As the annual Hall of Fame vote approaches, it’s time for plenty of the media members who will (or, in my case, won’t) be casting ballots to begin to push their agendas, either directly or more subtly.
A new item from Alex Marvez of SportingNews.com does little to hide the point of view in its self-explanatory headline: “Paul Tagliabue’s Hall of Fame case much stronger with Rooney Rule getting results.”
The article, the product of a radio interview Marvez and Bill Polian conducted with Tagliabue, contends that the “positive results” from the rule that requires at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for every head-coaching vacancy “will be a cornerstone of Tagliabue’s case for the Hall of Fame.” But are the results really all that positive?
Consider this observation, from December 2016: “I don’t think the Rooney Rule has done as much as anyone hoped it would.”
Who said that? Paul Tagliabue, of course.
All that’s changed since then is the addition of two minority head coaches out of five who have been hired in the current cycle. (Six, assuming the 49ers hire Kyle Shanahan.)
While Tagliabue deserves credit for putting the rule in place, it happened not as an act of altruism but in response to a clear warning from Cyrus Mehri and the late Johnnie Cochran regarding the very real potential for litigation if things didn’t improve. Tagliabue, a lawyer before becoming Commissioner, opted not to hunker down and gird for a fight but to offer a half-measure that would force teams to tap the brakes before ultimately hiring whoever they wanted to hire.
That process has indeed helped minority candidates enter the pipeline of candidates who get attention when owners are figuring out who they want to hire before deciding to fire the guy they currently have (e.g., the current posture of the Colts). Coaches like Mike Tomlin and Vance Joseph may have never gotten serious consideration to become head coaches without the rule mandating their interviews.
Still, it’s not clear how much of that becomes a feather in Tagliabue’s Hall of Fame cap, given that only little more than a month ago Tagliabue expressed concern that the rule hasn’t worked as hoped.
Then there’s the fact that, for the first 13 years of Tagliabue’s tenure, the NFL didn’t have a Rooney Rule and did have a grossly disproportionate underrepresentation of minority coaches. Also, when considered against other issues like the formation on Tagliabue’s watch of the controversial Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which worked actively (and shamefully) to deny and downplay the risks of head trauma, a 2017 uptick in minority coaching hires may not be enough to get Tagliabue the votes he needs.
Ultimately, he needs 80 percent of the voters to say yes. Having 33 percent of this year’s coaching class filled by minority hires is only one piece of a much larger puzzle that may or may not result in Tagliabue receiving the highest honor the sport can bestow. There’s a good chance that, regardless of any other considerations, at least one out of every five voters will find Tagliabue’s role in the concussion crisis to be a disqualifying factor.