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Volume 27 No. 5
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NFL Coaching Cycle Leads To More Questions About Rooney Rule

The snubbing so far of Bieniemy has caused many to question what qualifications NFL teams want
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The snubbing so far of Bieniemy has caused many to question what qualifications NFL teams want
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The snubbing so far of Bieniemy has caused many to question what qualifications NFL teams want
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Yesterday's NFL coaching moves mean teams have "hired no African American head coaches this year at a moment when those numbers are in crisis," according to Adam Kilgore of the WASHINGTON POST. There are only three current black head coaches, the same number as in '03 when the Rooney Rule was instituted. NFL teams have "given remarkably few opportunities to black offensive coaches to climb the ladder, owing in part to the sport's history of limited chances for black quarterbacks." Goal Line Football agent Brian Levy, who represents Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and several other minority coaches, said that many clients "reached out to him" yesterday after news broke of the Panthers' and Giants' hires with "frustration and anger." Levy: "The phone calls I'm getting today from my clients are the most disheartening I've received in my 30 years in this industry. I've had clients ask me, 'If I had those resumes, the two guys who got hired today, would I get those jobs?' I had to tell them, 'Probably not.'" Kilgore notes the "snubbing so far of Bieniemy," who interviewed for both of the aforementioned coaching vacancies, caused many of Levy's clients -- "regardless of color -- to question what qualifications NFL teams want in their head coach candidates" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/8).

THE ISSUE AT HAND: UCF Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sports Founder & Dir Richard Lapchick said, "It's very discouraging that this continues to happen. It's not like there are no qualified candidates. These people are out there and ready." More Lapchick: "There's not much to be optimistic about from this year's results for sure. This is a serious cause for concern that we've now gone three years with the lowest numbers we've had in a long time" (AP, 1/8). NFL Network's Jim Trotter tweeted the lack of black head coaches in the NFL is "not a league issue," but an "ownership issue." Owners are "master contortionists when coming up with reasons" why black coaching candidates "aren't 'qualified' or 'ready.'" One black NFL assistant coach texted Trotter: "NFL has finally shown it's not the place for black men to advance. It's ridiculous, it's disgusting. We can sell tickets and make plays, but we can't lead." Trotter tweeted whether one believes the lack of diversity among NFL head coaches and GMs is an issue, the fact that a segment of the league's workforce "believes a culture has been created that is not welcoming or respectful of these workers' abilities is an issue." Trotter: "The NFL has NEVER had a black owner, NEVER had a black club president and currently has only ONE black general manager and THREE black coaches. This is why some blacks who aspire to climb the NFL ladder feel they do not have a legitimate shot at advancement" (TWITTER.com, 1/7). NFL.com's Judy Battista said of the league having just four minority head coaches, "That's a bad, bad trend for the NFL. ... At one point there were eight ... so for a while it looked like (the Rooney Rule) was gaining traction." Battista: "It certainly seems to not have traction right now" ("Inside the NFL," Showtime, 1/7).

RULE REVIEW: SI.com's Conor Orr wrote two years after the Raiders "made a mockery of the Rooney Rule by nakedly expressing their multi-year pursuit" of Jon Gruden without any repercussion, the NFL is "no closer to seeing teams embody the spirit of the rule." There is a "large segment of the league's fan base who could see" someone like recently hired Giants coach Joe Judge getting a job before Bieniemy or Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich or 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as "particularly egregious." Without a "proper and nuanced enforcement" of the Rooney Rule, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will "continue to battle the perception that the NFL's majority white ownership group either consciously or unconsciously prefers head coaching candidates who look like they do" (SI.com, 1/7).

OWNERSHIP PROBLEM? Marvin Lewis was interviewed by the Cowboys for their open position, and said he "felt good about the process," but there are "a lot bigger problems than myself." Lewis: "This is somebody’s business, this is somebody's franchise and no one is going to tell them who to hire. But if we can just somehow open the process a bit more and provide more opportunity because right now, we’ve got some qualified coaches. I heard from a very prominent collegiate coach who’s afraid to take the process, he’s afraid to take the leap, and that to me says a mouthful about things” (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 1/8). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote the Rooney Rule was "never about forcing an owner to hire a minority candidate," but about "requiring owners to give fair consideration to a diverse set of qualified candidates before picking the next coach." Even though the league can mandate at least one interview of a minority candidate, it can "never force owners to not make decisions about the coaches they want to hire." Florio: "Regardless of its intended purpose, the Rooney Rule has become an exercise [in] checking a box" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/7). FS1's Skip Bayless said of the rule, "It's not working" ("Undisputed," FS1, 1/7).

TWEET TWEET: Several people within the NFL industry took to Twitter to address the Rooney Rule. The Dallas Morning News' Calvin Watkins tweeted, "The spirit of the Rooney Rule is to not only get coaches of color interviews but hired. Interview coaches of color who have a real chance of getting jobs not just to satisfy a rule. Marvin Lewis wasn't getting the Cowboys job. Nothing against him but Cowboys knew who they wanted." Bleacher Report's Taylor Rooks: "The only thing you have to understand about the Rooney Rule is that making someone DO something doesn't change what they've always done. No amount of mandates can alter the way people think or act. The lack of color in coaching roles is an issue that's way deeper." The Ringer's Tyler R. Tynes: "The problem w/ this idea is believing the Rooney Rule doesn't work. The point is to get POC candidates in the door. Policy, in football and all walks of life, can't alter unconscious bias or systemic racism. The problem isn't in the rule. The problem is who has hiring power" (TWITTER.com, 1/7).

TIME FOR A CHANGE: ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said black men are "not being treated fairly" in the NFL, declaring the Rooney Rule "bogus, clearly, because it's being bypassed." Smith: "The original intent, what it was intended to produce, is being circumvented and black men in the National Football League are being ostracized from key positions." More Smith: "There are minds far more brilliant than mine that I'm very closely connected to that have the power to make a difference and what I'm going to do is work on getting a bunch of those minds together and for us to address specifically the Rooney Rule, how it's being circumvented and how we can eradicate that nonsense that is taking place with that" ("First Take," ESPN, 1/7). CBS' James Brown said, "It just is frustrating to a number of people that there isn't a real serious and critical look at these guys." Brown added, "If an explanation can be given for hiring someone who maybe only has college experience and maybe it wasn't a winner, then the same platform should be there, the same paradigm in making a decision for a player or coach of color as well" ("Inside the NFL," Showtime, 1/7).