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The Rooney Rule

According to Wikipedia, “The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires National Football league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations opportunities. The rule is named for Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the league’s diversity committee, and indirectly the Rooney family in general, due to the Steelers’ long history of giving African Americans opportunities to serve in team leadership roles. It is often cited as an example of affirmative action.”

Those are the facts in a nutshell. The opinions and results, however, are steeped in controversy and conjecture. Any potential NFL coach is groomed and prepared with years of hands-on training and development, progressing from a supporting role to head coach. Coaches are chosen based on character, commitment, work ethic, leadership and motivational skills, and of course the ability to create winning football teams.Given this country’s history of discrimination, perhaps the Rooney Rule has been necessary. It has opened doors for black coaches who would otherwise be overlooked in the hiring process. While no one will ever know whether a team’s management decision to interview black candidates is merely to avoid fines or to really show good faith, NFL team records typically speak for themselves in the hiring of black head coaches.

“The idea of the rule is to slow down the process and get teams to do their homework and investigate a lot of candidates, not just minority candidates,” former Colts and Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy told the Associated Press. “You go through the process, and in doing that, sometimes you uncover people.”

Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith magnificently defy the Rooney Rule with their winning records and proven success before the rule was enacted in 2003. The Rooney Rule will most likely need adjustments and tweaks through the years, and may, in time, need to be eliminated, but for now it provides at least a chance for black coaches to be given equal consideration in the hiring process.

Let’s get one thing straight – the Rooney Rule is not a mandate to hire by race as many have misinterpreted. It merely gives an opportunity for more black coaches to interview for head coach positions. It’s up to the team management to make the final decision and may the best man for the job win. Since the NFL is comprised of a husky percentage of black athletes, it’s surprising to see so few black coaches in starring roles and supporting roles.

In the hiring of Mike Tomlin, Rooney stated, “[The rule] wasn’t the most important thing because he was the most important thing. Mike got the job because he showed us his ability and showed us what he could do, and we believed in him.”
A possible solution is for teams to conduct a pre-determined number of interviews without regard to race. Expanding the number of interviews will simply expand the horizons of possibility that exist for head coaching positions.

Another thing to consider is; in present time does the Rooney Rule encourage teams to conduct “pretend” interviews just to satisfy the rule and escape a fine? It seems like the time could be better spent on identifying and securing the coach that makes the best sense for the team, whether black or white, or any other race. Is it a necessary interruption in the hiring process or, in agreeing with Tony Dungy, does it make a team hit the pause button and consider all the possibilities?

If the Rooney Rule is to remain in place, it should extend to all levels of NFL personnel, from management to marketing, from finance to front office.

What is your take on the Rooney Rule? Whether you agree or disagree, I’d like to hear your input.


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5 Responses to The Rooney Rule

  1. Tperry July 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    great commentary. while i do believe in the “rooney rule,” we must remember it is a rule put in place to afford possibility and opportunity, which can serve as an eye opener to some. this leads me to ask the definition of minority…is it just race or does that apply to gender as well? something to think about.

  2. Suzanna Aaring July 13, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    External rules can help to catalyze internal processes, but in the end only one's own psyche rules.

  3. Dmitriy July 18, 2010 at 9:24 pm #

    We don't necessarily see it everyday but I do think that there is some amount of racism still present in the NFL. This rule helps combat that until there are more successful black coaches like Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. Incidentally, this is an even bigger problem in college football.

  4. Blackhead Treatment August 20, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    Oh!…that’s great helpful, it’s so right to me! Million thanks for the article,


  1. Four Great Ways To Kick Racism Out of Football - The Big Urban - March 30, 2013

    […] coaching and putting them up for available coaching jobs. A great example of such a solution is the Rooney Rule in the American National Football League (NFL) which mandated the interview of at least one black […]

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