It’s an issue that has ping-ponged for more than two weeks. And, finally, we think we have a definitive answer.
The Redskins may hire Mike Shanahan to be the team’s next coach without conducting any any further interviews.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told us via e-mail this morning that “teams can interview during the season members of their own staff or coaches not working for NFL teams as prospective head coaches” and that “[s]uch interviews would count toward Rooney Rule compliance.”
So if, at is has been widely reported, the Redskins interviewed secondary coach Jerry Gray for the job that until today Jim Zorn held, Gray will not need to be interviewed again, which is directly contrary to Sunday’s report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and sort-of contrary to the initial word we obtained from Aiello, who told us on December 20 that the Rooney Rule as it applies to head coaches presumes the existence a vacancy.
Though this development seems to close the book on the Redskins’ efforts to satisfy the requirements of the rule, it does nothing to alter our belief that the franchise has made a mockery of the mandate by picking a new G.M. and a new head coach and then interviewing in-house minority candidates who had no chance of being hired for either job, and that the league office and the Fritz Pollard Alliance failed to keep it from happening.
The Rooney Rule was adopted in response to not-so-subtle threats of a lawsuit from Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri. In theory, the rule would serve as evidence supporting the league’s diverse and inclusive hiring practices if/when a legal challenge occurs.
As a practical matter, however, the Redskins’ handling of the ultimate hiring of Mike Shanahan (unless he gets a better offer or cold feet) will be used against the league if/when a racial discrimination suit is filed by a minority candidate who believes that the practice of allowing the current minority employees of a team to be interviewed for jobs that aren’t yet vacant necessarily transforms the rule into a form-over-substance exercise in managing litigation risk.