Mike Mularkey revealed Titans did sham Rooney Rule interviews after hiring him as coach

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Former Titans head coach Mike Mularkey admitted that when he was hired in 2016, the team delayed an official announcement of his hiring solely so they could conduct interviews with minority coaches to satisfy the Rooney Rule.

In a 2020 podcast interview that got little attention at the time but has now come up in Ray Horton’s lawsuit, Mularkey confessed that he has always regretted agreeing to go along with the Titans’ sham.

“I allowed myself, at one point, when I was in Tennessee, to get caught up in something that I regret,” Mularkey said on the Steelers Realm Podcast. “I still regret it. The ownership there, Amy Adams Strunk and her family, came in and told me I was going to be the head coach in 2016 before they went through the Rooney Rule. And so I sat there knowing I was the head coach in ’16, as they went through this fake hiring process knowing a lot of the coaches that they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance to go that job. And actually, the GM Jon Robinson, he was in an interview with me. He had no idea why he is interviewing me, that I have a job already. I regret it. . . . and I’ve regretted that since then. It was the wrong thing to do and I’m sorry I did that, but it was not the way to do that. Should have been interviewed like everybody else and got hired because of the interview, not early on. So that’s probably my biggest regret. . . . It’s not hard to do the right thing. It’s really not. But you can get caught up in this business.”

Horton, who is Black, was interviewed after Mularkey had already been told he was getting the job, and Horton has now joined the lawsuit filed by Brian Flores accusing the NFL and its teams of racial discrimination in hiring.

The audio of Mularkey describing what went down in Tennessee is incredibly damning to the Titans and to the NFL.

74 responses to “Mike Mularkey revealed Titans did sham Rooney Rule interviews after hiring him as coach

  1. The Titans committed a fraud on the NFL and on each “candidate” interviewed after the hire was already made.

  2. No company or corporation should be forced to interview any single person based on the color of their skin.

  3. So the long and short is…you can’t hire who you want in the NFL regardless of their qualifications, etc…UNLESS, they are a minority. As a minority myself I find this ridiculous.

  4. The entire process is destined to create sham interviews….Anybody who thought different had their head buried in the sand.

  5. So you see, there isn’t a lot of risk in challenging those that already know they’re wrong. Its the RIGHT thing to do when they continue to do wrong.

  6. is there a legal requirement to interview a minority for a job before hiring someone?

    this is a bad look for the NFL. just don’t know what the legal issue here is.

  7. What a shock…. said no one.

    The only thing shocking would be the NFL acting on it.

  8. Examples like this are why other owners are not calling out someone like Daniel Snyder for all his wrong doing. Hard to throw stones in glass houses.

  9. Better late than never, I suppose. But, imagine if Mularkey had blown up the scene in ’16 when it was fresh. Imagine if he’d gone to each “candidate” and told them and started a lawsuit with them against the team. That would be “owning it”. And that would have really shined a light on this league-wide sham. It was wrong and, according to Mularkey himself, he knew it at the time. He should have shown his mettle at the time and done the hard thing instead of taking the job and the paydays that went with it.

  10. I am not naive I know the terrible behavior of the NFL is not ndicative of ALL corporate America…but the NFL has antitrust exemption shouldn’t they be held to a higher standard?

  11. Mike Mularkey was the interim coach in 2015. He wan’t hired so much as retained. They probably decided to keep him during the regular season. The Rooney Rule applied because he was technically a new hire but not really. What’s “incredibly damning” about that?

  12. So the next team that already knows which person they plan to hire before interviews begin now know to just do the sham interviews and not say anything until announcing their new coach(just like many probably already do now)

  13. Is anybody really surprised ? It should also be pointed out this happens in the corporate world too [and doesn’t necessarily involve minorities ] .

  14. How hard is it to just interview three extra guys even if your mind is made up? Stupid.

  15. Did the NFL not think this would happen? Flores and whoever else is with him and add the NFL and all owners who voted for the Rooney Rule in the first place to the lawsuit. Did they not think this was going to happen? I get the spirit of the rule but you’re just asking for this exact scenario by requiring a minority interviews.

