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Dan Rooney defends the rule that bears his name, hints at expansion

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The NFL’s high-level hiring practices have come under fire in recent days, once the current cycle ended with no minority candidates hired for eight head-coaching jobs and seven G.M.-level positions.  And so it’s understandable that the man after whom the Rooney Rule is named would believe that the rule that bears his name isn’t the problem.

And, frankly, it isn’t.

“You can’t saddle these [coaches or owners] and say ‘You have to do this,’ ” Rooney tells the league in-house media company.  “We want minorities to get the job, and we’re willing to say that’s our goal.  But when it gets down to a team, you can’t say to them, ‘This is what you have to do.’  You can say to the owners that the Rooney Rule, you have to follow it.”

Still, it’s up to the league at large to set the terms of the Rooney Rule.  As currently constituted, the rule requires only that one minority candidate be interviewed for every head-coaching and G.M. job.  There’s a growing sense that the rule must expand.

While the letter of the rule routinely is followed, its spirit often is violated.  In 2003, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knew he was going to hire Bill Parcells.  But Jones had to comply with the Rooney Rule, so he interviewed Dennis Green by phone, prompting the league to tweak the Rooney Rule to require the interviews to be conducted in person.

In late 2009, the Redskins interviewed assistant coach Jerry Gray for the job held by Jim Zorn while Jim Zorn still had the job, at a time when everyone who was paying any attention knew that Mike Shanahan would be the team’s next coach.

This year, the Chiefs provided a perfunctory interview to Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong just before locking on to Andy Reid.  There has been little buzz in the league or the media that Armstrong is a viable head-coaching candidate — primarily because very few special-team coaches ever vault directly to the top job on the sidelines.

Though the NFL has yet to require that teams interview a minority candidate not currently employed by the team (which would be an easy and proper fix, given as Tony Dungy recently pointed out no African-American coach has been hired via an external search since Rooney hired Mike Tomlin in 2007), Rooney seems to be willing to expand the rule to include key assistant coaches, like offensive and defensive coordinators.

“With these eight [new] coaches, now they have to build a staff,” Rooney said. “A lot of people think it’s really difficult and things like that.  They do it quickly.  Where in times, they should look at the whole thing.  Is it necessary to do it as quickly as they’ve done?”

They do it quickly because they line up the staffs before they even get the jobs.  It’s one of the aspects of the interview — if we give you this job, who are you bringing with you?  And when it comes to hiring assistant coaches, diversity routinely takes a backseat to friendships and, frankly, nepotism.

While the guys who get the head-coaching jobs will grumble, that’s the easiest way to start filling the pipeline with diverse candidates, even though in the end the head coach will be free to hire friends and relatives (or relatives of friends) for the jobs on the coaching staff.  So there wouldn’t be, and couldn’t be, a hiring mandate, at any level of the coaching structure.

And that brings us back to the point most commonly raised by those who want to see any talk of minority coaches disappear.  As the argument goes, the teams are hoping to hire the best candidates for these jobs.  So if they believe that a white candidate is the best candidate, so be it.

That argument typically includes reference to the absence of white running backs and white cornerbacks from NFL teams.  But here’s the biggest difference.  NFL coaches and General Managers sift through hundred of players every year, looking for the best 90 to bring to training camp.  Then they carefully study those 90, looking for the best 53.  Then they constantly scrutinize those 53, ensuring that only the best 53 remain on the team and that the top 22 are at all times on the field.

Coaches and General Managers, in comparison to player acquisitions, rarely are fired and hired.  Teams don’t have a razor-sharp structure in place to find candidates and to vet candidates and to scrutinize candidates.  There are no drills or exercises that can be conducted to demonstrate tangible skills.  Even then, there’s no way to see what these candidates can do if they had the job.  Instead, a leap of faith is made based largely on conversations and communications and the “gut feeling” that arises during that process.

The Rooney Rule was promulgated because minority candidates weren’t getting sufficient chances to participate in that process, which prevented them from establishing the kind of rapport with a white owner and/or G.M. that would give the white owner and/or G.M. the “gut feeling” that this candidate is the best candidate for the job.  Since 2007, owners and General Managers ultimately have acquired the appropriate comfort level only with African-American candidates who have worked for the team in a capacity other than head coach (including interim head coach), giving the owner and other key decision-makers an extended opportunity to observe the candidate and to get to know him.

