The NFL Owners Circumvention of the “Rooney Rule” Is the Latest Example Of Their Country Club Mentality

In 2003, the National Football League implemented the “Rooney Rule” which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when they have an opening for head coach or general manager positions. The objective was to make sure teams didn’t overlook qualified minority candidates for those jobs. It speaks volumes about the NFL itself that they had to create the rule in the first place but the rule sounded like a great way to increase diversity in positions of power. However here we are, 17 years later and the NFL head coaches are starting to look more like a country club, as NFL owners have learned to circumvent the rule, making it a mockery.

When first implemented, the Rooney Rule did appear to help the cause as we seen a jump in NFL head coaches from just 2 prior to the rule, and up to its peak 8, in 2011. But in 2011 something important happened to the foundation of creating minority head coaches. Tony Dungy, long time black head coach know for grooming minority coordinators, retired. The number of minority head coaches were cut in half to 4 there after. We did see another spike as of 2017, when it once again hit a total of 8 minority head coaches, but the leash seems to be short as just two seasons later we are back down to 3, the lowest mark since the Rooney Rule has been implemented.

This offseason could have been progress for the representation of minority head coaches in the league as there were 5 NFL head coaching vacancies with multiple qualified minority coaches available. Instead, the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Carolina Panthers elected to hire white head coaches, with the Browns expected to follow in line. The Washington football team hired Ron Rivera, hispanic head coach who has had years of success in the league.

The real issue I had this offseason was not that only one minority head coach was hired, it was more about the way the NFL has made the Rooney Rule an absolute joke, and the leaps of faith these owners will take on unproven white folks to run their franchise while there are multiple minority candidates with impressive resumes. In most cases these owners already have who they want to be the head coach before the interviews are done, but go through the process solely to adhere to the Rooney Rule, giving the candidates no true shot of landing the job anyway.

The Dallas Cowboys found themselves a fine, Super bowl winning coach, in Mike McCarthy. There is no debating that he shouldn’t be a head coach in the league with his resume. My issue with the Cowboys was their half assed effort to follow the Rooney Rules by bringing in washed up, old Marvin Lewis in for a cup of coffee, knowing damn well there was no chance he would have a shot at the job. Jerry Jones had no intentions of hiring Lewis, nobody does. But the call was extended so Jones wouldn’t get caught up with the league and be fined. Jones circumvented the real reason for the rule to be in place. The rule is supposed to be the opening for a minority head coach, particularly an up and coming coach with promise, to get his name and resume out there to build up connections to one day get hired. That is not Marvin Lewis.

As for my issue with the New York Giants. The Giants elected to hire Joe Judge, a special teams coach from the New England Patriots, who nobody outside of Bill Bellicheck’s staff and the Judge family, have ever heard of. Judge may be one hell of a head coach, nobody knows because he has literally no experience as a coordinator or head coach at any level. But he fits “The Giants Way,” which we know is a conservative preferably white guy after years of examples. The issue lies in guys like Joe Judge, who look like Joe Judge, getting these massive backings and opportunities over minority head coaches who have long impressive resumes.

The perfect example of my previous point is Eric Bieniemy. Bieniemy is in his 6th season with the Kansas City Chiefs being groomed by the great Andy Reid. Bieniemy currently in his second season as Offensive Coordinator, has the resume needed to get a head coaching job. He coordinated the offensive that won QB Patrick Mahomes league MVP, and the leagues most explosive offense in 2018. This season the Chiefs remain as a top offense, and win games because of their offense. If you even follow the trend of coordinators under Andy Reid getting head coaching jobs rather quickly, then Bienemy should have been having a press conference this year introducing him as a head coach somewhere. Over the past 2 seasons, Bienemy has interviewed for 7 head coaching vacancies, and never was seriously considered. What else can this man do on the field to prove that he deserves a head coaching job? But there is one thing that he can’t control when he sits down for these interviews with these billionaire owners, the color of his skin.

Listen to the brutally honest and important words of ESPN’s Bomani Jones on High Noon yesterday about the topic.

I am not saying the league should be 50/50 in minority and white head coaches, jobs should go to those who deserve it. Hell I’m not stupid enough to think we can force these billionaire owners to hire someone they do not want, but I am also smart enough to recognize when they are making a joke of the system in place.

The NFL has 32 teams, only 3 minority head coaches. There are impressive minority coordinators at the NFL level who are building resumes to become head coaches, yet are being passed over for college coordinators and coaches, and unproven NFL assistant coaches/ coordinators. If the NFL is hiring the inexperienced white coordinators and coaches on NFL staffs, and plucking white college head coaches to come to the NFL level as head coaches, where in the hell do these proven minority coordinators with years of experience, find their opportunity to be a head coach at the NFL? That is the issue.

I don’t have the perfect solution to this problem, I don’t. But maybe let’s make these owners explain why they hired a coach based on the newly hired coaches resume and abilities. Then make them explain why they turned down the other candidate. If nothing else let’s make it harder on these billionaire owners to mask their behavior, lets make them explain their choices. Maybe nothing will change, but at least we will get a clearer view into their mindset when hiring an unproven white coach over a deserving minority candidate.

The way the NFL owners abuse the Rooney Rule, is a simple snapshot of who and what the NFL is. Time after time, the NFL owners have showed us who they are and what they stand for. The blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, the lack of minority representation of minorities in positions of power, are all just examples of their true values. When people show you who they are over and over, take it for what it is. The upper level of the NFL is just a big old country club with certain values and very little willingness to embrace and trust minorities in positions of power.

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