There have been something like 16 head coaching vacancies opened within the past two hiring cycles in the NFL. Four of those positions went to minorities, including one black head coach who was fired after one season.
This has resulted in even proponents of the NFL’s Rooney Rule to turn against it, over the simple fact that it is not producing the intended results, which is to promote greater diversity in roles of leadership around the league. Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II, however, reiterated in speaking with Andrew Stockey of WTAE in an interview last night that he does see progress being made in other areas, even while acknowledging that the area in which that growth has lacked is what the original focus was.
“Certainly, when the Rooney Rule was brought in and my father and Commissioner Tagliabue and others at that point in time decided to implement the rule, the focus was on head coach, and it is still part of the focus, but not the only focus”, he said. “The Rooney Rule is now implemented across the league on all levels, and in particular at the senior levels of all the organizations to the point where you now have seven minority GMs in the league. And so we’ve seen growth in other areas”.
He maintained that, in spite of what he categorized as a lack of progress among head coaches, he remains optimistic that the Rooney Rule, and the changes that they have made, have been effective and will still lead to changes. When asked his thoughts on proponents of scrapping the rule altogether and replacing it with something else, he did not sound supportive of that.
“What we’ve seen in other job positions in the league, I think, shows us that it can work. So that’s what we’re focused on”, he said. “I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re saying, ‘Okay, we’re gonna scrap everything and start over’. I think it’s just a matter of building on and enhancing what we already have in place. There are always things that we need to look at to make changes or improvements, and we’ll continue to do that”.
The most recent changes to the Rooney Rule included the incorporation of an incentive when teams lose a minority coach or executive to another team for a promotion to head coach or a general-manager-equivalent position. Such teams who lose said candidates receive two third-round compensatory draft picks, one per season (or three altogether, should they lose more than one in the same offseason). Additionally, it was recently made a requirement that teams must interview two external minority candidates for coordinator jobs, the same requirements for head coach and general manager.
“I think the biggest thing, and it’s the basic philosophy of the rule, is just to make sure that opportunities are there, and I think, again, what we’ve seen is that the opportunities for minorities to interview for positions across the league, including head coach, have increased dramatically over the last couple of years”, Rooney said. “While I wouldn’t ask anybody to stay patient on something like this, I do believe that we will see progress. We may have to make changes, enhance the rule, but I think what we have in place now is working, and hopefully will continue to work”.
Unfortunately, Rooney was not actively asked to address, nor did he voluntarily comment on, the elephant in the room, which is the idea of the ‘sham’ interviews that many critics feel plague the interview process and the Rooney Rule—and which is a fundamental part of the lawsuit his new coach filed.
I think if there’s one thing that is universally agreed upon when it comes to the Rooney Rule is the fact that it creates a scenario in which interviews are conducted under false pretenses; sometimes an interview may be conducted for a position that is all but officially filled, just for the sake of checking the box. This is something both critics and proponents of the rule acknowledge and oppose, and it’s the thing that wasn’t discussed.