If the NFL really wanted to make a difference in fair hiring practices, the most honest first step might be to rename the Rooney Rule the Rooney Suggestion.
Because after the Raiders wiped their feet all over the league’s mandate that minority candidates get chances at leadership positions, a slightly less obvious version of the same process is unfolding in Carolina.
The Panthers are “interviewing” candidates for the permanent General Manager position this week, including Texans executive Jimmy Raye III and Bills personnel man Lake Dawson (who interviewed there in 2013 when Dave Gettleman got the job).
They may sit and have lunch or a cup of coffee, but they’re not going to have a formal interview with interim and former G.M. Marty Hurney. The casual approach is largely because Hurney’s going to end up with the job and everyone in their building knows it, and his background there (putting many of the pieces in place for their recent run of four playoff seasons the last five years) makes a formal interview moot.
Just as the Raiders did with Jon Gruden, the Panthers effectively know what they’re going to do before they do it. The difference is, nobody there is crass enough to say it out loud, the way Raiders owner Mark Davis did when he admitted he reached an agreement with Gruden before firing Jack Del Rio. By definition, that made his interviews with tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and Southern Cal offensive coordinator Tee Martin a sham.
But make no mistake, Panthers chief operating officer Tina Becker is expected to extend Hurney’s deal beyond its current expiration in June, the same way she did for coach Ron Rivera (and new defensive coordinator Eric Washington). It doesn’t equate to long-term security since the team’s for sale and a new owner can do whatever he or she pleases, but Becker is going to hand over the keys to a fully staffed football operation when the deal goes down.
Teams have the right to zero in on candidates of their preference, and if an owner decided that Gruden or Tony Dungy or Bill Cowher or Hurney or fill in any name was his guy, it’s hard to make them reconsider, regardless any policy that requires minority candidates to interview.
Part of the problem stems from a lack of numbers, and increasing the amount of people in the pipeline is a bigger issue than making sure the few guys in the pipeline get to sit with decision-makers. And if the league wanted to make a real difference, they’d do something to increase the opportunities on the personnel side. The Nunn-Wooten scouting fellowship is a lesser-known companion to the Bill Walsh coaching fellowship, which sends a number of coaches to training camps each year. And while a few former players are making inroads, it’s clear that the progress the league was hoping for with the Rooney Rule isn’t bearing fruit.
The league’s lack of enforcement and/or guidance isn’t helping things either, since clearing the Raiders sends the signal that no one’s ever going to be punished. And until the NFL takes the matter seriously, there’s no fair expectation for teams to, either.