Put simply, the ridiculous views that got Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder fired by CBS are continuously undermined by a process that is put in place to find the best of the very best professional football players.  But the ridiculous views that got Al Campanis fired by the Dodgers (and I’d forgotten how great Ted Koppel was in response to Campanis) could still be lurking in the hearts and minds of some of the elderly white billionaires who own football teams, primarily because the opportunities to prove those warped attitudes incorrect are, in comparison to player turnover, few and far between.

In the end, the only solution may be the passage of time, as a new generation of men (or women) with more diverse backgrounds and experiences accumulate the wealth and the influence to purchase NFL teams.  The only way to accelerate that process could be a racial discrimination class-action lawsuit fueled not as much by a vague and convoluted sausage-making process as by the obvious output of the meat grinder.

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53 Responses to “Dan Rooney defends the rule that bears his name, hints at expansion”
  1. tluke25 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:22 AM

    Drew Brees needs an explanation

  2. ravenator says: Jan 20, 2013 11:32 AM

    Oh whatever, if they’re not the best coaching candidate for the team then they should not get the job. Judging the fans reaction to this season though Tomlin may be out with another 8-8 performance, yikes!

  3. benroethlisberger7 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:34 AM

    The Steelers organization is the class of the NFL. We have the most decorated franchise in all of sports.

  4. green41563 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:37 AM

    But when it gets down to a team, you can’t say to them, ‘This is what you have to do.’ You can say to the owners that the Rooney Rule, you have to follow it.”
    ___________________________________

    So in other words, you can’t tell the owners what to do, but you can create a rule that . . . tells the owners what to do.

  5. ace8842 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:41 AM

    It’s a college problem, not an NFL one. Look at all the head coaches and coordinators at these college universities…how many are minorities? There simply aren’t a ton of minority candidates to choose from. The Rooney rule should not be expanded…instead, we should be focusing on college.

  6. 4thqtrsaint says: Jan 20, 2013 11:42 AM

    Beautifully thought out, Mike. The eventual replacement of the old owners is the only thing that will truly work, I think. Every new generation of every race seems to be more tolerant of one another. Its a slow process, but its gotten us this far and I can only hope it holds true and continues.

  7. mantastic54 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:45 AM

    The problem with the rule is that it was made to give more opportunities to minorities because there are so many minorities in the league as players. Well you don’t need to be an Nfl player to be a good coach, many of the good head coaches have never played a down in the nfl

  8. cardslifer says: Jan 20, 2013 11:49 AM

    Couldn’t agree more Mike!

  9. johnnytarr says: Jan 20, 2013 11:50 AM

    In a billion dollar industry does anyone really think that teams would rather have an inferior caucasian candidate get the job over a more qualified minority? If they choose the wrong candidate, regardless of color, it affects business.

  10. bradleyj520 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:53 AM

    Mike, well said. I was a little disappointed to read the comments section of the previous Rooney Rule argument. Seeing how many people did not understand the rule, comparing it to white players, was disheartening. Thanks for explaining it to these peons.

  11. sg419 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:55 AM

    Didn’t Reggie McKenzie, who is Afican-American, fire Hue Jackson, who is also African American, and replace him with Dennis Allen who is white?

  12. jeremyb91 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:55 AM

    The biggest obstacle facing coaches and not just minorities is the NFL’s BS rule that allows teams to squat on coaches who want to get promotions on other teams staffs but get denied because the rule states teams can block promotions provided its not a head coaching position.

    Remove this obstacle and ALL coaches will start getting promotions and advancing in their profession. You’ll see more new guys instead of the familiar retreads every season.

  13. 6thsense79 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:55 AM

    Thank you for debunking that silly argument about running backs and other players. There is no thorough and continous process for evaluating coaches and GM before they earn their jobs. Many times it simply comes down to the interview process. It’s much easier to evaluate physical skills than management and interpersonal skills.

