As the NFL and its teams embark on an effort to inject some (any) diversity into the hiring process, the focal point will be the Rooney Rule.
Some think another rule should receive equal scrutiny.
Several years ago, the NFL decided to allow teams to block assistant coaches under contract from taking a promotion with another team, unless the position offered is head coach. As a result, position coaches are now routinely prevented from becoming coordinators. Which in turn delays their ability to develop into head-coaching candidates — and to demonstrate that they are ready to take the next step.
Which ultimately makes it harder for a coaching staff chock full of talent from spawning five head coaches, like the 1992 Packers did.
Former Buccaneers defensive backs coach (and current Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin was a prime example of this dynamic. His ascension to defensive coordinator was delayed for several years because he was stuck behind Monte Kiffin in Tampa and unable to accept that position with any other team.
Getting rid of that rule would put more up-and-coming position coaches in the pipeline for coordinator jobs, perhaps reversing the trend of churning former head coaches and former coordinators into coordinator positions.
So how will this introduce more (any) diversity into head-coaching hires? As one league source explained it, minority position coaches who have concerns about whether the playing field is truly level are routinely tempted to embrace the security of a contract extension, which in turn prevents these coaches from becoming a coordinator with any other team until that contract expires.
Still, some think that reversing the current rule will lead to the very abuses that caused the NFL to adopt the rule in the first place. A team that wants to pilfer another team’s offensive line coach would give its offensive coordinator a new title (“senior offensive assistant,” for example) and add offensive coordinator to the offensive line coach’s title.
It’s a valid concern, but surely the league can come up with a way to prevent this, specifically by imposing stiff penalties on anyone who hires an offensive coordinator but doesn’t actually let him coordinate the offense.
Regardless of what happens with the rule regarding the hiring of coordinators, the discussion demonstrates that the challenge of increasing diversity has no easy or obvious solution. But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying to find one.