The NFL has long had a problem with diversity issues in hiring, particularly when it comes to coaches and front office positions. Back in 2005 they adopted what became known as “The Rooney Rule,” which was the brainchild of Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner Art Rooney. At the time it required that all teams interview at least one minority candidate for any coaching or front office vacancy. But 15 years later, even the most upbeat, optimistic types have acknowledged it hasn’t resulted in the expansion of opportunity that was expected or intended. Following an offseason when only one minority (Ron Rivera, previously with Carolina and hired by Washington) was picked for a coaching spot, even the owners acknowledged something needed to be done.
Last Tuesday they adopted a series of new resolutions designed to strengthen the Rooney rule and ultimately lead to more positions for deserving minority candidates. NFL clubs must now interview two minority candidates for every head coaching vacancy. They must also interview at least one for any coordinator openings, plus an external candidate for open spots in the front office. This came after there was widespread protest against a previous proposal to offer teams compensatory draft picks for hiring minority candidates. No one liked that idea, particularly Black coaches who saw themselves as being made scapegoats either way. The teams that hired them would be seen as doing so only to improve their draft situations, while those that didn’t would be viewed as resistant to progress and possibly racist in their outlook.
Another big change is beginning next March teams can no longer restrict staff from interviewing with other clubs for “bona fide” coaching or front office positions. In the past teams that didn’t want to lose good assistants would prevent them from interviewing for head coaching jobs whether they had a real shot at landing one or not.
Rod Graves, executive director at the Fritz Pollard Alliance, told CNBC he felt the new guideline regarding assistants would “have a huge impact on what I believe will be the ability for minorities to move to better opportunities and thereby improve the numbers from a diversity of leadership standpoint.”
The new rules also expanded the pool of jobs requiring minority and women candidates be interviewed. The senior-level office positions of club president, as well as senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology and security positions are now included. The NFL has also formed an advisory panel that will get assistance and input from both the Fritz Pollard Alliance and Bill Walsh’s NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship.
It’s hard for anyone to question the necessity for such steps with the NFL currently having only four minority head coaches for 32 teams. Even more appalling is the fact there are only two Black general managers and two Black offensive coordinators. Ultimately, teams are still going to hire whomever they choose, and there’s no guarantee these changes will lead to major improvements any time soon. But the fact the league’s owners are even willing to implement them is recognition of how bad the situation has gotten, and how little actual improvement in hiring has happened in the NFL since Art Shell was hired as its first Black coach in 1984.