    It’s the same thing in the business world. At the top level of business there are only a handful of people that can be CEO. This despite the fact that there are probably many times more people that could do the job of CEO at the Senior level of most companies. After hardwork oppurtunity is the biggest factor.

    I think an even bigger injustice is that there are no women at the GM level of football. If you want to argue about the logistics of women coaching football team you may have valid points. I won’t neceassirily agree with it but they may be valid. However there is no reason at all that not a single woman (many of whom when given the chance at sr. level and CEO level in the business world have succeeded) can’t be successful at the GM level.

  14. bradleyj520 says: Jan 20, 2013 11:57 AM

    In a billion dollar industry does anyone really think that teams would rather have an inferior caucasian candidate get the job over a more qualified minority? If they choose the wrong candidate, regardless of color, it affects business.

    ——————————
    Andy Reid’s record the last three seasons: 22-26

    Lovie Smith: 29-21.

    Yet, Andy found a job in about a week….

  15. gonavybeatarmy says: Jan 20, 2013 11:59 AM

    If Roger Goodell and Dan Rooney are so concerned with a lack of minorities in positions of power in the NFL they could both today make visible and powerful statements. Roger Goodell could resign his $9 million dollar a year position on the condition that a minority replace him immediately, and Rooney could sell the team he worked SO hard to purchase (inherit) to a minority for a fraction of its real value.

    Talk is cheap.

  16. 6thsense79 says: Jan 20, 2013 12:02 PM

    johnnytarr says:Jan 20, 2013 11:50 AM

    In a billion dollar industry does anyone really think that teams would rather have an inferior caucasian candidate get the job over a more qualified minority? If they choose the wrong candidate, regardless of color, it affects business.
    ————————

    But Johnny…that’s just the point. When it comes to senior level positions most in football have been choosing people they’re most comfortable with. I guess the Rooney rule is just asking owners to think outside the box. Instead of giving a Norv Turner a 4th or 5th oppurtunity how about looking at someone outside your comfort zone?

    It’s impossible to prove your worth if you never get the oppurtunity. I see so many on here even against minorities getting the oppurtunity to even interview via the Rooney rule. You can’t tell me with so many minority assistant coaches in the game that there isn’t a significant number of candidates worthy enough of the oppurtunity to even interview for a head coaching job. Yet until the Rooney rule came along that exactly was the situation.

  17. daflabear says: Jan 20, 2013 12:03 PM

    The Rooney Rule HAS worked as it stands.
    The original idea was to give minority Coaches exposure and interview experience they may never have received without it.
    It was not meant to create a quota system.
    Owners and fans want winning teams, the most qualified will always be selected.
    Making sure minority applicants receive interviews via the current Rooney rule is working, there is no need to change it.

  18. kotapug says: Jan 20, 2013 12:04 PM

    The owner is going to hire who they think can get the most production out of the players on the field . And the coach is going to start who they think can produce more on the field. So to make it fair across the board should each team also have to have a tryout with at least one white guy at each position ? Just because you can play does not mean you can coach . Just because you are a great mind of the game does not mean you can play.

  19. guitarmaninks says: Jan 20, 2013 12:08 PM

    I want more white WR’s and DB’s this isn’t fair that there are not more of them in the NFL.

  20. gdfbar says: Jan 20, 2013 12:11 PM

    The Rooney rule is terribly flawed, and insulting to everybody involved on some level. The real way to fix this rule is to only apply it in cases where teams interview more than one candidate. That way if somebody can get a guy like Jeff Fisher, and wants Jeff Fisher they don’t need to run demeaning sham interviews with some poor shill that never had a shot at the job. How are they going to expand it? They can’t demand that a team actually hire a candidate if they don’t think that that person is a good fit, so what are they going to do? Are they going to require more sham interviews per team, or maybe give bonuses (draft pick/ cap break) for hiring minority coaches? Those sound like horrible ideas to me.

  21. bobzilla1001 says: Jan 20, 2013 12:15 PM

    Mike Tomlin was hired because of his dynamic personality. He is the most engaging head coach in Steelers history. His weekly pressers are mesmerizing. His one-liners are unique, and his delivery is smooth. He’s fun to listen to.
    Tomlin replaced a white guy (Bill Cowher), and he has built an impressive record with that white guy’s players. But after six, mostly successful seasons, we still don’t know if he can actually, you know, coach.
    Routinely losing to teams like the Raiders, Titans, Chargers and Browns (twice in four seasons), keeps the jury deliberating and definitely still out.

