Has the Rooney Rule become a tick-box exercise for the NFL?

By Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

The NFL has nearly completed it’s list of head-coaches for 2020 with just the Cleveland Browns outstanding but seem poised to sign Josh McDaniels from the New England Patriots.

The hiring of Patriots Special Teams coach Joe Judge by the New York Giants came as a particular surprise to many, having seemingly not had enough experience to make the jump to leading a franchise.


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Image Credit: Charles LeClaire

Within the reaction to that hiring however, there was also some sighs of disappointment, especially from those who are becoming concerned that the “Rooney Rule” has become stagnant in its attempts to increase the number of minority race head-coaches.

Steve Wyche reported to NFL Network that upon the hiring of Judge by the Giants, that many of the league’s black coaches and co-ordinators were “not happy” with the decision to once again skip over ethnic minority candidates.

Wyche also explained that although the teams were indeed having candidates in to meet the Rooney Rule, the lack of minority hiring’s was alarming.


What is the Rooney Rule?

The Rooney Rule, named after the former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, was bought into existence by the leagues diversity committee in 2003 following the firing of Tony Dungy and Dennis Green.


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Image Credit: Post Gazette file photo

Given that both coaches had been wildly successful during their tenures, and the fact that only seven black candidates had been given NFL head-coaching jobs until 2002, it was considered important that something was done to deal with the issue.

The ruling meant that from 2003, all senior football operations positions now had to interview at least one ethnic minority for the role unless the assistant coach has wording in his contract to guarantee him the job.

The rules impact was immediately visible as the percentage of ethnic minority head-coaches shot up from 6% to 22% in just four years with the change in place.

There have been a lot of subsequent calls for the ruling to be employed in the Premier League in the UK and US college football where the percentage of minority head-coaches is still just 6%.


Why the Rooney Rule isn’t working.

Although the Rooney Rule was effective in the immediate years after its arrival in the league, the Detroit Lions even being fined $200,000 in 2003 for failing to comply, the long-term success of the rule has come into question.

Jim Caldwell has often been at the forefront of the argument for whether minority head-coaches are getting a fair amount of chances.


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Image Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Having coached in Superbowl XLIV with the Indianapolis Colts before a successful spell with the Detroit Lions between 2014-2017 in which he took them to two playoff berths and just one losing season at 7-9, the decisions to fire him, let alone to not hire him, were seen as confusing.

It has been suggested that the Rooney Rule rather than becoming a progressive, inescapably positive and definitive fork in the road for the future of ethnic minority coaches, has in-fact devolved into a tick-box exercise performed by general managers and owners so they can avoid a fine.

The agent for Pittsburgh coach Teryl Austin told The Athletic that he felt his client received a “token” interview from the Lions in 2017.

This regression from genuine interviews with a mix of coaches of creeds and colours, to nothing more than a need to fill a quota can be seen in the current crop of candidates.

2019 marked the lowest total of black NFL head-coaches since the creation of the legislation with just Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, Anthony Lynn of the Chargers and Brain Flores of the Dolphins remaining.


What can be done to change the impact of the rule?

As the Rooney Rule continues to struggle to have the desired impact on the leagues hiring process, calls to change the system are increasing.

The concern that the lack of ethnic minorities in front office or ownership positions is becoming more vocal as older, white general managers continue to pick from the carousel of young, white assistant NFL coaches or college head-coaches.

Without disregarding the achievements of Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay or Cliff Kingsbury, there seems are fairly defined theme about the leagues current taste in what a head coach should look like.

As with many issues of race, the importance of education should not be forgotten.

Teaching young players of colour that they have as much of a future as a coach as on the pitch will be crucial to generate a continuous stream of talented young, football brains.

Of all races.

What do you think can be done? Get in touch with us here at the Full10Yards on social media @Full10Yards