerial roles. For the first time, it’s now also required to interview a minority candidate for coordinator positions.
Additionally, teams are now greatly restricted in their power to block position coaches from pursuing opportunities to interview for larger roles in other organizations, which I believe will have the greatest effect of all proposals.
“We had developed over the years a number of impediments through contract language and titles and other ways that clubs have, in their own interests, tried to keep their coaches on their staffs”, Rooney said. “We approved a resolution that we think will simplify the interview process for people to be able to develop and advance through the ranks as coaches”.
Tomlin is the poster child for the upward mobility of a minority coach. He started out as a small-school wide receivers coach. He was told that minorities have a better chance of making headway on defense, which at that time, in the mid-90s, was true.
He became a defensive backs coach for Arkansas State in 1998. By 2001, he was in the NFL, spending five years as the defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay before getting the chance to be the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings in 2006. One year later, he was in Pittsburgh, and he’s been here since.