  22. cooklynn17 says: Jan 20, 2013 12:15 PM

    Hate to break it too you, but if I’m the ownwr of a ream, I will hirw anybody I want. Purple, green or orange.

    So expand all you want…

  23. Nofoolnodrool says: Jan 20, 2013 12:19 PM

    Jan 20, 2013, 11:32 AM EST
    Oh whatever, if they’re not the best coaching candidate for the team then they should not get the job. Judging the fans reaction to this season though Tomlin may be out with another 8-8 performance, yikes!
    Yikes you actually said something intelligent, but went and stewed up with the second part.
    They hired him not to fire him and he has something you don’t have …guess what

  24. bigbluefan11 says: Jan 20, 2013 12:20 PM

    gdfbar says: Jan 20, 2013 12:11 PM

    The Rooney rule is terribly flawed, and insulting to everybody involved on some level. The real way to fix this rule is to only apply it in cases where teams interview more than one candidate. That way if somebody can get a guy like Jeff Fisher, and wants Jeff Fisher they don’t need to run demeaning sham interviews with some poor shill that never had a shot at the job. How are they going to expand it? They can’t demand that a team actually hire a candidate if they don’t think that that person is a good fit, so what are they going to do? Are they going to require more sham interviews per team, or maybe give bonuses (draft pick/ cap break) for hiring minority coaches? Those sound like horrible ideas to me.
    ====================================
    Excellent point. The sham interviews makes the process a joke for everyone involved. Last season, Kansas City decided to hire Romeo Crennel as permanent head coach after his stint as interim. No sham interviews were required. But, when they focused on the equally qualified Andy Reid, the joke interview, and interview jokes started flowing.

  25. benroethlisberger7 says: Jan 20, 2013 12:21 PM

    We win SBs

  26. couchbasher says: Jan 20, 2013 12:24 PM

    hire the best qualified person regardless of skin color. This rule is outdated and sadly creates a race issue that isn’t there.

  27. kw27p says: Jan 20, 2013 12:30 PM

    Who ever said the steelers were the most decorated in sport: get your facts and come back and see me,lol. Yankees 27 titles,celtics 17 titles,lakers 16 titles etc

  28. kattykathy says: Jan 20, 2013 12:35 PM

    Hmmm. Where is the part that “hints at expansion”?

  29. superputman says: Jan 20, 2013 12:35 PM

    I think there should be more minority coaches.. but I also think there should be more white cornerbacks.

  30. 6thsense79 says: Jan 20, 2013 12:38 PM

    In the other two major sports (Baseball and Basketball) both at the pro level and college level minorities have been granted the oppurtunity to coach, succeed, and fail at the highest levels. It’s just plain puzzling to me that the same doesn’t hold true in either college or pros.

    I guess my question to you all then who thinks there is no problem with that is why do you think so far minorities are hired to coach college or pro teams? Are you saying there are virtually no qualified minorities for head coaching positions? If not then can you explain your position?

  31. 6thsense79 says: Jan 20, 2013 12:41 PM

    guitarmaninks says:Jan 20, 2013 12:08 PM

    I want more white WR’s and DB’s this isn’t fair that there are not more of them in the NFL.
    ————————-

    Again…the article clearly explains why this argument is silly when compared with the coaching situation.

  32. jpmelon says: Jan 20, 2013 12:46 PM

    Racism in any form is still racism.

  33. shenanigans24 says: Jan 20, 2013 12:46 PM

    Andy Reid’s record the last three seasons: 22-26

    Lovie Smith: 29-21.

    Yet, Andy found a job in about a week….
    ———————————————————————————–

    Andy Reid was also the GM and has a career winning record. Lovie was the coach for 9 years and missed the playoffs the last 2. If he was building something (And he should have been) it didn’t work. Teams are looking to win the SB not be knew good. That’s why guys like Schottenheimer get fired after going 14-2. The point is to win the SB.

