A full 13 years after the NFL fashioned the Rooney Rule, the Commissioner who presided over its development and adoption isn’t happy with its performance.
“I don’t think the Rooney Rule has done as much as anyone hoped it would,” Paul Tagliabue said at the 2016 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, via Danial Kaplan of SportsBusiness Daily.
Tagliabue later elaborated, in comments to Kaplan.
“What is it, five out of 32?” Tagliabue said regarding the number of minority head coaches currently in the NFL. “Everyone feels, I am sure, that it would be nice if there was more talent rising to the top.”
The current minority head coaches are Todd Bowles of the Jets, Marvin Lewis of the Bengals, Hue Jackson of the Browns, Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, Jim Caldwell of the Lions, and Ron Rivera of the Panthers.
The Rooney Rule primarily requires that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for all coaching and G.M. jobs. The problem in most cases is that owners decide who they want to hire before firing their current coaches or General Managers, and the challenge comes from getting the owners to slow down and broaden the lens before making offers.
There’s also a question as to whether the Rooney Rule currently represents anything more than an effort to check boxes. Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, for example, said earlier this year that only two of his four interviews from the last hiring cycle were legitimate.
The league can only do so much to compel teams to consider minority candidates. The goal should be to embrace the manner in which owners make hiring decisions, and to ensure that, when formulating a wish list, minority candidates have a fair chance to show up on it.
Requiring at least one minority interview helps, because it gets the names of minority coaches into the media and creates a sense of inevitability that the coach will get an opportunity to run his own team. This dynamic would become even more significant if the NFL addressed the under representation of minority coaches at key positions like offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
NFL teams often gravitate toward coaches who know how to spot and groom quarterbacks; unless more minority assistant coaches are honing those skills, they won’t get into the conversation of potential head-coaching candidates.
With too few minority head coaches at the college level, another potential reservoir of talented candidates never becomes fully developed. But with the NFL chronically treading lightly when it comes to its relationship with the stewards of pro football’s free farm system, don’t count on the NFL to start twisting arms to get college football to do a better job when it comes to considering minority coaches.
So while the situation is better than it was 13 years ago, Tagliabue thinks it’s not nearly good enough. The NFL, which has a natural desire to not make the problem seem as bad as it is, tends to never make similar remarks, at least not publicly.
Hopefully, efforts are privately being considered to develop qualified minority candidates and to get their names in front of owners not after current coaches and General Managers are fired but before the moves are made, when the owners are quietly figuring out who they want to hire next.