The NFL enacted the Rooney Rule in 2003, which has undergone numerous revisions over the course of the subsequent decades; lately, it has become virtually an annual tradition to make some modification of the rule, with the 2022 offseason being no exception.
But the most interesting aspect of the Rooney Rule that was recently exposed is the fact that, evidently, since its implementation, there has always existed a loophole around which teams could have avoided complying—provided that they were extremely patient.
Recently, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians announced his retirement from that chair, and the team announced at the same time that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles would succeed him as head coach.
Even though Bowles is black, the news struck many as strange, because there had been no indications that they had gone through an interview process, which would be required by the Rooney Rule. At least two external candidates who are female or of a minority ethnicity must be interviewed. Bowles is just one candidate, and not an external one.
And there’s nothing in the rule stating that the rest of the rule doesn’t have to be complied with as long as the eventual hire is a minority or a woman. But the Rooney Rule has evidently never applied after March 1, at which point teams could deny candidates they employ the opportunity to interview for vacant positions.
While the transfer that took place in Tampa Bay led to a new head coaching position for a minority, it exposed a loophole that had never been tested before. And now, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the league is considering closing it.
While it is not known whether or not the NFL will ultimately act on this, let alone in what manner they would do so, Florio offers a simple solution for situations that arise in which a head coach post is vacated, for one reason or another, and must be filled after March 1.
If a team does not comply with the Rooney Rule, they could name somebody as an interim head coach for the subsequent season (which is what happens almost every year when a head coach is fired in the middle of the season), after which they would be required to conduct a full interview process that complies with the rules in place.
The Rooney Rule is designed, at least in theory, to ensure that minorities and women have a fair opportunity to be considered for employment at the highest levels in coaching and at the executive level. Requiring that each vacancy go through an interview process that involves minorities and women had been the attempt to address that.
The Buccaneers could have easily hired a white man to be their next head coach, however, without interviewing any minorities or women for the post. While I understand that most would be perfectly fine with that, the reality is that it violates the spirit of the rules in place, which is why the league is now considering closing the loophole that the hiring of Bowles exposed.
And as long as the Rooney Rule is still a thing, it’s understandable that the league would want to preserve whatever image of integrity it may carry. With that being said, it’s incredibly unlikely to come up very often, but it could in the event that another team has an internal head coaching candidate it wants to promote, which they could do without going through the hoops simply by waiting until after March 1.