03 January 2013

Should the Rooney Rule be abolished?

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier
With another season in the rearview mirror and coaching changes abound, we return to the discussion of the Rooney Rule. In case you were not familiar, the Rooney Rule was established in 2003 at the behest of Steelers owner Dan Rooney among others that stated that every team with a head coaching vacancy must interview a minority for the position. At the time, it was considered a huge step forward for a sport that is overwhelming black but had few minority coaches.

But nearly a decade later, does the rule still hold firm in today's National Football League or should it be amended or abolished?
The Rooney Rule has had its fair share of successes, as the amount of minority head coaches in the league since the rule was instituted has exceeded the amount before the rule (although a handful of the coaches were only interim coaches and a few were also promoted from within). In 2012, there were six coaches of minority descent, which comes out to about 19 percent. We have also seen the league showcase its teeth in enforcing the rule when in 2003, they fined the Detroit Lions $200,000 after the club failed to interview any minority candidates when team president Matt Millen (the good old days) had promised the job to Steve Mariucci. 

But in recent years, we have seen the Rooney Rule turn into a farce and a burden in coaching searches. Teams zero in on the guy they want to hire and seemingly have to scramble to "interview" a minority candidate to satisfy the rule even though the candidate has no chance at getting the job. We saw this when the Cowboys gave the head job to Jason Garrett a couple of years back and interviewed wideouts coach Ray Sherman even though everybody knew that Garrett was getting the job. The most infamous incident occurred back in 2010 when the Seahawks were gunning hard for then-USC coach Pete Carroll and in the midst of finalizing the deal to bring Carroll to the Pacific Northwest, they put together a sham interview with Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to keep the NFL wolves at bay. 

The problems are when teams have their guy in mind and thus they have to interview a minority candidate just for the sake of it. Heck, could we be seeing it this offseason? Did the Cardinals, who are going hard after Andy Reid and appear to be in the process of making a deal, really give defensive coordinator Ray Horton a fair shot at the job? I mean, I certainly think so, Horton is in the mix for many jobs and is a deserving candidate, but if the playing field was level between him and Reid, would Arizona choose him? If Oregon coach Chip Kelly decides to go to the NFL, are the minority candidates that interviewed really in the mix, particularly if Kelly says yes?

Another major flaw of the Rooney Rule is when teams put language in contracts about a "head coach-in-waiting," the Rooney Rule need not apply. But why is that? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of the Rooney Rule in the first place if teams can just skirt around the rule with some deft legal chicanery? 

So what should be done? Can you make the rule stronger? You probably could but how does that affect teams that already have their coach in mind? Does it truly benefit anybody when minority candidates are brought in even with no chance at the job? Honestly, I think the Rooney Rule should be scrapped. It has served its purpose in allowing minority candidates to get their feet in the door and in interviews but I think teams have moved beyond defining candidates due to their race. 

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