Rather than affirming its commitment to the Rooney Rule for minority hiring by rewarding teams instead of punishing them, the National Football League should be doing more to increase the pool of qualified candidates. Yes, swapping the carrot for the stick is appropriate, but it won’t work until NFL owners move the horse in front of the buggy.
What is the Rooney Rule?
Under the guidance of former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the NFL adopted a policy in 2003 requiring teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates when they have openings for head coaching and key front-office positions.
The rule was put to the test almost immediately. The NFL hit the Detroit Lions with a $200,000 fine in 2003 for hiring Steve Mariucci as their head coach without first interviewing any minority candidates. The Lions argued that black candidates had turned down interviews because they believed Mariucci would get the job.
For all its good intentions, there is no evidence suggesting a long-term benefit in the coaching ranks. Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins), Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers), and Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers) are the only minority head coaches in the league heading into the 2020 season. There were only three black head coaches when the Rooney Rule was put in place.
Only two of the 32 positions as general manager are held by minorities.
The media has tabbed the day after the end of NFL regular seasons as “Black Monday” because that’s the day teams tend to announce firings. On the day after the 2018 season, black coaches Todd Bowles (New York Jets), Vance Joseph (Denver Broncos), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals), and Steve Wilks (Arizona Cardinals) were all released, drawing attention to the fact that even after being hired minority coaches are less likely to keep their jobs as long as white counterparts with comparable records.
What change is the NFL considering?
NFL owners will discuss a change on May 19 to the Rooney Rule that would move teams up in the draft order as an incentive to hire minority candidates as head coaches or general managers. A team to move up in the third round by 10 spots for hiring a minority front-office executive or six spots for a head coach.
In addition, NFL.com reports there are incentives proposed for retaining minority hires. Teams would move up five spots in the fourth round if a head coach or general manager made it through two full seasons. Because the role of quarterbacks coach is seen as a step toward becoming a coordinator and then a head coach, retaining a minority in that role would garner an extra fourth-round pick.
The league’s diversity committee also wants to award extra mid-round picks to compensate teams losing minority assistant coaches to other franchises who are offering rules with greater responsibility.
Here’s where the proposal runs into problems
For all its good intentions, what the NFL’s diversity committee is proposing by moving teams around in the draft and awarding bonus picks is a penalty for franchises that have no reason to make changes.
Should the Kansas City Chiefs really have to consider the draft benefit of replacing Andy Reid during his annual evaluation? And does the NFL actually intend to reward a team that had never previously hired a minority head coach or GM by moving their draft position ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have had Mike Tomlin as their head coach since 2007?
The league is also considering doubling the number of minority candidates who must be interviewed for vacancies. There are already minority coaches who turn down interviews because they suspect – probably correctly in a lot of cases – that they are only being contacted to fulfill a requirement. Doubling the number of bogus interviews doesn’t help.
The NFL’s real problem regarding minority hiring is that there is no farm system in place to develop coordinators and head coaches within their own organizations. Yes, teams do dip into the college ranks from time to time, but the NCAA has its own diversity problems in football.
What NFL teams need is the ability to see their own employees in positions of authority in a minor league. But what it boils down to is that owners have decided it’s too expensive to operate a developmental league and giving away draft picks costs them nothing.