More than a decade ago, the NFL promulgated the Rooney Rule, which requires at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for every head-coaching vacancy. On Monday, news that the Falcons had interviewed special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong caused some (e.g., us) to conclude that the Falcons had officially complied with the Rooney Rule, and that they could now hire anyone to replace Mike Smith.
But John Wooten, the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that compliance occurs when a team simply requests permission to interview a minority coach under contract with a team currently in the playoffs. Wooten said that the Falcons previously had complied with the rule by asking to interview Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
If accurate, this creates a loophole that could easily be exploited, and abused. To comply with the Rooney Rule, a team would simply have to find a minority coach on any of the 12 (14 in 2015, most likely) teams that qualified for the playoffs, ask to interview him, and then go ahead and hire whichever white candidate they have in mind.
Per multiple sources, neither the league office nor the Falcons believe that Wooten’s interpretation is accurate. Requesting permission to interview a minority coach who isn’t yet available to be interviewed does not constitute compliance with the Rooney Rule. Instead, a face-to-face interview must occur.
If Wooten’s interpretation were correct, former Lions G.M. Matt Millen wouldn’t have been fined $500,000 a dozen years ago for failing to comply with the Rooney Rule was Steve Mariucci was hired. Millen claimed that he invited minority candidates to interview for the job, but they declined. Under the logic articulated by Wooten to Ledbetter, that should have been enough.
It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The Falcons complied on Monday, by interviewing Armstrong. Now, they’re free to make a hire. And that hire could be former Jets coach Rex Ryan.