The NFL expanded the Rooney Rule once again, somewhat quietly yesterday, amid a flurry of news as well as the start of OTAs for most teams in the league, including the team that hired Brian Flores, the Pittsburgh Steelers, while he is suing the league.
Flores alleges in a lawsuit, which has since picked up additional plaintiffs including former Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton, that the NFL and its constituent teams have engaged in racist hiring practices for a long time. While their response to the suit called it without merit, they continue to take steps that would seem to try to address concerns—or at least perceptions—of racism.
The league already expanded the Rooney Rule once this year, which included the addition of the inclusion of women as eligible candidates to satisfy the rule. The latest expansion now requires teams to interview external minority candidates not just for head coach and coordinator roles, but also the role of quarterbacks coach—the first and only position coach job now subject to such standards.
The reasoning behind this is well-known, of course. New head coaching hires primarily come from amongst those who have had success as offensive coordinators, and most offensive coordinators spent time as quarterbacks coach prior to that. Sometimes, a team will even hire a quarterbacks coach—like the Bengals did with Zac Taylor—to be their head coach.
In essence, the quarterbacks coach job has been identified as a key position in the pipeline toward employment as head coach, and that is job that has been dominated by white male coaches. There aren’t many of a minority ethnicity who are doing that job these days.
The hope is obviously that requiring teams to interview external minority candidates for this job will help to foster the increased number hires of a diverse nature. Teams who may have concerns with those they interview for head coach will see it as a lower bar for assurance, as a position coach, even if it is an important one.
The irony is that many advocates for diversity within the coaching ranks have increasingly begun to identify the Rooney Rule as fatally flawed—which is a fundamental part of Flores’ lawsuit. Even when the rule is technically complied with, there is a justified perception that this compliance often takes the form of ‘sham’ interviews conducted with minorities with no intention of seriously considering him—often for a job that has already been all but filled.
That is what Flores alleges happened to him this offseason when he interviewed for the New York Giants’ vacancy—none other than Bill Belichick congratulated him on getting the job, before he interviewed, evidently thinking he was texting Brian Daboll, who did get the job.
Cited in the lawsuit was an interview given by former Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who said that while interviewing for the Tennessee Titans head coach job, was told that he had the job before they had even complied with the Rooney Rule. It was information that he volunteered willingly when asked about having any regrets in coaching—he was never asked anything about the Rooney Rule.