Unless you’re new here, you already have a vivid understanding that discussion of the Rooney Rule and its existence can be a hot button issue. Established in 2003, the initial parameter of the rule made it a requirement that NFL teams interview at least one minority candidate for any head coaching vacancy.
The rule has expanded since then, most dramatically in 2020, when the requirements shifted to interviewing at least two minority candidates from outside of the organization for a head coaching position, and also expanding minority-interview requirements for coordinator and general manager (or equivalent) positions.
Named after the late Dan Rooney, former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it is understandable that members of the organization remain champions of the rule, and have been at the forefront of pushing for its further evolution, including his son, current owner Art Rooney II, and head coach Mike Tomlin, who is heading into his 15th season with the club.
Tomlin recently appeared on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel to discuss the advancements of the Rooney Rule (or lack thereof), making comments that drew some attention. Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contacted him for a follow-up interview on the subject, and one question he was asked to address was his own track record of addressing minority advancement in the coaching ranks, it being noted that he has never hired a minority to a coordinator position himself.
“I always do what is best for our organization. I believe in hiring from within in most cases”, which is an undoubtedly true statement. He has only had four different offensive coordinators and two defensive coordinators, one of which he inherited. Of the five non-inherited coordinators, four were internal promotions. The other was Todd Haley, whom many continue to contend was forced upon him from ownership, a suggestion he disputes.
“I’m highly sensitive to it, but I don’t regret” having not hired a minority to any coordinator position, he told Cook. “I’ve had some good [black] coaches leave for other jobs. Ray Horton. Scottie Montgomery went back to college. Kirby Wilson was hurt in that house fire”.
Ray Horton, who also participated in the HBO program, was inherited as the Steelers’ secondary coach when Tomlin got the job. He landed a defensive coordinator role in 2010, and served in that capacity with three different teams, though is now out of the league.
Scottie Montgomery was hired as the team’s wide receiver’s coach as Tomlin came aboard, straight from the coaching ranks. After a few years, he got an opportunity act as associate head coach at Duke, his alma mater, and he took that job, eventually earning a head coaching job at East Carolina, though he is back in the NFL as of 2021 as an assistant.
Keith Butler has been the Steelers’ defensive backs coach since 2015, and appears now to be working on year-to-year contracts at the age of 64. Any year could be his last, either by his choice or otherwise. Teryl Austin or Karl Dunbar are two potential minority in-house candidates on the defensive coaching staff who could potentially become Tomlin’s first ever minority defensive coordinator, should he ever decide to ‘put his money where his mouth is’, so to speak.