  34. TheWizard says: Jan 20, 2013 1:16 PM

    Horrible rule. Tells minorities they’re too weak to succeed on their own, we have to legislate it.

    Bad message to send.

  35. trrrblesircharles says: Jan 20, 2013 1:41 PM

    Anyone that disrespeck the Roony-Roo is trrrrble. Mr. Roony has done great things for my Aubrun Tigers and the NFL.

  36. bobzilla1001 says: Jan 20, 2013 1:51 PM

    shenanigans:
    I respectfully disagree.
    The point is not to win Super Bowls but to keep a team relevant. There is nothing relevant about any team that compiles a 22-26 record over a three-season period.
    In 1992, Bill Cowher inherited a team from a legendary coach, whose teams spent the entire 1980s being mostly irrrelevant.
    Chuck Noll’s Steelers went from “Team of the Decade” of the 1970s to the 1980s’ “Team of Despair.”
    To watch Cowher’s immediate and swift impact was a thing of beauty. He kept the Steelers mostly relevant for 15 seasons. And, as a fan, I was good with that.
    Cowher’s two Super Bowl appearances were merely icing on the cake.

  37. mrlaloosh says: Jan 20, 2013 1:58 PM

    The Rooney rule is a sham and an insult to all black coaches.
    Remember when Cowher quit the Steelers and the media was all in on who should be the next coach. Wisenhut & Grimm were the candidates. All of a sudden the Steelers hire a coordinator from the Vikings who is what. Black. This was by far the lock bet of the century. That the Steelers were going to install a black coach. After all it is the ROONEY RULE! Vince Lombardi himself could rise from the grave and wanted the Steelers job and it wasn’t going to happen. It had to be a black coach. Now that most of Cowhers players are gone or getting old Tomlin needs to prove the naysayers wrong. He may just do that. But he may not. The problem is if he were white he wouldn’t have gotten any consideration for that job. Welcome to 2013.

  38. dmretrogames says: Jan 20, 2013 2:02 PM

    Poor Mike Tomlin. His owner just admits he was a token hire.

    Dan Rooney is a racist. He thinks black men aren’t smart enough to succeed without him lowering his Shanty Irish white hand down to them.

  39. kgsmith says: Jan 20, 2013 2:08 PM

    Then how about implementing a Rooney rule clause to get more whites on the field, or how about more whites on the basketball courts.. The NBA is 90% blacks, why aren’t we fixing that? Oh that’s right, its a benefit to the blacks..

  40. randygnyc says: Jan 20, 2013 2:12 PM

    The demonization of rich, white owners continues. Never mind that each NFL team employs a higher percentage of minorities than what can be found in our country, they employ more minorities, period.

  41. Slim Charles says: Jan 20, 2013 2:18 PM

    Lot of sad, bitter people in this comment thread.

    The worst thing about affirmative action is that it gives incompetent white people something to blame when their life doesn’t turn out the way the want it to.

  42. firestarter0728 says: Jan 20, 2013 2:19 PM

    This right here is the biggest problem with Affirmative Action – it diminishes the accomplishments of the truly qualified candidates.

    Always, in the back of people’s minds will be the question of whether he got the job because he deserved it, or because the team was trying to push “diversity”.

    The Rooney Rule needs to go. Now.

  43. eddielionhead says: Jan 20, 2013 2:20 PM

    Hire who is the best for you team, Dan Rooney does. The Rooney rule is a bunch of BS.

  44. Nofoolnodrool says: Jan 20, 2013 2:21 PM

    dmretrogames | Jan 20, 2013, 2:02 PM EST
    Poor Mike Tomlin. His owner just admits he was a token hire.

    Dan Rooney is a racist. He thinks black men aren’t smart enough to succeed without him lowering his Shanty Irish white hand down to them.

