by John Unrein
The Rooney Rule in the National Football League was established in 2003. Its namesake comes from former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney. The intent of the rule was to ensure that minority candidates would be considered for head coaching and senior football operation jobs through requiring interviews of minority candidates when those positions became available.
The 2002 firings of head coaches Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings and Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew the ire of United States civil rights activists and attorneys. Green had posted his first losing record in ten seasons. Dungy was fired despite a winning record during his final season with the Buccaneers.
Much debate has occurred since the Rooney Rule was established in 2002. Fourteen non-white head coaches were hired under the first 12 seasons of the Rooney Rule in the league. Many lost their jobs after just a few seasons at the helm though. Only one of eight 2019 NFL head coaching vacancies were filled with a minority coach.
Opposition to the rule has argued that every head coach knows they are being hired to eventually be fired by the franchise that employs them. That the NFL is a volatile working environment were a short losing stretch during a season or the perceived undesirable atmosphere of the team can lead to a head coach’s removal. Negative opinions of affirmative action that is a push of the Rooney Rule has not set well with those who resist its principles.
Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers, Ron Rivera of the Washington Redskins, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins are the only four minority head coaches currently in the NFL. This is in a league with the makeup of its players dominated by minorities. According to a 2017 TIDES NFL report, approximately 70 percent of the players in the league were African-Americans. Starkly opposite of that were the 100 percent of CEO/Presidents that were white.
All of this has led to the Rooney Rule getting a makeover for the 2020 season. NFL owners agreed on May 19th that they will expand requirements for teams to interview minority and female candidates for on-field and off-field positions, including coordinator, head coach, general manager, and other front office positions.
The NFL has announced amendments to the Rooney Rule policy that came out of the meeting the owners held virtually. One minority candidate must now be interviewed for offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinator positions. One minority candidate must also be interviewed for general manager and senior operations positions. Furthermore, now at least two external minority candidates (instead of one previously) must now be interviewed for head coach openings.
Owners also agreed that the amendments should include this rule now being applied to league office openings in New York as well.
The inaugural inclusion of the rule applying to females will also happen in 2020. Women must be considered for positions from club president, through franchise executive roles in human resources, sales, security, football operations, marketing, finance, and communications.
Art Rooney II, the son of the late Art Rooney issued a statement about his thoughts on changes to the Rooney rule.
“These policies show a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the NFL,” Rooney said.
“The development of young coaches and executives is a key to our future. These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout our football operations.”
“We also have taken important steps to ensure that our front offices, which represent our clubs in so many ways, come to reflect the true diversity of our fans and our country.”