Can a team hire a new coach without firing its current coach?

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During the NFL’s latest media briefing on Friday, I posed this question to league spokesman Joe Lockhart: Is a team permitted to reach a deal in principle with a new head coach before firing its current head coach?

The question was relevant at the time because it appeared that the Raiders had done precisely that, working out an agreement with Jon Gruden before cutting Jack Del Rio loose. It’s even more pertinent now, because Raiders owner Mark Davis has admitted to that timeline.

In response to the question, Lockhart said he didn’t know the answer to the question off the top of his head, and that he’d get back to me. Five days (and multiple follow-up emails) later, that hasn’t happened.

There possibly has been no answer to the question because there’s no good answer to the question. If it’s not permitted, the Raiders clearly broke the rules by striking a deal with Jon Gruden before firing Jack Del Rio. If it is permitted, it’s the clearest possible path for teams to consistently avoiding the Rooney Rule.

In this case, the comments from Davis confirm that the Raiders necessarily violated the Rooney Rule because a pair of minority candidates interviewed for a job that was never actually open. But the NFL isn’t inclined to expose any of its teams as being in violation of the rule, because that would run against the persistent narrative that the NFL is ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity in hiring practices.

Either way, the Raiders aren’t inclined to care; Davis wanted Gruden, and Davis wasn’t going to fire Del Rio until Davis knew he could get Gruden. If the NFL eventually punishes Davis for not complying with the Rooney Rule and/or for improperly hiring Gruden, Davis will pay the parking ticket and move on.

After all, the Raiders got two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million for letting Gruden leave on 2002. If they have to give some of that back as part of the effort to get him back sixteen years later, Davis will be the last one to complain.

32 responses to “Can a team hire a new coach without firing its current coach?

  1. I don’t think teams are looking for ways to avoid the Rooney Rule. If you’re sincerely looking for the best available head coach, you’re going to want to cast a wide net. If you are only interested in replacing your coach if you can get one particular guy, it would be terrible business practice to fire the coach before you know you can get the guy. It’s two different situations and teams should have the option to do either.

  2. The spirit of the Rooney rule was to expose minority candidates to high level positions and to get them in the conversation. These “token” interviews have happened since the rules inception.

    The point which is so easily lost on the people that complain about everything is that we now know Tee Martin and Bobby Johnson are guys that can possibly lead a team. So, when the next job opens up those guys are in the conversation.

  3. The Rooney rule was implemented so more minority Coaches would get more interviews and in turn an opportunity to develop relationships around the league. The Rooney rule is not in place to hinder a team from hiring the Coach they want and if Mark Davis has wanted Gruden back for the past 6 years he should be allowed to hire him. They complied with the Rooney rule and did not sign a contract with Gruden before firing Del Rio. They did nothing wrong.

  4. There’s never an “agreement” until the contract is signed. Most people are smart enough to realize this, Florio.

    The fact that Davis had his mind made up on who he wanted as coach, and had discussions with him and maybe even a verbal agreement with him, didnt legally make him coach.

  5. C’mon…it’s the Al Davis family. Even his kid is looking for ways to stir up the NFL old timers. First the move to Vegas and now this. Papa Al would be so proud!

  6. Its his team – Davis can do whatever he wants to do in my opinion. If it was my business i wouldnt want anyone telling me what I can or cannot do. This isnt a public entity. Its a private business.

  7. Players can and often as replaced with a successor before being cut. Coaches don’t deserve any better. A hard and fast rule that you had to fire your current coach before talking to possible upgrades would not benefit coaches, it would make their employment more risky. With that rule, its possible both Koetter and Del Rio would have been fired while the Bucs and Raiders bidded on Gruden. This is not a romantic relationsip where someone is going to get an STD from their spouse cheating, its business, and in business its perfectly logical to secure a replacement in advance. I bet folks in the bay area are sure glad they opened the new Bay Bridge before they blew up the old one, would have been a rough year if they decided they had to blow up the old one before beginning construction on the new one due to adultery analogies.

