Before Sunday night, multiple publications had reported that Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray had interviewed for the head-coaching job held by Jim Zorn. (We also have reported that defensive coordinator Greg Blache interviewed for the job.) At one point, Gray awkwardly failed to deny that he had been interviewed.
On Sunday night, NBC’s Andrea Kremer reported that Gray had indeed been interviewed, and she offered up intriguing details regarding the manner in which the Redskins had asked the NFL to declare that the interview constitutes compliance with the Rooney Rule’s requirement that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for every head-coaching vacancy, even though there wasn’t — and still isn’t — a head-coaching vacancy in D.C.
Kremer also reported that the league deferred the question to John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, who somehow concluded that the interview wasn’t simply aimed at clearing the path for the Redskins to hire whomever they chose (i.e., Mike Shanahan), whenever they choose to do so (i.e., as soon as the plane returns from San Diego).
On Monday, Wooten confirmed in an interview with Rick Maese of the Washington Post that the Fritz Pollard Alliance believes the Redskins have complied with the Rooney Rule, even though the position for which Gray interviewed is still filled.
“They have done what we look for in an interview, therefore, they have satisfied the Rooney Rule,” Wooten told Maese.
The irony here is that the Redskins’ pre-compliance with a rule aimed at creating opportunities for minority coaches in part by getting their names into the discussions that arise when coaching jobs become available has possibly killed Gray’s NFL career with any team other than the Redskins.
As one league insider explained it to us, no head coach will ever fully trust a man who interviews behind the head coach’s back for a job that the head coach still holds.
“Gray was on the radar screen as a potential head coach about five years ago,” the source said. “Then,
he had to claw back to get back into the discussion as a coordinator. There was no chance he was going to be the head coach of the Redskins. If he doesn’t get
a lifetime contract from [Redskins owner Daniel] Snyder, he may not get another job because every head
coach and coordinator will wonder what he does when he is not in the room.
did [Gray] get on Snyder’s radar screen? Was he undermining the head coach for a while?
Snyder threw Gray under the bus to execute his senseless plan to keep [Jim Zorn] in the
head sets, and, in the process, he also undercut the value of the Rooney Rule.”
That’s our bigger concern. The Fritz Pollard Alliance, by inexplicably agreeing that an interview conducted behind the back of a sitting head coach complies with the letter and the spirit of a procedure aimed at injecting fairness and diversity into the hiring process, has irreparably damaged the Rooney Rule.
Wooten apparently gave no thought to the precedent that he has created, and the blueprint has now been established for any other owner who hopes to dispense with annoying details like interviewing a minority candidate before hiring the white guy the owner already has determined he wants to hire. (Under that approach, the team owned by the man for whom the Rooney Rule was named easily could have interviewed defensive backs coach Darren Perry for the job everyone knew Bill Cowher was going to leave after the 2006 season, and then the Steelers could have introduced Russ Grimm as the new head coach without ever casting a glance in the direction of Mike Tomlin.)
We’ll leave it to the real journalists to explore whether there might be some presently unknown quid pro quo that prompted Wooten’s application of a rubber stamp to an obvious sham. For now, we believe that something about this entire process stinks, and that the league office either needs to take meaningful steps to punish the Redskins for engaging in a charade — or to scuttle completely the Rooney Rule, which under the interpretation applied by Wooten will do far more harm than good.
Besides, who made the Fritz Pollard Alliance the guardians of the Rooney Rule? In our view, the league alone is responsible for applying it, and we believe the Commissioner should not have delegated the delicate question of pre-compliance with the rule to a man who possibly isn’t in the best position to realize what the Redskins were trying to pull off.