Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why the Rooney Rule Doesn't Work

For many years, teams in the National Football League did a terrible job of considering minorities for high-level football positions, whether it were on the coaching staff or in the front office.

Call it whatever you want (coincidence, racism, overblown, etc.), but it gave the league a bit of a black eye. After all, a good chunk of NFL players are minorities, and many of them had the desire and smarts to get into coaching.

The league's well-intentioned way of getting more opportunities to deserving minority candidates was something called the Rooney Rule. Named for Steelers patriarch Dan Rooney and his family, the rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and major front office positions. The teams aren't required to hire any minorities, but must interview them before moving forward.

In many ways, the rule has done a lot of good. No one will ever know what opportunities would have been available for guys like Raheem Morris, Mike Singletary, Jim Caldwell, Perry Fewell, and Lovie Smith were this rule not in place, mandating that they at least get a chance to interview.

However, the rule has its flaws, as evidenced by a few hires over the years, as well as one that took place on Thursday.

The Washington Redskins finally made a change atop their football food chain. Executive vice president Vinny Cerrato stepped down Thursday morning, and he was replaced by former Buccaneers and Raiders executive Bruce Allen.

Allen is white, and while ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the team interviewed two minority candidates to comply with the Rooney Rule, there is an issue with Allen's hiring.

The issue is that it's likely the Redskins had no intention of hiring a minority candidate. Allen, who is the son of legendary former Redskins coach George Allen, is the guy they wanted, and they simply conducted two token interviews to make sure they were in compliance.

Given Allen's history with former NFL coach turned commentator Jon Gruden, it seems a slam-dunk that Gruden will join the franchise as head coach next season.

Of course, the Redskins will face a heavy fine from the NFL if they go through with that hire without conducting any other interviews.

However, why would you agree to be interviewed for a job you have no chance at? Sure, you could blow the organization away, but what are the odds that it would matter? 100-to-1?

The Lions were fined for hiring Steve Mariucci, but they only hired him after two minority candidates turned down interviews. They turned them down because they knew the Lions wanted local boy Mariucci to coach the team.

Listen, I'm all for more diversity in football management. It's a problem, and it needs to go away. The NFL can do without the perception of racism in its franchises.

That said, the Rooney Rule goes too far. There are teams that go into a hiring process with an open mind. Others aggressively pursue one desired candidate from the start, and that's okay. There is no exact science on hiring the right coach, because both the open- and closed-minded approaches have worked and failed.

The league has made a lot of advances in this area, but it needs to get back to allowing teams to make hires they want, if that's how they want to roll.

After all, no one whined when the Colts hired Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell without conducting any other interviews, did they?

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