December 5, 2023

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Is The Rooney Rule Enough?

3 min read

The National Football League is beginning to show their true colors when it comes to filling head coaching positions. The case for the minority coach is really no case at all. In 2018 there were only eight minority coaches employed across the NFL. Mike Tomlin and Marvin Lewis are the two longest-tenured head coaches with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. This is something that needs to be addressed in the National Football League because there are several qualified coaches being overlooked. What can the league do to ensure the problem is fixed in the future?

Bill Walsh started the movement in 1987 when the NFL adopted the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship group. While in San Francisco, Walsh would hire and train minorities so that when a head coaching position would open up, they’d be ready for their interview. He would assist Dennis Green, Ray Rhoades, and Sherman Lewis in attaining head coaching positions. The Fellowship Group has assisted in 2,000+ minorities gain valuable coaching experience over the years. Was this enough to stop minorities from being overlooked? Unfortunately, it was not.

The Rooney Rule was adopted in 2003. The Rooney Rule is required by every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one or more minority coaching candidates. In 2009, the rule was expanded to include general managers and front office positions. The Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Dan Rooney, was the lead man in this movement and coincidentally is one of the eight teams with a minority coach in Mike Tomlin. The Rooney Rule is often criticized because many teams still seem to overlook or not interview minority coaches at all. The Oakland Raiders hired Jon Gruden this year without interviewing anyone else. They also fired longtime General Manager Reggie McKenzie to hire Mike Mayock (no general manager experience).

In 2018 there were 8 of 32 minority coaches. This number will emphatically go down as there were numerous firings at the end of the 2018 season. Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), Steve Wilkes (Arizona), Todd Bowles (New York Jets), Vance Joseph (Denver), and Hue Jackson (Cleveland) were all fired in 2018. This leaves the NFL with three minority head coaches. The top NFL candidate for this offseason was Chiefs Offensive Coordinator, Eric Bieniemy. He is the mastermind that is the Kansas Chiefs high powered offense. There were five NFL teams that asked him to interview. He was not hired by any of them. Can you tell me how one of the top offensive minds in the league doesn’t get a head coaching job? The NFL is all about scoring points, and Bieniemy doesn’t get hired. Other minority coaches that were on the head coaching hunt were Kris Richards (Cowboys DC), Jim Caldwell (Colts/Lions Former HC), and Brian Flores (Patriots DC). In 2019, the only one of these candidates that will be manning an NFL sideline as a head coach is Brian Flores. He was hired as the Miami Dolphins Head Coach.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance has been in discussions with the NFL to help erect this problem. The NFL is hoping to take the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship to another level that would not only start at the NFL combine but also last the entire regular season. The NFL is looking at each team hiring a minority coach for both the offense and defense. This would hopefully expose more coaches to other teams and allow them to be interviewed and hired as head coaches down the road. Becoming a head coach is a long and rough road to travel, but everyone deserves a chance to pursue their dreams. If these candidates get a fair shake, I think the NFL will find that more fans will be viewing because children need to see players, coaches, general managers, and owners that look like them. The NFL will have these same coordinators, former head coaches, and collegiate coaches looking to make their dreams come true. Let’s begin to make a change in the NFL in 2020.

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