  16. I think teams should just hire who they believe is a good fit for them and move on, another reason to abandon the Rooney Rule that everyone has to follow. You can’t just be forced to interview other candidates because there is a rule in place.

  17. The Rooney is a disaster at this point and should be eliminated – but the press will be brutal if the NFL does. There is essentially no way to stop sham interviews because some owners will be planning on hiring specific people based on past relations ships – which is normal.

  18. Just more evidence that the Rooney Rule is and always has been a complete joke. It needs to be consigned to the trashcan of history.

  19. Weird seeing so many thumbs down on previous comments when this is obviously something that needs to be fixed. What do you people have against men wanting a fair shot at getting a job and someone admitting they regret going along with the sham? The thumb downs are telling.

  20. The usual suspects just can’t seem to embrace the most important lesson Mularkey mentions here: It’s not hard to do the right thing. It’s really not. Maybe it takes some longer to acknowledge the right thing to do?

  21. Who cares? Everybody knows its a sham and everybody knows it’s a dumb rule anyway.

  22. Nothing the Titans did was illegal. As I said before the owners have every right to hire whoever they want. As they should.

  23. Well, the rule shouldn’t be there to begin wit. Titans knew who they wanted and told him he’d be hired so he didn’t go someplace else. BUT they had to do the little dance the NFL requires. It isn’t the Titans fault. It’s the NFL’s fault for having a rule that puts these minority coaches through stressful interviews for nothing. The only thing Mularkey did wrong was talk about it now, further stirring the pot so we have to hear about this instead of getting excited for the football season. No rule. Let terams hire whoever they want, regardless of race or anything else.

  24. jimmysee says:
    April 7, 2022 at 1:27 pm
    The Titans committed a fraud on the NFL and on each “candidate” interviewed after the hire was already made.
    You’re not wrong but the overarching issue is the broken system that requires you interview people based on their skin colour. That’s not fixing the issue it’s making it worse.

  25. If this is accurate, it clearly sounds like a violation of the rule. But there’s still a barrier to calling it racial discrimination. Once they decided to hire Mularkey, they were essentially “discriminating” against every other coach in existence at that point, because none of them were getting the opportunity.

    The only difference between Horton and every other coach left out of the running is that he went through an interview process that otherwise wouldn’t even have been offered to him. It’s a screwy process, but is that scenario racial discrimination?

  26. GMs and owners often have a good idea of their next coach toward the end of the regular season (sometime that candidate is, gasp, minority). They interview said candidate for confirmation. Then they have to go through the motions of declaring they have no idea who they want and conduct other or multiple (minority) interviews.
    The Rooney rule assumes a blank slate for owners and GMs at the start of the hiring cycle. Simply not true and never will be. GMs and assistant GMs, coaches and assistant coaches around the league all know each other (e.g., at the Combine). There is no blank slate; people on the rise (inc. minorities) get noticed. Sham interviews are a result of the rule; they are not a proof of racism…

  27. Good on him for owning it. But I get it. If he wanted the job, he had to play ball.

  28. I am guessing that Tennessee ownership would say that he was not officially hired but that they viewed him as the front runner based upon Mularkey’s performance the previous year as interim HC along with his interview. Maybe the subsequent interviews were not sham interviews but simply Tennessee performing their due diligence and not hiring the first person that impressed them. No way to know for sure and Mularkey’s claims six years later don’t add much.

  29. I thought the NFL said, Brian Flores’s case had no merit. Again, everyone knew this was happening, we didn’t need a lawsuit or Mike Mularkey.

  30. I’m not going to get into the racial aspect of this but I went through interviews when a person was already picked for the job. I studied and went through a lot of stress for nothing. Later on as I moved up in the company the same stuff was happening and this time I was privy to it. I told the people in charge that we may as just pick the person they want and be done with the charade. They were only worried about the optics. I informed them to leave me out of the process in the future.

  31. A better idea would be an extra first round pick when you hire a minority candidate, and you lose your next first round pick if you fire one. This would give teams more incentive to hire, and more incentive to give a coach a second or third chance to improve.