  8. Joe Lockart is a problem. Completely avoiding the question of the Rooney Rule. Stop protecting him. Sad! Failure to adhere to the Rooney Rule should at the very least have the same penalty as the DeflateGate penalty. And in actuality it should be a lot more.

  9. An owner of business can hire and fire whoever he or she wants. It’s called business. One would think a lawyer would know how business works.

  10. The Rooney Rule is alright and good if you really dont know who you may hire. But, if you know exactly who your going to hire and he is NOT african american. Isnt the rule pointless. Why go through this and allow someone to be a TOKEN knowing your not going to hire that person. Its not fare to anyone involve and frankly a waste. I get it, they want fairness and a even playing field. You let me know where that level playing field for equality is, cause I want to show you a unicorn.

  11. My understanding of the Rooney Rule is that at least one minority candidate needs to be interviewed for a position before it can be filled. At no point does it say the minority candidate has to have a chance to win the job – just be interviewed.

    Based on my experience in recruitment of talent, a position isn’t filled before someone has received a formal offer and accepted it. (Verbals aren’t enough).

    Show me how this violated any aspect of the Rooney Rule?

  12. what does it really matter. In the real world you get fired, and you have to go get another job. Jack Del Rio on the other hand will be getting 5 million a year for the next 3 years. He has 15 million ways to accept his termination. The real question is why do you keep wanting to drive a bus?

  13. If the Raiders were compensated with two first-round picks,
    two second-round picks for sending him to Tampa, then that
    should be the value they should give up for bringing Gruden back
    illegally. The value has been set.

  14. You own the team, hire who you want or best candidate. Who cares if they are brown, black, blue or red. Why are we still talking about this?


  15. The Rooney Rule is stupid in today’s world. Do you think Teams would seriously discriminate a coach based on his color? Teams want to win superbowls and if a coach can help them there they don’t care what the color is.

  16. There is obviously no rule against reaching an agreement with one coach before firing an existing one. And yes the Raiders violated the Rooney rule and should be fined. Otherwise why have the rule if it is not enforced. Perhaps the league may fine the Raiders by taking away draft picks.

  17. cabosan1978 says:
    January 10, 2018 at 1:10 pm
    Its his team – Davis can do whatever he wants to do in my opinion. If it was my business i wouldnt want anyone telling me what I can or cannot do.


    Hell, why not just throw out the entire NFL rulebook while we’re at it. After all, it only restricts what the franchises, as individual businesses, can and cannot do in a free market. Everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want and people should simply trust they’ll all do the right thing. Nothing super naive about that.

  18. In this case, the comments from Davis confirm that the Raiders necessarily violated the Rooney Rule because a pair of minority candidates interviewed for a job that was never actually open.
    People always talk about the Rooney rule and potential violations including those levied on the Lions for the Mariucci hire but as far as I have seen that policy has not been written down codified in any rules or by-laws. The wording would seem to be important. If interviews are required for vacancies then they wouldn’t be required if the new coach is hired pending dismissal of the old one.

  19. It’s 2018. The only color NFL franchise care about is green. Money. And to make more of it you hire the best people and win. Al Davis didn’t hire Tom Flores, Art Shell and Amy Trask because of their color or gender. He hired them because he thought they were the best people for the opening. Diversity of thought is much more important than diversity of color. If you have the first, the second will come naturally and not artificially.

  20. There needs to be an addendum to the Rooney Rule when it comes to elite coaching candidates. If there is a highly sought after Super Bowl winning coach (Cowher, Gruden) bagged by the owner. They should be allowed to bypass the Rooney Rule. But I would limit that to just one hire in ten years. So each team can have one special exception candidate to the rule every ten years. Problem solved.

  21. I think this dodge only works if you’re hiring a coach that isn’t a coach already somewhere else. This isn’t college football where you can hire a coach while he’s still coaching somewhere else, like Scott Frost at UCF. It’d be the same with assistants. I don’t think you can talk to an NFL assistant before the season is over for that team. Otherwise, teams would have been talking to Patricia all season long.

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