If there was any doubt that the Washington Redskins will be firing coach Jim Zorn and quickly hiring Mike Shanahan (or someone else), there should be no doubt now.
Andrea Kremer of NBC reported during Sunday night’s game between Dallas and Washington that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “a few weeks ago,” and that Snyder asked Goodell whether interviewing secondary coach Jerry Gray for the head-coaching job and interviewing director of pro personnel Morocco Brown for the G.M. position would comply with the Rooney Rule.
Per Kremer, Goodell called John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, to discuss the situation. Wooten spoke with Gray and Brown, and Wooten concluded that the interviews were legitimate, and that the interviews complied with the Rooney Rule.
This information from Wooten conflicts with our recent report, based on information from NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, that compliance with the Rooney Rule as to head coaches presumes the existence of a vacancy.
This means that there can’t be compliance with the Rooney Rule before a head-coaching vacancy exists.
Reached via e-mail for reaction to Andrea Kremer’s report, Aiello said that the league “cannot comment on the application of the rule to a head coaching position that is not vacant.”
In subsequent exchanges with Aiello, however, it became apparent that the league has some discomfort regarding attempts to comply with the Rooney Rule with respect to head-coaching jobs that aren’t yet vacant.
Specifically, Aiello pointed out that a team “can’t be non-compliant if there is no vacancy.” Asked whether this also means that a team can comply if there’s no vacancy, Aiello said, “Not officially. That is why we are not commenting on it. Jim Zorn is the head coach. As you noted, the rule is silent on whether there must be a vacancy before there can be compliance.”
But, again, it’s silent because the rule presumes that a team would be looking for someone to fill a job only once the job is open.
Either way, we continue to be troubled by the Redskins’ attempt to interview minority candidates for positions that are not yet available. Compliance with the Rooney Rule shouldn’t be regarded as a chore or an annoyance, and that’s exactly how the Redskins, in our opinion, are treating it.
Besides, why would Brown or Gray believe that their interviews were legitimate, and why would Wooten not be able (or willing) to see through the facade? It’s an open secret that Snyder has been pursuing Mike Shanahan for months, and that Shanahan and Bruce Allen are regarded as a package deal. Though the Redskins might have created the impression that the interviews of Brown and Gray were legitimate — possibly because the Redskins legitimately were interested in exploring whether either or both men should have roles in the new Shanahan-Allen regime — the interviews necessarily were sham sessions if, as it appears, Shanahan and Allen were the predetermined targets.
Pre-compliance with the Rooney Rule sets a dangerous precedent. If permitted, it would allow teams to interview in-house minority candidates before a season ends, and then to hire the person that the team already has settled on for employment without delay.
So we’ll renew the suggestion we made after Allen was hired, only 114 minutes after Vinny Cerrato resigned. No interviews should be deemed to comply with the Rooney Rule before the vacancy has been created and announced.
Also, interviews of minority candidates employed by the team should never satisfy the Rooney Rule. Folks on the payroll have a strong incentive to be team players, and it is tempting for such candidate-employees to justify looking the other way regarding a possible violation of the Rooney Rule in the name of preserving and/or advancing a career.
We believe there’s a point where the Rooney Rule no longer will be needed, and the league should constantly ask itself whether that time has come. Until the Rooney Rule is removed from the books, however, teams should be required to respect its terms and its spirit.
The Redskins might be dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, but if the many reports about Snyder’s extended pursuit of Shanahan are true, the Redskins are merely hiring the person they want to hire — and lawyering their way around the requirements of the Rooney Rule.