  32. Rooney Rule has to go, it’s taking up teams time and stirring up all this drama

  33. Sham interviews have been going on since the Rooney Rule started. Why is anyone surprised by this? Flawed rules result in minimal adherence to the rule.

  34. Absolutely cannot fault Mularkey for taking the job as he earned it on the merits of his resume, but this shows what a sham this rule is and how many sham interviews were conducted.

  35. Spoiler Alert: All of those interviews are shams.
    The organization just breathes a sigh of relief when they know they’re hiring a minority and they don’t have to call Jim Caldwell for his 15th sham-terview.

  36. It would be pretty foolish to think this is the only time this happened. Now the question is how widespread is the problem.

  37. Newsflash -interviewing people after homing in on a candidate is very common in the business world.

  38. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Rooney Rule seems to fit this saying. I’m sure Mularkey wasn’t the first coach that was hired before teams fulfilled their Rooney Rule obligations.

    The rule has good intentions. But it doesn’t work. Do away with it and come up with another way to reward teams that hire minority candidates. Additional picks in the draft? Bonus cap relief? I don’t know the answer, but the Rooney Rule isn’t helping stop discrimination, it’s making sure teams check boxes in the interview process to appear that they are.

  39. Sounds like they were just obeying the rules? I see zero issue with this. If they don’t like that this happens, don’t have a rule handcuffing teams, and forcing them to do this??

  40. jwcarlson says:
    April 7, 2022 at 3:07 pm
    Spoiler Alert: All of those interviews are shams.
    The organization just breathes a sigh of relief when they know they’re hiring a minority and they don’t have to call Jim Caldwell for his 15th sham-terview.


    Jim Caldwell is soo early 2010’s. 💁 It’s all about Eric B nowadays.

  41. Titans interview Jags asst HC Doug Marrone on January 14th, 2016. So… was that also a “sham” interview and does he get to sue too?

  42. The Rooney rule says that a team has to interview a minority candidate….. They did. What exactly is the problem here?

  43. OG Fogy says:
    April 7, 2022 at 2:01 pm
    Weird seeing so many thumbs down on previous comments when this is obviously something that needs to be fixed. What do you people have against men wanting a fair shot at getting a job and someone admitting they regret going along with the sham? The thumb downs are telling.
    Even when they know something is not right, they continue down the path with that team. They only speak up years later when they are no longer employed by that team. Good job in your mind.

  44. A real man withdraws from consideration and reports this crap. Oh wait…that would end their career.

  45. It’s exactly what everyone knew was happening because the rule was stupid. So tired of hearing about it

  46. I can’t hire the guy I really want as my head coach until I interview some other guys I have zero interest in. By the time those other two interviews are over, some other team swooped in and hired the guy I really wanted.

  47. I see Coach Flores producing witnesses and evidence. I see the NFL and teams issuing press releases which have no legal consequence.

  48. The Rooney Rule doesn’t state that you have to HIRE a minority candidate, only interview at least one. That being said, while it might be common to interview someone when you have your mind set on someone else, it’s certainly wrong to interview candidates for a job when you’ve already essentially hired someone else.

  49. The only way the Titans did a wrong is if they had dry ink on a contract with Mike Mularkey prior to interviewing the Minority candidate. Having a favorite for the job or telling a candidate they essentially have the job means nothing. If the Minority candidate crushed the interview and highly impressed the GM or Owner were they free to change course and hire them instead of Mularkey? If the answer is yes and no contract was signed by Mularkey this case has no legs and will go nowhere. Lip service is not a contract & if telling Mularkey he was the guy stopped him from interviewing elsewhere while the Titans still conducted interviews …Mission accomplished.

  50. When you know who you want why do you need to keep interviewing? Seems like a dumb rule if your first interview is who you know you want.

  51. It is fascinating. The same people who oppose the Rooney Rule because it “forces” teams to consider race in interview candidates do not seem to have a problem when only people of one race are considered for those jobs. Which is, likewise, a team considering race, and unlike the Rooney Rule, excluding based on race, but just not saying that they are . . . .

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