    The comment you made reflects you aren’t a smart black man , but you are a dumb racist…

  45. vltrophy14 says: Jan 20, 2013 2:22 PM

    Responding to the steelers fans comments: every fan likes to think of their team as the most decorated. The most decorated team is the Green Bay Packers. 1)The Super Bowl Trophy is named after one of our former head coaches. Vince Lombardi. 2)We have 13 Championships. 3)Vince Lombardi won 5 championships in 7 years. This has never been duplicated. 4)people from all over the world come to Green Bay to visit & tour Lambeau Field. You may have more reasons why you think your team is the most decorated BUT the Green Bay Packers have a part & will always have a part in every Super Bowl. Any team that want to win the Super Bowl wants a piece of Green Bay Packers history

  46. nflovercollegefb says: Jan 20, 2013 2:29 PM

    Doing things in the name of Diversity and Political Correctness are two of the biggest shams ever played upon the American people.

    As a business owner you have earned the right to hire who you feel is the best for the job as well as who you feel most comfortable with, hoever they want to define it.

    We are a free country, let’s act like it.

  47. invaiduh says: Jan 20, 2013 2:37 PM

    its not scouting department for players and names out of a hat for coaches. they don’t just guess when picking a coach, his staff or drafting a player. they are ALL leaps of faith.
    they ALL want to win and race has nothing to do with it.

  48. riverhorsey says: Jan 20, 2013 2:41 PM

    The Rooney rule is fine but I don’t think it needs to be amended to force teams to have external interviews for minorities as long as an internal interview is done.

    Token interviews are done with everyone if for no other reason than to use them as a bargaining chip in a prelude to negotiations

  49. dmretrogames says: Jan 20, 2013 2:46 PM

    “dmretrogames | Jan 20, 2013, 2:02 PM EST
    Poor Mike Tomlin. His owner just admits he was a token hire.

    Dan Rooney is a racist. He thinks black men aren’t smart enough to succeed without him lowering his Shanty Irish white hand down to them.

    The comment you made reflects you aren’t a smart black man , but you are a dumb racist…”

    I’m neither black nor a racist. White people who think that black people can’t succeed without the help of white people are racists.

    By definition.

  50. 44mpo says: Jan 20, 2013 2:53 PM

    Doing things in the name of Diversity and Political Correctness are two of the biggest shams ever played upon the American people.

    As a business owner you have earned the right to hire who you feel is the best for the job as well as who you feel most comfortable with, hoever they want to define it.

    We are a free country, let’s act like it.

    Where are you from? Oh, America pre 2008.

  51. koenig61 says: Jan 20, 2013 3:28 PM

    A lot of the comments on here truly worry me. So many people act as though this rule says you MUST hire a minority. All this rule says is “interview” them. I can watch football all I want and think I know who is good or not good when it comes to being a HC DC or OC. But how can I know the person until I interview them and learn their philosophy on the game and the position I’m hiring for?

    It’s why we see the same old conversation with every HC hiring, Cower, Gruden, Bilick, Reid, Turner etc. people say a college coach or Canadian FB coach won’t work in the NFL, or that an option QB won’t work. We have these stereotypes for a reason. People don’t think outside the box. To think outside the box, you need too talk to more than just the status quo when it comes to these openings.

    Haven’t any of you made a judgement on someone you’ve seen but never talked to, but after talking to them, you realize, I was totally wrong, and need to expand my horizons.

    Bottom line the Rooney rule does not mandate hiring, only expanding your search and interviewing.

    One of the best articles I’ve read from PFT, and I don’t usually agree with Florios comments. Oh yes, I’m white, cause I know some of you will base your opinion of my views assuming I’m a minority.

  52. koenig61 says: Jan 20, 2013 3:35 PM

    Mr all oohs you are crazy if you think the Rooneys risked their entire franchise and hired a black coach just to satisfy the Rooney rule. I’m certain they would risk a billon dollar franchise and their fan base just for appearances. That’s naïveté at its best. Sometimes I wonder do people hate the rule more because its called the Rooney rule? How can anyone be upset that there’s a rule that says talk to more people? Interview more candidates. I hate force hires, not force interviews.

  53. dmretrogames says: Jan 20, 2013 3:52 PM

    When Noll took over in Pittsburgh, he cleaned house and hired his own staff. When Cowher took over, same thing.

    When Tomlin took over, Arians got promoted from within, everything else stayed the same until Rooney fired Arians last year and brought in Haley.

    Does that sound like a coach that’s in charge?

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